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Bono's Activism From TIFF to the G20

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BONO

Bono's hybrid life was fully on display in Toronto last Friday.

His life with U2 was presented in the form of the documentary From the Sky Down as the opening gala screening at the TIFF -- with the Irish front man showing that he could still do a stellar turn as a rock star.

But, as can be expected from Bono, entertainment was not the only dimension that came to the fore.

Bono used the opportunity to refurbish his brand as the premier celebrity activist, a brand honed on a commitment to Africa as well as more general concerns with global development.

In a reprise of the activities that fully launched this side of his life -- a six- month stay in Northern Ethiopia after the 1985 Live Aid concert, for example -- Bono concentrated on the tragic famine in Somalia.

Linking up with the Canadian-Somali rapper and poet K'naan (as he had earlier done on the Minneapolis stop in the 360 Tour with U2), Bono drew attention to the need for a ramped up response to this humanitarian crisis.

Yet, if this intervention highlights the level of continuity in Bono's activities, there does appear to be some measure of change in his approach.

The hallmark of Bono's celebrity activism has been a concern with gaining access to key political decision-makers.

However, over the last year the focus of attention has turned away from a fixation with politicians at the apex of power in the traditional global establishment.

This shift was discernible by Bono's absence at the G8 summit held in Deauville, France last May.

Having attended several G8 summits myself, I know the buzz the U2 lead singer created when he appeared.

At the Heiligendamm G8 in Germany in June 2007 Bono was everywhere.

He participated at a packed press conference with Bob Geldof and Kumi Naidoo from CIVICUS the umbrella civil society organization. He gave interviews with the BBC and other media. Finally he took centre stage at the Voice Against Poverty rock concert in Rostock.

And Bono wasn't alone.

With him came a large and skilled entourage of advisors from his organization ONE and other NGOs such as Oxfam International.

And if you believe that Bono only participated at the margins of the G8, think again.

Unlike many of the G8 leaders, Bono gained a personal meeting with then U.S. president George W. Bush (on top of earlier meetings UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Angela Merkel).

What impressed observers such as this blogger was how seamlessly Bono moved from being an outsider at the G8 to obtaining an insider status and then moved to become an outsider again.

The puzzle of his absence at the Deauville G8 is accentuated by the fact that Bono has had close interaction with Carla Bruni, the wife of President Sarkozy who served as the host of the French G8.

Instead of worrying that Bono had indeed been worn down by activism, it is worth noticing how Bono and some major NGOs are re-positioning away from the G8 and towards the G20.

It seems that Bono has decided that G20 is the place to be: increasingly the hub of economic diplomacy due to the inclusion of the BRICS and other big emerging states including Mexico which will host the G20 after France holds the 2011 summit this November in Cannes.

In what this blogger regards as a significant signal, Bono met with President Calderon of Mexico just weeks before the Deauville G8 to ask him to make the fight against poverty central to the G20 agenda.

Speaking after the meeting, Bono said:

"Next year Mexico will chair the G20, the annual get together of the most powerful leaders on the planet. Obama, Hu Jintao, Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, Jacob Zuma, Dilma Rouseff, they'll all be flying in. By the time they fly out, we want them to have agreed specific decisions, which we know will save and transform lives in the poorest parts of the world. As the host, President Calderon will set the agenda. I asked him to persuade the G20 to take bold action on the fight against corruption globally, on improving healthcare, and on boosting agriculture around the world."

Such a re-position is consistent in turn with the tactics adopted by ONE and Oxfam International, with a greater emphasis on working via the G20 countries from the global South as well as the traditional establishment contained in the G8.

Far from being a sign of fatigue, Bono's set of activities sends a signal about the re-calibration in the global calculus of power.

Although absent from the Deauville G8, as opposed to American Idol and TIFF, he has not gone missing in action.

Bono is simply working through a different script.

His touring -- at least in the activist dimension of his life -- is shifting towards the G20.

Around the Web

U2, Inconvenient Truth Filmmaker Open To Humanitarian-Focused Bono Doc

Bono: A Global Rock Star and Activist. - Oprah.com

The Bono-ization of activism - CNN

John Lennon vs. Bono: The death of the celebrity activist