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The Globe's long effort pays off for Africa's moment

Globe editor John Stackhouse speaks with Bob Geldof.

Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and

This edition of The Globe and Mail should surprise, delight, startle, illuminate. It should not leave you unfazed, just as Africa should not leave Canada unchanged.

The idea was born last fall, when Bono was in Toronto with his band, U2. Between concerts, he met privately with a small group of Canadians who have worked in Africa, to understand why our country seems to be losing interest in the continent.

He suggested speaking to Canadians through The Globe, to try to put Africa back in our minds at the very moment the world is looking to Canada for leadership at the G8/G20 summits.

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Today, you're holding the product of months of work, motivated not by tragedy or sadness, but by a growing awareness that Africa is key to this century, a resource-rich and youthful continent that has found itself and is set to take on the world.

Working with ONE - the advocacy group founded by Bono and Bob Geldof to take on poverty issues - a team of editors here assigned reporters, columnists and photographers, invited guest contributors (from K'Naan to Bryan Adams) and pushed for access to every key office on earth (Obama? Check. Ban Ki-moon? Check.)

The paper itself was edited over the weekend by Bono and Mr. Geldof. They picked the best material, directed our editorial board, argued passionately (with each other) over the front page design, took video questions from our online readers and sat for an interview with our foreign correspondent extraordinaire Stephanie Nolen. While Bono had to return to New York for his 50th birthday party (it was a surprise), Mr. Geldof persevered into Sunday night, reworking headlines and arguing with our staff about placement.

That was just a beginning. Today, in another first, Ory Okolloh - a fearless Kenyan-born, Harvard-educated lawyer - will help run our website, from her base in Johannesburg. If you go to globeandmail.com, you'll find her work and a rich hub devoted to G20 issues - from the global economy and banks to terrorism and poverty. And yes, a lot of Africa. We'll continue to surprise you with new material right through the summit.

But back to the rock stars. Why hand over the newspaper to two European musicians who have never lived in Africa?

Mr. Geldof and Bono recognize their star power, and its ability to cast light on the shadows of public debate. That's a good tool. They also don't presume to speak for Africans, or Canadians. They were here as global citizens, confronting a global issue.

The duo have hijacked G8 meetings to make poverty a central theme. Working with Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, they ran a global campaign that obliterated nearly $100-billion in African debt. Working with presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, they helped put HIV-AIDS atop the U.S. foreign-policy agenda. Bono raised $150-million through corporate donations for AIDS work in Africa.

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Rock stars? Consider this: Mr. Geldof carries development-finance documents under his arm when he goes out for dinner. While he's still known to many Canadians as a punk rocker, he's a significant London-based investor and business operator, and one of Europe's most influential political activists on debt, poverty and AIDS.

Bono is more lyrical, but no less focused. He spends as much time on African issues as on music. In March, he travelled to five African countries, and then went to the White House to brief President Barack Obama. When he landed Saturday in Toronto, he immediately turned on his phone and called a U.S. senator, to continue a conversation about U.S. policy on Africa.

For a more detailed look at how this came about, you can watch video highlights on our website. You'll find plenty of places to express your views, and take issue with our approach.

But first, read on. The Africa century has begun, and Canada will be different for it.

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