Monday, June 05, 2006

Brangelina takes over Namibia

DURING May, a Western security force effectively took over the small African nation of Namibia. A beach resort in Langstrand in Western Namibia was sealed off with security cordons, and armed security personnel kept both local residents and visiting foreigners at bay. A no-fly zone was enforced over part of the country. The Westerners also demanded that the Namibian Government severely restrict the movement of journalists into and out of Namibia. The Government agreed and, in a move described by one human rights organisation as heavy-handed and brutal, banned certain reporters from crossing its borders.
However, this Western security force was not a US or European army plundering Namibia's natural resources or threatening to topple its government. It was the security entourage of one Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, the celebrity couple better known for living it up in Los Angeles than slumming it in Namibia. They reportedly wanted their first child to be born in Namibia because the country is "the cradle of human kind" and it would be "a special experience". And it seems that no security measure is too stringent in the name of making Ms Jolie feel special. Welcome to the new celebrity colonialism.
That is a quite extraordinary position for two actors to be in: to not only have the ear of Namibian officials but also their support in deciding who can and cannot enter the country. It is as if two absolute monarchs had arrived for a state visit to Namibia, rather than a couple of actors who haven't even made a good film between them for at least five years. ...

It may sound shocking, but in truth Pitt and Jolie's trip to Namibia is really only a more extreme version of today's celebrity colonialism, where celebs go to Africa (or some other poor part of the world) to make themselves feel special. Africa in particular has become a stage for such moralistic poseurs, and their posing can have a detrimental impact on the people who live there. How many Western celebs or wildlife-watchers have visited Africa to raise awareness about the problem of elephants, rhinos or gorillas being hunted by uncaring locals? /....

Rather, this brand of moral grandstanding suggests that Africa has become a kind of plaything for some campaigners, a backdrop against which they can make themselves feel good and special. They are searching for personal meaning and purpose in the deserts and grasslands of Africa, not kickstarting a meaningful debate about how to take Africa forward. Africans might be better off telling Brangelina and the rest to get lost, instead of indulging their wacky whims.
Brendan O'Neill is deputy editor of spiked in London,

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