Live Aid star rallies schools to keep the pressure on rich nations to help Africa. Brendan O'Malley reports
"It's very fucking important," says Bob Geldof of Britain's pledge to put Africa and climate change top of the agenda of this year's summit of G8 leaders.
The former Boomtown Rats singer raised pound;100 million to tackle famine through the Band Aid movement 20 years ago. Now he is on a more complex mission: to liberate sub-Saharan countries from the shackles of international debt, the unfair terms of trade that rich countries impose on them and the paralysing effects of corruption.
Tall and lean, he is not as narky as his trademark scowl suggests. "Hi, I'm Bob," was his introduction at his offices in London's St James's Square, as though I might not recognise him. He warmly praised the British Government for offering a radical plan to put debt, aid and trade for Africa at the top of the agenda, along with climate change, when the G8 leaders meet in Edinburgh on July 6 to 8 under Tony Blair's chairmanship.
But would they really back up the fine words with hard pledges? "Not unless we do everything within our power to force them to," he said banging the table with the side of his hand.
Mr Geldof, a member of Blair's Africa Commission, called on schools to turn up the heat on the G8 leaders by lobbying them and said they should teach their pupils about life in Africa. He knows the value of a good teacher. A succession of English teachers got him into poetry. He still carries Paradise Lost around with him and says it inspired him to write lyrics.
This week Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, and Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary, launched a children's version of the comission's report, Our Common Interest: What does the Commission for Africa report say? A copy will be sent to secondary schools and will be accompanied by posters and materials based on themes in the report.
Mr Geldof said every school should pin the commission's declaration on the wall and debate it. He said: "It says we find the conditions of the lives of Africans to be intolerable and calls for a change of policy in favour of the weak."
It calls on the rich nations of the world, in alliance with their African neighbours, to move together to create an equitable world.
A paperback of the report is also being produced which Mr Geldof hopes will inspire a new generation of young campaigners. He says it could be seen as a Brandt II, referring to the report 25 years ago by German chancellor Willy Brandt which called on all nations to give 1 per cent of GDP to aid.
"Poverty in Africa is the greatest moral problem facing us in the 21st century," he said. "That's why teachers should teach about it."
Mr Geldof, with Nelson Mandela, is leading a world movement to "Make Poverty History". Schools should create links with schools in Africa, he said, to connect children with the realities of the wider world. "One hundred million kids don't go to school, two-thirds of them are girls and 46 million of them are in sub-Saharan Africa. I mean kids in school in the UK think 'Lucky them'. They're not. They're fucked. Yet they are so profoundly desperate to learn."
That's why it is important, he said, that schools back the Send My Friend to School campaign to fund primary education for the 100m children not in school.
"You know, education is the interface between tradition and modernity. You must learn the language the world is speaking and if you don't you're not in."
www.commissionforafrica.orgwww.learningafrica.org.ukwww.sendmyfriend.orgThis is a short version of an exclusive interview which will appear in the TES's special supplement Global Citizenship: the G8, on June 10