Category Archives: Paulette Goudge

The More Fashionable Berlin Conference

In Africa, we were around thousands of people who have seen a lot of poverty, but they were fun at the end of the day- Angelina Jolie

I used to assume after watching the movie Blood Diamonds [sic] that diamonds were not acceptable to buy from Africa. However, it is the complete opposite! -Kim Karasian after visiting diamond mines in Botswana

I am overwhelmed and inspired by my trip to Malawi and hope that it helps bring attention to how much more the world needs to do to help the children of Africa- Madonna

I represent a lot of people [in Africa] who have no voice at all… They haven`t asked me to represent them. It’s cheeky but I hope they’re glad I do.’- Bono

And one more quote from Bono, just because I care so deeply for him and his sunglasses:

Africa is sexy and people need to know that – Bono, The New York Times

Celebrity involvement in development has appeared to have exponentially grown over the past few years. Each month there is another story of an international celebrity donating, building, adopting etc. in Africa:

‘Angelina Jolie builds orphanage with her very own hands’

‘Madonna adopts entire African village’

‘Bono cures AIDS’

The idea of ‘African development’ has materialized in the shape of celebrity causes. Since I am attempting to explore the ways in which development is substantiated in North America or the ‘developed’ world, the involvement of celebrities in development is an interesting topic. The argument in favor of celebrity involvement in ‘African development’ usually follows the logic of why should they not do something positive with their fame and fortune? In their positions of influence, why not draw attention to the dire situations around the world?

Well I, along with help from some all-knowing academics, will tell you why not. With the greater involvement of celebrities in development, academics have busted out of their ivory towers and joined forces to squash this idea of this positive altruism. In their article ‘The Downside of Celebrity Diplomacy: The Neglected Complexity of Development’ Heribert Dieter and Rajiv Kumar explore the relationship between celebrities and development in three particular areas :

First, [they] chart the rise of prominent celebrity activists in international affairs, in particular their impact on development policies of the member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Second, [they] examine the competence of celebrities to handle development issues and suggest a more nuanced and less paternalistic approach. Third, [they] consider the legitimacy of celebrity activists and whether these nonelected individuals are well positioned to berate democratically elected governments.

In the first page of their article Dieter and Kumar summarize their argument:

The Irish rock star Paul Hewson, better known as Bono, is not only the front man of the band U2 but has also become the champion of an antipoverty movement with worldwide impact. Bono is supported by US economist Jeffrey Sachs, who has become a global spokesperson for poverty reduction, especially in Africa. Surprisingly, the recipes being suggested by Bono and Sachs are breathtakingly one-dimensional and akin to the sweeping propositions of the 1960s: give aid to Africa, waive debt, and provide education, and the continent will develop. While these remedies may look seductive, unfortunately the reality is far more complex and demands attention to the specific circumstance of each individual country or subregion. Grand ideas for development are a dangerous recipe and may in fact worsen the situation of the poor.

In their argument Dieter and Kumar, raise very important issues regarding celebrity knowledge of development and their portrayal of Africa. I do not doubt that most celebrities involved in ‘development’ are legitimately passionate for the causes they are championing. However, the methods in which they go about addressing the so-called issues are problematic. As argued by Dieter and Kumar, celebrities often offer simplistic solutions:

-Angelina Jolie proposes to build more schools, improve conditions in refugee camps

-Kim Khardasian champions more purchasing of diamonds to fuel African economies

-Madonna raises funds to build more orphanages or improves the lives of African children by bringing them to America

-Bono loudly champions more school, education that is more accessible, more condoms

While there seems to be nothing inherently negative about these suggested methods of ‘developing’ Africa, there ineffectiveness has clearly been illustrated with the reversal of development that has happened over the past century in Africa (In her work Dead Aid, Dambisa Moyo reviews how the trillions of dollars of aid pumped into Africa have not improved conditions). Many scholars and development practitioners have argued against the effectiveness of the sort of development championed by celebrities (see Kapoor, Ilan “Participatory Development, Complicity and Desire 2005, Giles Mohan and Kristian Stokke “Participatory Development and Empowerment: the Dangers of Localism 2000). The theories presented by these scholars criticize common participatory frameworks of development and suggest rethinking the concept of development. These critical development theories would imply that celebrities are unqualified to suggest methods of ‘developing’ Africa. But why would we expect them to? Why would individuals who devoted their entire lives to careers based on themselves, suddenly be qualified to address one of the most complex international situations? Dieter and Kumar’s argument that celebrities’ “grand suggestions for development…may infact worsen the situation” is an idea I have wrestled with extensively in my own work. I have reviewed the various ways in which the ‘third world’ is portrayed in the North American media and how these visuals are tied to notions of ‘development’ that are unsustainable and may worsen the situation.

