The image of a Hollywood celebrity cradling an African baby, trekking through a dusty village, or being guided through tents in a displacement camp, is one we have sadly become all too familiar with. The names that match these images, Madonna, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney and so on, come to us without much difficulty.
The subject of aid in Africa is a complicated one, with some projects actually affecting change, and others criticized for becoming more about the celebrities involved than the issues at hand. A longstanding criticism has been that they only show one, stereotypical, side of the continent – starvation, war, and underdevelopment.
Over the last few years, we have seen African innovators, artists, and entrepreneurs challenge a single perception of the continent, claim a space for the continent on an international stage, and re-examine the stories of Africa that are told and shared. As This Is Africa editor-in-chief Nancy Onyango said at the launch of the French version of the website in mid-August, no one denies the challenges that we face as a continent, but it is time to credit Africa as a continent that is nuanced enough to offer tangible solutions as well as celebrate its achievements.
Seeing African celebrities taking on causes that are meaningful to them, and disrupting the image of celebrity aid in Africa is a fitting example of this. Most notable is Akon’s billion-dollar solar initiative to light up Africa; in an interview with Virgin Radio Dubai, Akon explained his motivation to help, saying that he chose to strip down on ornamental flashiness and put his mind to helping people: “I’m going to cash all this in and put it somewhere where it is going to do Something.”
AS+A speakers Ger Duany, model, actor and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, and Emmanuel Jal, an award-winning artist and activist, have made headlines because of their work supporting survivors of war. Critically so, as they went through wrenching experiences in their childhoods while fleeing war (as chronicled by the 2014 film The Good Lie.) They found peace and success internationally, and chose to come back and shine a light on their homes, and use their personal profiles to raise their communities.
While the continent still has many challenges to overcome, it is important to acknowledge the unique role that African celebrities play in going head-to- head with issues that people across the continent face, while making sure that Africa’s challenges don’t define it.
George Issaias is the Founder and MD of “African Speakers and Artists”. The opinions expressed here are his.