I May Not Be African (But I Still Care)

Posted: November 17, 2010 by tubridysean in Africa, Charity, Donations
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

In a 2007 Washington Post article entitled “Stop Trying to ‘Save’ Africa” Nigerian born Uzodinma Iweala writes about his frustration with the way African aid is handled in the media.  Celebrities receive global praise and attention for their contributions to Africa, when actually it is the hundreds of volunteers dedicating their lives to helping displaced Africans survive.  The sad thing is that only the big-name, high-profile celebrities such as Oprah, Bono, and Angelina Jolie get the attention.  African born celebrities such as NBA star Dikembe Mutombo hardly ever receive press for their humanitarian work.  People like Dikembe Mutombo have a vested interest in helping Africa.  He does not start foundations to improve living conditions in Congo and donate $15 million to a hospital in the Congo named after his mother in order to improve his image, he does it because he feels it is the right thing to do–to give back some of the money he made in order to help those who are not as fortunate as he is.

If David Bowie is African, then I'm the Queen of England!

That’s not to say that Angelina Jolie’s humanitarian work and Bono’s countless humanitarian efforts are any less important or substantial.  Every bit of aid, not matter the intention, is appreciated.  It is, however, saddening  and in Mr. Iweala’s case maddening, to see the way the media presents aid to Africa.  The most frustrating was a series a print ads that pictured (usually) a white celebrity with tribal paint on his/her face with a tagline underneath the picture that says “I Am African.” This is a little bit ridiculous and almost mean.  Yet, according to Mr. Iweala, it is just one of the many ways that Western culeture is trying to assert itself as culturally superior to Africa.  “[A]fricans, real people though we may be, are used as props in the West’s fantasy of itself,” Mr. Iweala writes.  This is a striking thought to ponder. I think that we Americans do use aid to Africa and other foreign trouble nations as a means of convincing ourselves that we are humanitarians.

Personally, I feel that too often, celebrities provide aid to Africa and then run around to everyone saying, “Hey everybody, look what I did!”  These people are not the true philanthropists.  Anybody with a well-known name can stand in front of a video camera and tell people about the starving, emaciated children in Africa.  Any celebrity can sign onto a charity and give 1% of their multi-million dollar salary to the cause.  I admire those such as Bono, Angelina Jolie, and Dikembe Mutombo, and others who actually go to the villages and refugee camps in Africa and give their time to make a personal connection to these people.  Aid is aid, not matter what the intention is. I believe that Angelina Jolie isn’t only spending time with African people and even adopting African babies for attention; I think she honestly and truly cares about the future of the continent and its people.  However, the media brings so much attention and publicity to humanitarian aid, that it seems as though Ms. Jolie is only during humanitarian work as a publicity stunt.  The newspapers follow Ms. Jolie throughout Africa, documenting her travels and humanitarian aid, often including pictures with her surrounded by dirty, starving children.

I give all the people who donate their lives to helping others in need, especially in Africa, a lot of credit.  That is something I could never do.  Most of the people Angelina Jolie is visiting have never seen her movies and most likely have never even heard of her.  To them, she is probably just another volunteer.  The hundreds of thousands of people who dedicate parts of their lives or their whole lives to aid in Africa should be given some much deserved respect.  Instead, the media only focuses on celebrities who donate any bit of money to a charity.

Africa and the African people will appreciate any cent of money and any second of time given as aid, however, the media portrayal of these humanitarian acts needs to change.



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