The ways in which celebrities often frame Africa and development fall into these categories:

-Africa as a whole or country

-Africa as destitute

-Africa as rural

-Africa as ‘black’ ( Paulette Goudge’s work The Whiteness of Power: Racism in Third World Development and Aid greatly addresses this topic)

-African development as reliant on us (us being the western world)

Without getting into it too extensively (as I would like to address it over various blog entries), I argue that these representations result in the employment of development methods that ignore the complex histories, cultures and peoples of Africa.

Does building the same orphanage in Sierra Leone and Botswana and Zimbawe make sense?

Does adopting children address the historical, systemic and economic issues that various African nations face?

Is greater access to orphanages and schools improving the overall situation in African countries, or are we missing the target?

And the questions could go on and on.

I believe that celebrity involvement in development, similarly to consumerism, is not conducive to serious knowledge exchange regarding the complexities of development in Africa. It is this same notion of development that is pushed through fair trade products and travel holidays, in which ‘development’ must take place in the ‘third world’. There is often little conversation regarding international economic policies that are detrimental to African countries, North American interest in various African conflicts, or implications of colonial histories in current ideas of development.  Dieter and Kumar elegantly summarize my sentiments when they suggest that:

Celebrities’ contemporary calls to ‘make poverty history’ in Africa are so widely repeated and commonsensical that questions about the exceptionality of this humanitarian action itself rarely arise.

Celebrities are contributing to this understanding of development that must take place in the ‘third world’. The discourse of ‘they are the problem and we will help them’, is continually being disseminated to a population who worships celebrities. I believe that celebrities interested in aiding Africa, should stick to acting, singing or fashion and be involved in ‘development’ by giving some of the outrageous amount of money they make to development professionals, academics or people like myself…

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Filed under Aid, Bono, Celebrity, Current Events, Development, International Development, Paulette Goudge, Politics, The Ivory Towers

Giving Without Borders- See the World and Make a Difference at the Same Time

Imagine, for a moment, the situation is the other way around – a recent arrival froma ‘Third World’ country arrives at your workplace…this person turns up out of the blue, having been invited by a fellow expatriate…. the person is not paid, but has sufficient private resources to live in the best part of town and it is clear that he/she will not be expected to conform to the hours of the working day or the days of the working week. This person apparently wants to help in some unspecified way but does not speak the language, knows next to nothing of the history of culture and has no idea of existing professional levels of expertise, nor of expectations. And yet this person expects to be given useful, meaningful work immediately and, what’s more, to be instantly socially accepted (Goudge 2003: 11).

In her work, The Whiteness of Power: Racism in Third World Development and Aid (a highly recommended read), Paulette Goudge incorporates an examination of holidays aimed at helping the ‘needy’, into her overall argument. Goudge analyses the VSO (Volunteer Service Organisation) working holiday advertisements and their representation of the ‘third world’ as an exotic other, where westerners are able to escape their mundane lives and live like the locals for a few months (2003: 35). Without delving too deeply into her work, Goudge raises important issues that are often overlooked, regarding the implications of overseas volunteer programs, which can be related to the featured article.

