Talk about odd couples -- Paul O'Neill, the ramrod straight, silver-haired Republican treasury secretary, and Bono, the U2 frontman with the wraparound sunglasses. They are pairing up, not for the sum

Talk about odd couples -- Paul O'Neill, the ramrod straight, silver-haired Republican treasury secretary, and Bono, the U2 frontman with the wraparound sunglasses. They are pairing up, not for the summer concert circuit, but a 10-day tour of some of the most destitute countries in the world in sub-Saharan Africa.

The idea for the tour, which will make stops in Ghana, Uganda, South Africa and Ethiopia, was hatched after an initial meeting in O'Neill's office a year ago, a discussion O'Neill says he was first very reluctant to have. "I said, 'He just wants to use me and I don't have time for this,'" O'Neill recounted recently. He relented and agreed to a 30-minute meeting which expanded into a 90-minute brainstorming session with O'Neill, who came away impressed at the depth of Bono's knowledge and commitment.

"He understood economic theory and he understood the impact of colonialism. He knew what it was like to go into an HIV-AIDS clinic and see three people in a bed all dying together and care about it and know it doesn't have to be that way," O'Neill said.

Bono's concern about Africa dates back to 1984, when U2 participated in concerts to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. Bono and his wife spent six weeks working in an orphanage in Ethiopia to learn first-hand how bad conditions were. Since then, he has become a tireless advocate for Africa, first in a lengthy campaign to get the Group of Eight top industrial countries to provide greater debt relief for the world's poorest countries and now as the founder of Debt, Aid, Trade for Africa (DATA).

"I am a pest. I am a stone in the shoe of a lot of people living here in this town, a squeaky wheel," Bono said after an appearance with President Bush in March when the president announced a program to boost U.S. development aid to $40 billion over three years, an increase of $10 billion over current projected U.S. support.

However, the administration's proposal, dubbed the Millennium Challenge Account, comes with strings -- a demand that the money be given only to countries that are working to eliminate corruption and reform their economic systems. O'Neill has been a major proponent inside the administration for this tough-love approach, contending that trillions of dollars in aid has been wasted.

On the May 20-31 Africa trip, O'Neill and Bono will visit schools, AIDS clinics and various World Bank development projects. O'Neill is hoping to use the extra press attention generated by Bono's presence to promote the administration's development overhaul plans.

"It is possible for the two of us to see life through each other's eyes," O'Neill said last week in previewing the trip. "I'm going to get a set of blue wraparound glasses and I'm going to give him a gray wig."


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