Among the diplomatic steps of the recent G8 summit held in Deauville, France last week (May 26-27) a significant gap in participation went unnoticed by media – the absence of Bono.
This celebrity blogger has attended a few G8s in my days and I appreciate the buzz the U2 lead singer received in the past when he attended a G8. 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.
Nor was Bono alone. With him came a large and skilled entourage of advisors from his organization ONE and other NGOs such as Oxfam.
And if you believe that Bono is only on the margins of the G8 think again. Unlike many of the G8 leaders, Bono gained a personal meeting with then US president George W. Bush (on top of earlier meetings UK prime minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Angela Merkel). What impressed observers – including this celebrity 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 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.. Is it simply because he wants to return to the celebrity game without any diplomatic role attached? For in a strange staged juxtaposition Bono appeared not in Deauville but on the finale of American Idol in the same week a show he said he found “exciting” because it brought him to “the centre of pop culture.”
Before worrying that Bono had indeed grown fatigued by activism, worn down by constant lobbying and exposure to politicians though it is worth noticing how Bono and ONE 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.
In what this celebrity blogger regards as a significant activity – more important than even American Idol even – Bono met with President Calderon of Mexico on May 11 just weeks before the 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.
And to accent the fact that this was a strategic choice, ONE’s organizational capacity moved into high gear as well. Oliver Buston who did a lot of the work behind the scenes for the Heiligendamm G8 has now become ONE’s Central and South America Director.
Far from being a sign of fatigue, Bono’s choice of appearance sends a signal about the shift in the global calculus of power. Although absent from the Deauville G8, he has not gone missing in action. Bono has simply changed summits. It is the G20 now.