The above pictures are taken from ‘O’ magazine, Oprah Winfrey’s publication which features articles on the latest diets, trends and ‘inspirational’ topics, all jammed in between a ridiculous amount of advertisements. This article titled ‘A One-Man International Aid Organization’ is about Barton Brooks an ex real estate broker. According to Sara Corbett, the author of the article, Brooks left his meaningless job and took to ‘Traveling the world donating clothing, wheelchairs, books, and chickens (when he [was not] not laying bricks, building wells, and planting trees)” (http://www.oprah.com/world/Barton-Brooks-Global-Colors-Mission-Giving-Back_1/1). In the article, Brooks advocates for individuals to become involved in what he calls Guerrilla Aid. This form of ‘aid’ consists of tourists, leaving their luxury resorts to spend a few days donating their skills to development projects. Brooks advocates, ‘”If you’re on vacation in Cancún [and] there are three orphanages within driving distance, why don’t you make that part of your spring break? Go in, do something, get out ” (Corbett, 3).

While Brooks advocates for people to get involved with this Guerrilla Aid, author Corbett warns it is not without risk. Brooks has ‘been stranded on an empty stretch of the Mekong River after the boat he was traveling on broke down. He’s had dysentery and bug bites. And last March, while riding a motorbike on a rural road in Uganda, Brooks came around a blind corner and was hit head-on by a truck. He broke his right shoulder, lacerated his face, and shattered his left arm and several bones in his left leg’ (Corbett, 3). Do not fear though, illness and injury could not stop Brooks’ heroic character and he continues to bring his ‘Guerrilla Aid’ brand of development to the  ‘third world’.

My first contact with this article initially made me want to:

1)    Go on my own guerilla mission and find our dear Barton Brooks to ‘discuss’ his new meaningful life

2)    Rewire my brain so I could skim through an ‘O’ magazine and enjoy these inspirational stories and beautiful advertisements

3)    Retreat into a hole somewhere far away from humans

Luckily, I have recovered from my initial shock and compiled a few of my thoughts on what I perceive as the issues with this idea of ‘development’. Brooks’ idea of leaving the resort for a few days and becoming involved with the local people, has a multitude of contentious points. I would like to however focus on more of the institutionalization of this idea. It is not just Brooks, but various individuals and organizations that advocate for these brands of volunteer holidays. VSO, as reviewed by Goudge is merely one of thousands of organizations that uses images of lands ripe with giraffes and lions and peoples in straw roofed huts, with colourful rings adorning their long slender necks, to entice North Americans to go overseas.

What these development programs generally involve are:

1)   Paying a rather large fee for flight and accommodation (how do you say business scheme in development talk?)

2)   Some sort of pre trip information course – “ The cultural norms may differ, as these people have different customs. You may have to cover your knees and shoulders when it is very hot outside.

The conditions may be different, we will not always have hot water or cool air, but do not worry our last weekend we will spend in a 5 star resort to recuperate after all our hard work”

3)   The trip- Building something, teaching a health curriculum to the locals ‘this is how you properly wash your hands’ etc.

4)   A post trip presentation in a North American school, community centre etc.- “ The people were so welcoming and grateful. They had so little but were so happy, my life is changed forever…’

I am not condemning North Americans’ ability to travel and be exposed to various cultures (as I have taken advantage of this privilege).  What I am critical of is the portrayal of this travel as ‘development’ or as beneficial to the overseas communities North Americans visit. Aligned with North American discourse on development, these holidays depict ‘development’ as taking place in the ‘third world’ with help from the ‘first world’, rather than ‘development’ meaning the targeting of unfair global economic policies or North American consumption patterns etc.

If you have been involved with one of these overseas ‘development’ initials, like I have, you have witnessed the ways in which this ‘help’ disrupts everyday activities. Having volunteered at a school overseas, I quickly realized my help was not needed, as the local teachers were entirely more qualified than I was. However, I was welcomed, listened to and rarely critiqued, which speaks greatly to the power relations these overseas trips enforce. Goudge examines this solidification of power relations through volunteer holidays, which she locates in racially charged imagery and racial relations. As Goudge recognizes, if we are honest with ourselves, these trips act as more of a resume builder ie- international experience for us North Americans, rather than to create sustainable development in the communities we visit.

What I am trying to outline is that international development has taken the shape of travel holidays in North America. I think it is essential we review the implications of this understanding of development, questioning who these holidays actually aim to help and what ideas of the ‘third world’ this form of ‘development’ disseminates to the North American public.

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Filed under Consumerism, Current Events, Development, Guerilla Aid, International Development, Paulette Goudge, Politics, Power of Whiteness, The First World, The Third World