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The Debt Relief Tour

Irish rock star Bono belted out the Beatles' "The Long and Winding Road" to schoolchildren, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill gently lifted 7-year-old Sula Bulela onto his lap Monday as the most publicized road show in Africa entered its second week.

American comedian Chris Tucker joined O'Neill and Bono in Uganda where the three visited a protected spring, a health center and Kisimbiri primary school to see how savings from a debt relief program have improved the lives of ordinary Ugandans.

At the spring, which has been protected from hungry cattle by barbed wire and a concrete barrier with funds that would have been spent paying off Uganda's foreign debt, O'Neill explained to Tucker that people were originally wary of tampering with it for fear the water would dry up.

At nearby Wakiso health center, O'Neill washed his hands before administering polio vaccine to several babies.

District Medical Officer Emmanuel Mukisa told him how savings from debt relief have been used to build a new maternity ward, an operating room and a residence for doctors.

"We used to have a problem of doctors leaving public service for the private sector where work benefits were more attractive," Mukisa said. "Now the reverse is true after debt relief enabled us to improve health services."

The tour grew out of O'Neill's skepticism about the effectiveness of the billions of aid dollars Africa has received since the 1960s and Bono's determination to show him that aid can make a difference if properly administered.

In a speech later Monday at Makerere University, O'Neill told the audience he had come with an open mind.

"The questions for us, and for our time, is how can the people of the African nations and their elected leaders create prosperity - and how can the people of the United States and other industrialized countries best support their efforts?"

Adding that although he didn't have the answer, O'Neill said he did believe in development assistance "that makes a difference in people's lives."

"With the right government policies, we can accelerate the spread of private sector production around the world. We can create vibrant, self-sustaining local economies and a rising standard of living for people everywhere," said the man who headed Alcoa Corp. before taking his Cabinet job.

O'Neill and Bono argued openly throughout the day about development issues, particularly O'Neill's position that private enterprise should play a key role in spurring development.

O'Neill has been a vocal critic of aid programs for Africa, saying they wasted billions of dollars because they failed to generate real economic development.

He said President Bush challenged the two to prove that aid works in Africa.

"When Bono and I met with him, he said to us: 'You show me more results, there will be more money.' "

O'Neill said the Bush administration has recommended to Congress an 18 percent increase in U.S. participation in the African Development Bank, an 18 percent increase in contributions to the International Development Association, the World Bank's soft-loan arm and a $5 billion a year increase in overall aid from the United States.

Recipients would have to meet conditions intended to assure that the money is used properly and that the governments involved are vigilant in fighting corruption.

By Rodrique Ngowi

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