George Clooney Shines The Limelight Light on Africa

The Oscar-winning actor was named a U.N. peace envoy Thursday.

January 8, 2009, 1:16 AM

Feb. 1, 2008 — -- Academy Award-winning actor George Clooney became the ninth U.N. messenger of peace Thursday, promising to "shine a light" on crises around the world, particularly in Africa.

Currently nominated for another Oscar for his role in the movie "Michael Clayton," Clooney is as hot as Hollywood gets, but he says the honor he just received from the United Nations might top anything Tinseltown could offer.

"An Oscar's a nice thing to have in your life, but this isn't just sort of an honor, it's a responsibility," Clooney told the BBC.

"So far it's been mostly just traveling to places that are a little rough. You know, I think what it really — I think what they're looking to gain from it is, cameras following me to places that they're trying to get attention to and that's fine. That's a good use of celebrity if you ask me," Clooney told ABC News' Tanya Rivera after the ceremony Thursday.

In his new role as the U.N. messenger of peace, Clooney spent two weeks in Chad, Darfur and the Congo. He just returned.

Clooney described his frustration at what he saw. "You get off the plane and suddenly you're in another world and there's tragedy everywhere. … They're trying in the U.N., they're trying in the United States, they're trying in other countries but nobody's really succeeding yet."

Early this year Clooney co-founded Not on Our Watch with his celebrity friends and "Ocean's 13" co-stars Brad Pitt, Jerry Weintraub, Matt Damon and Don Cheadle, to help bring attention to the genocide in Darfur. The group continues to work to raise awareness, but Clooney says progress is hard to measure.

"It's hard to explain. … Darfur isn't necessarily a lot better. Chad certainly isn't a lot better. But there are signs, there's movement, there's this new troop, they're not funded well yet. But there is a hope," Clooney said, referring to the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force that was deployed to Darfur in late 2007.

One of the things the group has been able to accomplish is setting up a hospital. "You know, that's sort of a mean thing we do," Clooney said jokingly. "We put together a hospital, we finance it and we give it to someone as a birthday present who has a lot of money and we put their name on it. And then they just have to continually fund it for the rest of the time just out of guilt."

Clooney hopes that his involvement will encourage people to take action.

"You can, through church groups and organizations, you can go through any NGO you want … you can pick up the phone or you can pick up your e-mail or you can, you know, write a letter directly to your senator and you can really make a difference because that does actually matter to the people. It empowers them."

Back in the states, Clooney is supporting Sen. Barack Obama for president, but says he won't be joining him on the trail.

"I've been, a good friend and a very big supporter of his. I'm a big believer in him and so much so. And I've said this before, but I mean it, that I won't come out and endorse anybody. My father ran for Congress and my mother was a mayor, my grandfather was a mayor. I understand politics fairly well and I also understand that Hollywood doesn't necessarily help a candidate."

So it's not likely that this Hollywood sweetheart will follow in the footsteps of some of his relatives or actors like Ronald Regan and Fred Thompson.

"No, you know, honestly, really, no. I know people sort of look at that and say, well, maybe there's politics. I'm not, I'm not diplomatic enough."

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