Sunday, October 15, 2006

Using Africa as a publicity stunt

As pop stars flock to Africa, camera men and reporters in tow, is there short term largesse actually helping anyone?

"...."We're talking about building constituencies of interest," says Jeannie Zielinkski, country director for the international aid group CARE, responsible for aid programs in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. "If I made a funding appeal myself, I would only be singing to the choir, those who already care about Africa. How effective is that? But you get a celebrity singing a totally different song, reaching a much wider crowd, to me that is really useful."

What stars have done for Africa

In the troubled Sudanese region of Darfur - where hundreds of thousands of Sudanese have been killed, and millions of refugees live in makeshift camps - actors George Clooney, Don Cheadle, and Mia Farrow have visited, raised money, and spoken before Congress on the need to stop what many see as a genocide of Sudanese minorities.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jessica Lange and Angelina Jolie have visited burgeoning camps of people displaced by a decade of civil war, where perhaps 4 million were killed.

British pop singer Bono, of the rock group U2, has set up a Washington-based pressure group called DATA, which lobbies in the halls of Congress and in European capitals for debt relief among Africa's poorest nations. He's also launched high-end "ethical clothing" labels that promise fair working conditions in African textile factories....

Aside from emergency relief - such as the famines in the Horn of Africa, the tsunami in Indonesia, and the earthquake in Kashmir - donors need to completely rethink how aid is given, says Ross Herbert, a political analyst at the South African Institute for International Affairs in Johannesburg. He says much more aid needs to be directed toward helping African economies become self-sufficient.

"The best way to help fix the lives of women is to get them jobs," Mr. Herbert says. "Bob Geldof [the rock star who organized the Live Aid concerts of the 1980s] came back to Africa 20 years later and asked what had changed. He was appalled."

"I think too much aid is based on the donor nations and agencies wanting to look good, so they choose the most poverty-stricken place and try to alleviate the conditions there," says Herbert. "That might make them look good, but it's not doing something to fix Africa."

"Look, it's nice for [celebrities] to come and donate money," says Frank Maphutha, manager of a dry cleaning business in Johannesburg. He cites the rare positive example of Ms. Winfrey's school for children in Soweto, but adds that, "We need to see how the money is being used. I want to see the results."...

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