This continent has problems, we all know that. But even so, it is far from doomed- we don’t all know that- thanks to Hollywood celebrities and their ilk. Doomer-Gloomers, I call them. They come here with supposedly good intentions, get us all tweeting and Facebooking about their visits- but, in the end, they wet-blanket our spirits with the doom and gloom they send back to their world about who we are and where we live.
The latest ‘Doomer-Gloomer’ celebrity to dazzle us with her presence was Madonna: best-selling female recording artist of all time and Guinness world records holder. she doesn’t even need a surname for recognition. They don’t come any more high profile than this one, not in our generation.
Madonna is not just an entertainer; she is a brand with millions of followers- and not just on social media. But since it’s come up, let’s talk about her followers- on Instagram to be specific- over 7 million, that’s the population of many small countries I can think of
-Which is really no surprise. Madonna is a global cultural icon. People listen to what she says and believe it. They adopt her fashion choices; want to know what she snacks on, the scent of her shampoo, where she holidays…
Madonna is huge and much has been given to her. For that matter, much is expected of her. At 57 years old, she has, pretty much, seen it all: The decolonization Africa, the separation of East from West (and eventual re-unification) of Germany, the disintegration of USSR, the birth of social media, Brexit…you name it, Madonna was there. We do not, therefore, expect her to post on Instagram what, say, Justin Bieber (no offense to beliebers) would. We certainly do not expect her to keep replaying the same old broken record about Africa. Not in this day, not at her age and not when she comes to Kenya.
But first a little background: A visit to Kenya is never quite complete if it doesn’t include a stopover in Kibera slums courtesy of one NGO or another. The elephant orphanage is also a big one but Kibera is really the pit stop that ‘humanises’ the big shots that come to this country. The slum itself comes complete with a tagline: ‘Africa’s largest slum’. Now if that is not the way to humble the high and mighty, I don’t know what is. The tours are professional, well organized and include just the right amount of stage management to drive the point home. ‘We need your money’, that’s the core message- and the celebrities usually fall for it, every single time.
This is in no way intended to diminish the plight of those living under degrading conditions. It is shameful that while I have at times forgotten to switch off my lights, there are those who have to endure the fumes of kerosene lamps to see in the dark- yet we live in one country. It’s indefensible that the something as basic as clean drinking water is not available to every Kenyan. It is a disgrace that the people leading the poorest in the world are among the richest in the world. None of this should be happening; not in this day and age; not in Kenya. And if the likes of Madonna used their visits to Africa to make hard hitting socio- political statements, targeting the culprits instead of making exhibits of the victims, the Kibera story might have changed a long time ago. But alas that is not what they do- and it’s is likely not their place to do it but what they end up doing hurts the country more than it helps.
The grim images of the squalor in Kibera with captions like ‘This is where your water comes from’ are intended to help who exactly? Children, oblivious to what is really going on are asked to pose for cameras so their images can be projected to the world for what reason? What do these celebrities imagine their followers are going to do about the ‘situation’?
Perhaps come for a visit? And help?
Are you kidding me?!
They will more likely gawk at the horror, feel a little guilty about the fact that they have just been whining about how uncomfortable their mattress is and click ‘like’. The really committed followers might include a ‘how awful’ statement or something in that line of thought.
Eventually they will all move on.
And I don’t blame them; they are too far removed from the situation to have any real emotions, it’s like watching a movie from a different time and space. It’s not their problem. Besides they have their own issues to deal with.
If these celebrities really had good intentions, why don’t they ever post images of the positive side of Africa? Madonna was in the Maasai Mara. That’s right, one of the most beautiful places on earth but from her pictures, you wouldn’t know it. You’d think she was staying in Kibera- that Kibera was Kenya. There were no beautifully captioned images telling people about the Mara. Pictures of the Mara don’t even need work, it’s just point, shoot and send- everyone will be in awe. Out of her 7 million plus followers who view her like a little-goddess, I am certain a couple of thousand would go online and google the Mara, see if it’s a real place, book holidays, come to Kenya- and try to outdo Madonna with their version of events. Perhaps then, some of the tourism money would trickle down to the poverty Madonna was so willing to display. Yes, celebrity endorsements are that big of a deal.
But alas, there is no shock factor in beautiful sunsets, endless rolling plains and lion cubs frolicking in the bushes. There is shock factor in an image portraying a lifestyle where people drink water coming from the equivalent of a sewer.
But it’s become old.
Something about coming to Africa evokes the ‘we are here to help’ emotion. It can never be the ‘we are here to have fun’. Which is ironic because this is where all the fun is. And here’s the thing: we are tired of being used.
If after all these years of coming and showcasing our poverty to the world had helped, we would no longer have slums. This is precisely the ‘we need trade not aid’ debate all over again. It is also just a different version of the ‘hotbed of terror’ story just with different actors and slightly altered lines.
Unless the script changes, things will always stay the same. It’s time the Madonna’s of the world got that memo.