"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


celebrity aid done right

Longtime readers of this blog know that I am very cynical about celebrity advocacy in general. My eyes glaze over when I see a link to a story about whichever starlet Prendergast is courting to "be a voice for Darfur" or a heartwarming 60 Minutes segment about Madonna becoming one with Malawi's orphans. For all the talk about "bringing attention" to "neglected crises," the vast majority of celebrities who get involved on the African continent do little more than bring attention to themselves while funding small programs here or there that might or might not do anyone any good.

All that's to say, this next sentence is going to shock some of you: at least one celebrity is getting it right when it comes to the eastern DRC.

I know. I'm shocked, too. When I heard that Ben Affleck was headed out to Goma, and that he was starting the Eastern Congo Initiative, I groaned. But the more I'm learning about the organization, the more I'm convinced that the ECI is getting it right. Starting with their mission to promote the hadisi, the stories, of the people of the eastern Congo:
The Swahili word for “story”. Every person has the capacity to create their own story. ECI supports local organizations, leaders, and advocates in eastern Congo that are writing a new story for the region.
What is the Eastern Congo Initiative doing right?
  • Demonstrating a commitment to hiring local leadership. Very few international charities or NGO's that talk about community development actually follow through by trusting locals to direct programs, manage budgets, and run the show. Kudos to the ECI for a commitment to working differently from the beginning.
  • Working with community organizations that have already established a record of solving problems, providing services, and making programs work, even with extremely limited resources. This is not a program that involves outsiders coming in and telling communities what to do. Rather, ECI is focused on supporting organizations that have a proven record of leading development in their own communities.
  • Not trying to reinvent the wheel. By working with existing organizations, unnecessary duplication of programs can be prevented. Best practices developed in Congolese communities can be expanded and transferred to other communities. Local expertise developed through the long years of the wars and the transition can be drawn upon.
  • Being program-driven rather than personality-driven. Yes, the celebrity founder's name is on the website. But the website isn't all about the celebrity. Instead, the focus is on community empowerment in five areas: support for victims of sexual violence, support for vulnerable children, community-based peace and reconciliation, improved health care access, and economic opportunity promotion. That there are more pictures and stories on the website of Congolese leaders helping affected populations than of Affleck's trips there is a good sign that the ECI isn't going to be all about self-promotion. And that is a good thing.
I'm looking forward to watching what happens as the ECI names a country director and begins funding programs that work. Every single time I'm in the region, I meet remarkable people who are doing amazing work to rebuild their communities without any outside support. If the ECI can use Affleck's celebrity to raise funds and provide support to those community leaders in a way that empowers and builds up the eastern Congo while helping support the tremendous potential that exists in the region, I'm all for it.


Blogger friends of congo said...

Ben Affleck appears to be listening to the Congolese people regarding development of their own communities.

Now, imagine if the corollary exited on the policy end and world leaders were listening to policy prescriptions offered by the Congolese people such as the letter written to Hillary Clinton by South Kivu MPs (http://www.friendsofthecongo.org/resource-center/policy-a-issue-briefs.html)

Alas, the "savants" in Washington are pushing a bankrupt, half-baked conflict minerals approach which is a narrow, vulgar reduction of the challenges facing the Congo and the role the global community can constructively play in helping to bring an end to the ongoing conflict. See critique here: http://conflictminerals.org

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 7:18:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Their mission to promote the hadisi (the Swahili word for “story”) of the people of the eastern Congo."
I don't believe that Swahili is used in Congo or Rwanda. It makes one wonder about the accuracy of the statement.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 8:09:00 AM

Blogger Cate said...

Now if only they had a way to contact them on their website or Facebook page. I realize that there are probably a whole slew of organizations that want to "get in on the action" so to speak, but that shouldn't prevent them from being open and welcoming. I'm working to raise money in the states for a small eastern Congolese organization and would love to draw their attention to it - but how??

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 9:12:00 AM

Anonymous Chris said...

"I don't believe that Swahili is used in Congo or Rwanda. It makes one wonder about the accuracy of the statement."

Swahili is one of the DRC's four official languages and is the predominant language spoken in the eastern portion of the country.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 10:16:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Anon, as Chris said, Swahili is the dominant lingua franca of the eastern DRC. It is less used in Rwanda, but the ECI isn't really making any claims about Rwanda as I understand it.

Cate - I think that's coming; they're still in the very early stages of hiring staff and deciding what types of programs to fund. If you'll email me your contact info, I can pass it along.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 12:33:00 PM

Blogger Cate said...

Will do - thanks so much.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 1:06:00 PM

Blogger Derrill Watson said...

Any comments on this story and the legislation behind it from CGD?


Wednesday, July 21, 2010 1:43:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Derrill, I have a post on the Reuters story on it going up tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 3:24:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well it's good to see that something has come of Affleck's DRC "fact finding missions." Two years ago, Nightline devoted an episode to a documentary created by and starring Affleck, on the crisis in Congo. I wasn't too thrilled with what I saw. Allfleck hit all the right notes to suck viewers in, interviewing child rape survivors, meeting with Laurent Nkunda, and actually trying to negotiate with the FDLR to head back to Rwanda...

I blogged my thoughts on that episode here if you are interested: http://newsoutofafrica.wordpress.com/2008/07/01/q-how-many-celebrities-does-it-take-to-save-africa/

Sunday, July 25, 2010 7:43:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

He stands against child rape! The rape of Children is so wrong, he says, bravely.

Hey everyone, Ben Affleck is opposed to child rape! What a brave stand. What an extraordinary movie star he is! He has moral convictions that are clear and strong. This is wrong to him: CHILD RAPE! What a sharp eye for injustice.

BTW how come there's nothing on his "initiative" site about the role gadgets play in driving this fucking bloodbath? Why nothing about the role Paul Kagame's henchmen are playing? Speaking of which, how did he land that Nkunda interview (worth its weight in GOLD by the way-- any of you ever see Clooney or Damon hanging out with real badasses?)

Monday, July 26, 2010 8:49:00 PM

Blogger Nell Okie said...

Another falsehood from you:

Mr. Prendergast does not "court starlets".

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 7:57:00 PM

Blogger Nell Okie said...

Don't you think you should fact check before posting?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 11:54:00 PM


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