The Constant Charmer

The inside story of how the world's biggest rock star mastered the political game and persuaded the world's leaders to take on global poverty. And he's not done yet

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Even as he softened Bush by appealing to his religiosity, Bono also began to talk about debt relief and poverty eradication in hardheaded, national-interest terms. After 9/11, DATA seized the opportunity to lobby for new policy. Africa is 40% Muslim, and Tom Hart, DATA's director of government relations, argued that it might be nice to make some friends there. When the Administration said money was tight, the policy experts scoured the NGO world and came back touting small programs with clear ways to measure progress. When the issue of corruption was raised, DATA proposed a scheme to nurture good governance. ("Start-up funds for new democracies, sir," was how Bono pitched it to the President.) In its relentlessness and flexibility, DATA had assumed the personality of its founder.

Bono's network of contacts didn't hurt either. In 2003, when President Bush visited an AIDS clinic in Entebbe, Uganda, he was welcomed by a children's choir singing America the Beautiful. Then a woman named Agnes Nyamayarwo told the story of how she was unknowingly infected with HIV and passed the virus on to her son during his birth. AIDS drugs cost $40 a month in Uganda, but the government spends just $7 per person per year on health care; Nyamayarwo, a nurse, could not afford to keep her son alive. When she finished speaking, Bush embraced her. Nyamayarwo, it turns out, has been close friends with Bono since they met several years ago. Says Bono: "We've got people jumping out of the bushes at the Bushes!"

With advocates on the inside and in Congress, and not-so-gentle prodding elsewhere, the Bush Administration in 2003 launched the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). In two years, PEPFAR has paid for antiretroviral drugs for 400,000 Africans with HIV, while the MCC aims to dispense foreign aid by rewarding countries for being accountable. Bono stood by the President when he unveiled the MCC, and complained loudly when he thought it was underfunded. (Soon after, MCC administrator Paul Applegarth was replaced; DATA swears it played no role.) "These are more than baby steps," says Bono, "but to get them to be strides we need more than applause or hisses from me. We need a movement."

One of the ways to spark a movementĀ is to create a defining moment. "We've been doing this now for a few years--pretending this is the one, this is the leap. And in fact, this year was the one. We've had 2005 in mind for quite a while," he says. As early as 2003, Bono and others had picked out a number of unrelated political events--a G-8 meeting that was to have as hosts British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown (dubbed by Bono the "John and Paul of global development"), a meeting of the World Trade Organization, a U.N. summit to review progress toward the Millennium Development Goals--all relevant to lifting people out of poverty. But they needed to be tied together and pitched as potentially world changing. "Politicians are performers of a kind, but they're not great at dramatizing a situation," says Bono. "These issues need tension, jeopardy and a sense of what-might-be to succeed. All of that is much more from our language than from theirs."

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