By Saint-Francis Tohlang
Yet another celebrity is set to grace the shores of Africa. Superstar Madonna will appear in Malawi in October in a plan to improve the situation of the country’s orphans. She has committed to raising at least $3 million to fund orphan programmes.
It seems celebrity culture has adopted a habit of clutching the suffering world, especially Africa, to their Gucci-adorned bosoms. Or is this just keeping up with the trend? The likes of Bono and Angelina Jolie have created a Hollywood following. Others such as Lindsay Lohan are queuing up to make their appearances in Africa.
Cynics have touted this afro-charity boom as a ploy by fame-bewildered celebrities to enhance downtrodden careers and boost their public profiles. It goes without saying that the amount of awareness towards situations in Africa that these celebrities create is invaluable. Perhaps without Madonna’s scheduled visit to Malawi and the hype it is attracting, many people are unaware that out of Malawi’s population of 12 million, approximately a million are orphans.
Angelina Jolie has also cast some of her limelight onto horrific situations in Africa, through her work as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations.
Madonna will be initiating an orphan care centre, which aims to feed and educate as many as 1 000 children a day. She has also formed a partnership with developing world economist Jeffrey Sachs, on programmes to improve the health, agriculture and economy of a nearby village. Are these efforts all mere pseudo-philanthropic efforts in the name of fame?
Madonna’s ‘Raising Malawi’ project deserves acclaim for its initiative to create awareness, but there is a catch. Madonna’s religious affiliation to Kabbalah (the study of Jewish mysticism) takes centre stage. The orphan centre will offer programmes based on the Kabbalah children’s programme. Religious motives appear to be dominant rather than the cause of feeding the children of Malawi.
The motivation for celebrity involvement in charity work may be questioned. Whether or not they want to make a difference is immaterial. It is the way they go about their involvement that can be detrimental to Africa’s economic growth; the projects must be sustainable and not merely pay lip service to the dire issues on the ground. However, Sachs says, “In the very noisy and complicated world that we have, people that reach large audiences, like Madonna does, have an extraordinary role to play.” The way celebrities fulfil this role is the core issue at hand.
Irrespective of the motives, celebrity aid should be measured not by the hype it generates but by what it delivers in terms of sustainable poverty relief. It seems demeaning that such problems could be used as sounding boards for one’s own fame, capitalising on the gullibility of the masses who have never thought about the issues at all. Such aid must be judged for its practical value to ensure that when the cameras stop rolling and the vogue smiles fade, the benefits of such projects are not as illusory as fame.