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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On July 8, the leaders agreed to cancel the debt of the 18 poorest African countries and to increase aid by $50 billion by 2010. But some activists say it's not nearly enough. Dr. Kumi Naidoo, the South African who chaired Make Poverty History's international umbrella, felt that Geldof--who called the debt deal a "10 out of 10"--was too exuberant and pointed out that all the deal meant was that 50,000, the number of people dying unnecessarily each day, would drop to 37,000. Naidoo's skepticism underlines the limits of Bono's approach: all that was achieved at Gleneagles was a series of commitments--signed checks, not cashed ones.

What would help get some of those checks cashed is a sustainable political movement, and Bono knows that. "I once asked Bill Gates what his long-term goal was for DATA," says Bono. "He said that one day he hoped people could run for office on this stuff." Bono anticipates that the celebrity-studded ONE Campaign, which gained pledges of support to ending global poverty from 2 million people, will someday become "the N.R.A. for the world's poor," but for now it's what economists call a risk-free choice; there's no fee to join and interest tends to rise and fall based on world events. "I really believe the movement is our future," says Bono, "but it's not here yet."

Which is why he can't stop working, even if it means confronting the outer limits of his power. On an afternoon in late November, the rock star is idling in a car outside a Dunkin' Donuts near Ottawa on his way to a round of arm twisting with Canadian lawmakers. Prime Minister Paul Martin, the only member of the G-8 running a budget surplus, has refused to do something Bono and DATA had long hoped he would: commit to giving 0.7% of Canada's GNP to development aid. Many European countries made formal commitments to that figure in 2005, adding billions to the future overall aid pot, but Martin has said the numbers don't add up yet for Canada. (The U.S. gives 0.1%). Bono was hoping to change Martin's mind before the end of the year.

During the two-hour drive from Montreal, where U2 played the previous night, Bono flips through manila folders full of briefing papers to prepare for meetings with Canada's opposition leaders. He fires a few croaky-throated questions at Drummond--"What is this soft-lumber argument between Canada and the U.S.?"--and tries out phrases for the media scrum that will start the day, imagining how they will play in the Canadian papers. "'Make-or-break month for Martin, says Bono,'" he sighs. "Not exactly poetry."

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