June 24, 2006

Angelina & Brad: Colonial Overlords?

Posted in Namibia at 1:03 pm by greatparanoiac

jolie_pitt.jpg

Earlier in the week it was reported in various news sources that charity campaigners for Namibia’s National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) wanted Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt banned from Namibia. They called the couple “colonial overlords” and accused them of taking over the African country when their daughter Shiloh Nouvel was born.

An NSHR spokesman said: “To shut down a national border so she can give birth in peace is a massive abuse of power.” The human rights campaigners claim Angelina and Brad “used heavy-handed and brutal tactics” to persuade the Namibian government to agree to their demands.

What’s even more interesting are all the comments bloggers are posting on this story. Mostly criticizing the Hollywood couple while pointing out social issues they should be supporting back in the States instead or how different things are for pregnant women in Namibia. Of course it’s different. Angelina was never going to squat in a bush while biting down on a leather strap to keep her mind off childbirth pain. When you have unlimited financial resources you can afford to fly in your obstetrician from L.A. and stay in an exclusive resort minutes away from hospital with all the security detail you want.

I think bloggers are missing the big picture. Perhaps Angelina chose to give birth in Africa as a sign of solidarity with African women and because she appreciates its people and culture. More Americans now know where Namibia is, thanks to Angelina and Brad. Wasn’t that alone worth their efforts? These two are a savvy couple who know Westerners have a morbid fascination with celebrities.  They’ve exploited that to raise awareness and get as much money as possible for their baby pictures and put that money to good use. Hopefully it’s not just handing a large check over to UNICEF, Save the Children or WorldVision, but that the money is distributed at a local level.

I think the frustrations voiced by Namibia’s NSHR is the same frustrations felt everywhere in Africa in regards to the role Westerners and international staffers play in development and humanitarian work. Africans want the tools to help themselves become self-sufficient. It is paternalistic to see a Westerner handing out candy to begging African children, refer to them as “those poor, suffering people” and go back home to L.A., London or Rome whenever they feel like it.  

But that’s separate from empathizing with a peoples’ struggle or social injustice. If a famous couple want to use their status to draw attention to the infant mortality rate in Southern Africa, that’s fine. Angelina and Brad aren’t foreign policy experts or development specialists. I’m hoping the attention they drummed up on their trip to Namibia shames those that are in a position of power to do something about it.

Raising awareness is important–especially in a society like ours where we tend to be isolationists and have a government that acts unilaterally. At the very least, the latest Angelina & Brad rubbernecking moment has allowed us to see how life can be such as crap shoot. How is someone born to become the future king of England and someone else born HIV+ in Botswana. Being born in North America or Western Europe is like winning the lottery. Let’s support efforts that will give children from developing countries a better future. 

And let us never speak another word of Brangelina again. Well—unless the next adoption is also from Africa.

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