Bono Everywhere At Economic Forum

Every year at the World Economic Forum, there's a leader or two who stands out, courted by the rich and famous -- and the media. In years past, Madeline Albright, Yasser Arafat, Bill Clinton, and Geor

Every year at the World Economic Forum, there's a leader or two who stands out, courted by the rich and famous -- and the media. In years past, Madeline Albright, Yasser Arafat, Bill Clinton, and George Soros have been the stars. This year it was Bono, the lead singer of U2, who has made a cause out of Third World debt forgiveness. The rocker seemed to be everywhere at the forum, which otherwise brought a decidedly straight-laced crowd of business leaders and politicians to New York.

"He's a good friend of mine," said U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), lounging on a couch at the Inter-Continental Hotel where forum participants hold press conferences. "He can meet with the pope one day and with Jesse Helms on another."

Wearing blue wraparound sunglasses Thursday inside the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where the participants hold their sessions, Bono traded opinions with three Nobel Peace Prize winners: Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel, and Kofi Annan. Then he played a private concert for conference-goers.

On Saturday, he faced off with Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill on the forum's main stage in a debate on foreign aid, then joined Microsoft chairman Bill Gates for a news conference on AIDS prevention in Africa. "The great thing about hanging out with Republicans, it is very, very, very unhip for both of us. There's kind of a parity of pain there," Bono joked.

It's strange company for a singer who once railed against American imperialism in the U2 song "Bullet the Blue Sky" and whose albums regularly lambaste Western consumerism and big business. The 41-year-old Bono has become the main spokesman for Drop the Debt, which campaigns for the canceling of Third World debt. He has also joined anti-AIDS efforts and lobbying to lower trade barriers that have frustrated poor countries.

He said he began meeting publicly with world leaders and attending conferences of policy-makers after discovering the mass media didn't want to hear him talk about those subjects. "I went to politicians because I couldn't get on TV," Bono said.

The strategy seems to be working. The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation pledged another $50 million for anti-AIDS efforts on Saturday, and major nations have so far forgiven $40 billion in debt. Bono will even be accompanying O'Neill on a trip to Africa later this year. Other forum attendees said they were impressed. "He's a person who's done his homework," Leahy said. "It's not just star quality."

Bono's attendance at the World Economic Forum preceded U2's halftime performance yesterday (Feb. 3) during Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans. The group delivered a moving tribute to America and the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks performing "Beautiful Day" and "Where the Streets Have No Name."


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