Monday, November 20, 2006

The Celebrity Scramble for Africa

AFP via Y! -- Their star quality may guarantee publicity but the galaxy of celebrities promoting good causes on the world's poorest continent has left cynics cringing at what has been dubbed the new scramble for Africa.

Ex-Spice Girl
Geri Halliwell swapped her famous Union Jack mini-skirt for a demure white blouse this week when she toured maternity wards in Lusaka in her capacity as a goodwill ambassador for the UN children's fund UNICEF.

The one-time Ginger Spice's trip to Zambia came hot on the heels of Madonna's visit to neighbouring Malawi where she was so taken by one resident of an AIDS orphanage that she decided to adopt the 13-month-old boy.

U2 frontman Bono, Hollywood heart-throb George Clooney and rapper Jay-Z represent just a handful of the other stars who have taken a break from their lives of luxury to deliver lectures on how to improve the plight of Africans.

Some charity campaigners insist they are grateful that the stars are prepared to give up their time to generate headlines and pictures.

But others less than impressed with the motives of the film and pop stars who usually return to five-star hotels after their brief brush with squalor.

"We are totally opposed to this patronising attitude of western personalities purporting to be philanthropists," said Zimbabwe's Minister of Interactive Affairs Chen Chimutengwende.

"This thing about intervening on behalf of the poor in Africa is all racism clothed in a liberal dress."

Western show business first started taking a major interest in African affairs back in the early 1980s when former Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof organised the Live Aid concerts to alleviate the impact of famine in Ethiopia.

Geldof's fellow Irishman Bono is now almost as well-known for championing the cause of debt relief as for his pop career.

One of his more recent visits took him to the tiny southern African kingdom of Lesotho which has one of the highest rates of AIDS in the world.

Dennis Bailey of CARE Lesotho said Bono's involvement was a welcome ally in the war against AIDS.

"We are very glad when people like Bono come wave a flag on behalf of those we are working with," he told AFP.

Bailey acknowledged that the involvement of celebrities may not always be inspired by philanthropy but that should not negate their usefulness.

"Even if it is shameful publicity-seeking, that can also draw attention to issues, even if it is for the wrong reasons. "

Few celebrities can be guaranteed to attract attention quite like Madonna.

The Queen of Pop had insisted her trip to Malawi was a "private visit" but her move to adopt baby David Banda led to a very public debate about whether her fame had enabled her to ride roughshod over the usual custody laws.

Maxwell Matewere, the director of a children's charity which is contesting an interim adoption order for Madonna, said the apparent generosity of celebrities was rarely as straightforward as it seemed.

"They are showing this generosity because they have an agenda to raise their own profiles," said Matewere who heads the Eye of the Child organisation.

Some celebrities however have little need to raise their profile.

When Brad Pitt came to Ethiopia in April 2005 with a television crew to draw US viewers' attention to AIDS and poverty, most of the subsequent media coverage centered on his relationship with fellow Hollywood star Angelina Jolie.

"It's a strange focus, isn't it?" he mused in a television interview.

"That my relationships or relationship mishaps takes precedent over something like that (the situation in Africa) ... I understand it's about entertainment, but man, it's misguided a bit, isn't it?" wondered Pitt.

When Pitt and Jolie returned to Africa together this year, the couple upset many in the southwestern country of Namibia by sealing themselves off completely from the locals while Jolie gave birth.

Even before giving birth in Namibia, Jolie had already acquired an African child by adopting a six-month baby girl in Ethiopia.

Like Halliwell, Jolie is a UNICEF goodwill ambassador -- a role which has seen her publicise the plight of youngsters all across the continent, including in Sudan.

Despite cynicism over the stars' motives, UNICEF is in no doubt about their value.

"They play an extra important role on shining a light on chronic issues on the continent," said Unicef spokeswoman Sarah Crowe.


we LUV Bono & Oprah!
They are pictured here launching the North American
version of the Product (RED) campaign.

Bono & Oprah


Check out these RED Products >>

Previous Posts
Bono Makes Wish to Fight Poverty
Oprah, Danny Glover and Brad Pitt Visit Ethiopia

Additional Reading
Babies and Banks: Celebrity Colonialism in Africa

Kate Moss is African (in blackface) on the issue of the "RED" Independent

1 comment:

Mike Todd said...

Thanks for the link to (Red)emption!