I have been completely engrossed this week in the ongoing flap/snarkfest between Madonna and Malawi. It's like junior high only with, you know, an African nation. First Madonna's all, "Hey, girl," (to the President of Malawi Dr. Joyce Banda) "'Sup? Wanna Hang?" And the President is all, uh, no, and Madonna is all, "The President won't meet with me because I fired her sister," and her friends are all like, "oooh," and then the President of Malawi is all like, "Whatevs, like I even care," and her spokeperson is all
1. Neither the President nor any official in her government denied Madonna any attention or courtesy during her recent visit to Malawi because as far as the administration is concerned there is no defined attention and courtesy that must be followed in respect of her.and goes on for, like, 10 more points. Ooh, snap!
And then, like, Madonna has to go through regular security with, like, regular people to get out of the country. Super snap!
Binyavanga Wainaina posted an open letter to Madonna in the Guardian, sarcastically pointing out that Madonna can bestow her largesse on Kenya, which is much better equipped to deal with tourists.
It's been well over a century since we met your people, and since then Africa's relationship with the western world has gone from strength to strength. Today, bad people, like those from China, Brazil and India are coming to Africa to bring colonialism back by buying our minerals and crops at good market prices and giving us cheapish loans for infrastructure.
But some of us Africans are deeply committed to the values Europe and the west brings to us: like democracy, human rights and lots and lots of cold hard cash for human rights workers and civil society and anything, really, that does things like Sustainability, Empowerment and most of all, Capacity Building – which, as you know is very, very important for Africa's future especially as it is tax free and comes with per diems and conference allowances. Imagine what your money would do in Kenya! We have cannier auditors than the Malawians.Again, ouch. And a bit of a zing for all of us who want to Help The Africans to note that The Africans despise much of the charitable help we offer.
But aside from all the gossipy and snarky bits, How Matters posted an important reflection:
Beyond the celebrity vs. politician whoo-ha, there is another story to take notice of– the behind-the-scenes persistence, vision, and impact of the local leaders and effective, indigenous organizations who are working to solve their own country’s problems, on their own terms.
I’ve worked for many years with the leaders of Eye of the Child, Malawi’s leading child rights advocacy organization, which led the civil society charge for an injunction against both of Madonna’s adoptions. Though they were not successful in preventing the adoptions, they have been incredibly successful in forging closer ties with government officials to support them to navigate tricky donor relations with such funders and foundations as Madonna’s, as well as to reform Malawi’s contradictory laws governing adoption and child protection.
That’s the story I’d rather hear–one of citizens holding their governments to account. Not as sexy, but way more important at the end of the day.