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“The Leaders of this World Stand by and Look at Us Dying”–Singer Angelique Kidjo Speaks Out on Climate Change

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We speak with singer-songwriter Angelique Kidjo of the African nation of Benin. Kidjo has been in Copenhagen for the past week in her role as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. We interview her moments after she spoke before thousands of demonstrators in front of the Danish Parliament. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Angelique Kidjo has been in Copenhagen for the past week in her role as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. On Saturday, I had a chance to sit down with the singer just after she spoke before thousands of demonstrators in the front of the Danish Parliament. We went into her trailer.

      ANGELIQUE KIDJO: [singing] Agolo, Agolo.

      That song, Agolo, means, “Please pay attention.” I wrote this song in 1993. I was talking about the planet, climate change. And here we are in 2009, and nothing has changed. How long are we going to die while the leaders of this world stand by and look at us dying? How long are we going to wait for floods to come and flood away our cities? I haven’t seen snow in Denmark since 1996. That is a sign. Don’t they see it? Where are they living? Which planet are they living in? Are they living on the same planet we are living? What is wrong with our leaders?

    My name is Angelique Kidjo. I’m a singer from Benin, West Africa. And I’m here today in Copenhagen because, as a citizen of the world and a child of Africa, I’m a witness of what is going on with the climate change. Farmers in Africa, desperate to have food, to have a crop that is decent enough to be sold and to feed their family. Today it’s getting harder and harder for the families in Africa basically to have a regular life. Rain comes when it’s not supposed to come. And when it comes, it comes so much that it floods everything away. Climate change is not a fantasy; it’s a reality. And I want, from the leaders of the world in this summit, this is the momentum they have to seize.

    AMY GOODMAN: One of the big messages coming out of the African nations, the small island nations, the developing world, is this issue of climate debt. And I’m wondering if you could comment on that, kind of reparations to countries that didn’t cause the pollution but are devastated the most by it.

    ANGELIQUE KIDJO: Climate debt is something that has to be put in the agreement, because most of the people that are paying a higher cost for the climate change are the countries that have no money and have no say and no action in the climate change. They don’t — they are not the one that pollute the most. Why should they pay the cost? They’re already paying a big and high cost in lives. What do they want from them again? What can we lose more? I mean, what is it going to take for the rich countries to realize that not only that they are jeopardizing the global economy, but they are jeopardizing the lives of the very people that vote for them and put them in offices everywhere around the rich countries.

    AMY GOODMAN: Angelique Kidjo, people might say, you have this magnificent voice; why don’t you save it for music? Why get involved with politics?

    ANGELIQUE KIDJO: As a singer, I have a voice to tell people, together, we can make a change. I’ve written a song in 1993 about the environment. And that song, the video of that song has been nominated in the Grammy, competing with the Rolling Stones, Pet Shop Boys, Jurassic Park, and so on and so forth, because I realized at that time, as I was pregnant of my daughter, that three times a day my garbage cans were full. Why do we need to consume so much?

    I care for people. I care a lot and have been [inaudible] that since I was born, because I believe in life. I believe in us as humanity, within our diversity and unity, to be the future, the today and the yesterday. And we have to do that by preserving Mother earth. She nourishes us. She nurtures us. If we don’t take care of Mother Earth, there’s no more humanity. We think otherwise is arrogant and is deadly arrogance.

    AMY GOODMAN: President Obama only mentioned climate once in his Nobel Peace address, though he was using it to justify the war in Afghanistan.

    ANGELIQUE KIDJO: I think that President Obama comes to power in a very difficult time. And I think he will have to take step by step and make sure that the decision that he made will last long and will become a legacy for the next generation to come. He was at the Nobel Peace Prize to receive a prize, and it’s up to him to say whatever he wants to say.

    What I want Mr. President Obama to do is to think about his two daughters, because we’re talking about their future. If there’s no more safe planet for Sasha and Malia, then there’s no more place for my daughter Naima. And as a parent, I urge him to do everything in his capacity, because he loves dearly his daughters and his wife. Just those three people in his life have to make him go back to bed and think about it again and press whoever need to be pressed for something to be done. And I have hope and faith in him.

    AMY GOODMAN: The name of the song you wrote about the environment?

    ANGELIQUE KIDJO: It’s called “Agolo,” which means “Please pay attention.”

AMY GOODMAN: African singer Angelique Kidjo. I spoke to her just behind the Danish Parliament after she addressed 100,000 people here in Copenhagen.

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