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Kristie Bull/
U2 singer Bono speaks at the 2008
Clinton Global Initiative.

Bono’s Anti-Poverty ONE Campaign Comes of Age

September 26, 2008 06:58 AM
by Christopher Coats
Nearly a decade after his official introduction to the world of global advocacy, Bono and the ONE Campaign have begun to enjoy newfound respect and access on the world stage.

Bono Meets World Leaders in New York

As leaders from across the globe met at the United Nations in New York this week, the Irish singer met with politicians and activists alike in a push to further a campaign of erasing debt and poverty, with a special emphasis on Africa.

Meeting to take stock of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), a set of eight aid and development goals laid out by United Nations countries in 2000, leading political and social figures flocked to steal a few minutes with the singer.

The campaign spokesman was also invited to take part in Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative, which placed him on a stage alongside Queen Rania of Jordan, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia and Clinton himself.

Admitting that his early meetings with leaders emerged more from his celebrity than the substance of his arguments, Bono’s meetings this week on behalf of the ONE Campaign suggest a new place of importance in the aid and development world.

This newfound access and position has not always assured success in their efforts, however.

Paired with economist and MDG proponent Jeffery Sachs, the ONE Campaign has found that many leaders have viewed their meetings as useful photo opportunities, but have tended to fall short of following through on their pledges of support.

Frustrated with leaders and politicians who have pledged support when the cameras were present, but failed to live up to their pledge once the lights were turned off, Bono and Sachs have used their newfound position to further pressure leaders from France’s Nicholas Sarkozy to this year’s presidential frontrunners.

Indeed, virtually all the candidates from this year’s presidential primary offered plans outlining how they would approach global poverty and foreign development investment, to be hosted on the ONE Campaign’s Web site. 

Background: A lengthy bond with Africa

While the U2 frontman has never shied away from political action and opinion, it was not until he was recruited to front a campaign to forgive African debt that he became a familiar face on the advocacy stage.

Initiating an organization called DATA (Debt AIDS Trade Africa), which eventually merged with several other advocacy groups to form ONE, Bono used his celebrity to schedule meetings with political and social leaders across the world.

But, it was Bono’s persistence and knowledge of the subject that has earned him a lasting presence on the international aid and investment scene, as well as an acceptance and celebration that has eluded other celebrities that have waded into advocacy.

U2’s lead singer’s relationship with Africa dates back to 1985 when he traveled there with his wife to volunteer in an orphanage following his participation in the first Live Aid concert.

After his involvement in the debt relief, Bono joined up with singer Bob Geldof and Kennedy clan member Bobby Shriver to start the organization that would eventually become the ONE Campaign.

Setting it apart from past aid and development efforts, the ONE Campaign has promoted investment and business relationships in Africa in addition to monetary aid.

Opinion & Analysis: Not free from criticism

Despite the organization’s wide acceptance in presidential residences and boardrooms across the globe, their efforts and approach are not without their detractors.

While columnists in The New York Times have cited general aimlessness of the Millennium Development Goals, a central cause of the ONE Campaign, the Los Angeles Times called Bono out for focusing too much attention on Africa’s failures at the expense of their successes.

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