By JOSH TYRANGIEL
He admits he is driven by guilt. As the world's biggest rock star — and a deeply religious Catholic — there are many days when Bono simply can't stand the breadth of his good fortune. "I have so much more than is rational," he says. "I kind of figure — I owe."
So Bono started paying off his debt in 1984, when U2 played in Band Aid and later Live Aid, Bob Geldof's Ethiopian famine-relief efforts. While many acts moved on to the next cause, Bono and his wife spent six weeks in Wello, Ethiopia, working at an orphanage. "You'd walk out of your tent," he recalls, "and count bodies of dead and abandoned children." The memory stayed with him through 1999, when he joined the Jubilee 2000 movement, which aimed to get wealthy nations to erase the public debt of 52 of the world's poorest countries, most in Africa.
At first, Bono's fame was merely a convenience; leaders — and often their children — wanted to meet the rock star. As former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill says, "I thought he was just some pop star who wanted to use me." But after a half-hour introductory session went on to 90 minutes, O'Neill changed his mind. "He's a serious person. He cares deeply about these issues, and you know what? He knows a lot about them." The two toured the globe together last year debating the best course for Africa's future — more public aid or more private investment.
With the founding of DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade in Africa), Bono is now Africa's best voice in the developed world. (Bill Clinton comes in a close second.) He can open any door — the Vatican, the White House — and his pitch eschews emotion for realpolitik.
He won't discuss the current war, but he will talk about preventing the next ones. "There are potentially another 10 Afghanistans in Africa," he says, "and it is cheaper by a factor of 100 to prevent the fires from happening than to put them out. Look, I know how absurd it is to have a rock star talk about debt relief or HIV/AIDS in Africa. But if not me, who?"