Friday, August 24, 2007

A Good Look at Do-Gooders

Bill Clinton, Oprah and Angela Jolie are often in Africa these days, with reporters and camera crews in their wake. This week the Christian Science Monitor is taking a long look at what they are doing:

“The world's poorest, sickest, most war-ravaged continent is now the charity of choice for many of the West's best-known political, pop, and Hollywood stars. Outside attention to the continent has fueled thousands of successful programs. But, despite the aid, the number of poor people in Africa has almost doubled in the past decade, and skeptics wonder whether some stars are most interested in boosting their own profile in the eyes of a public that expects a moral dimension to its heroes.”

In a two-part series, reporter Danna Jarman tries to go beyond the reflexive sigh or sneer at their efforts and offer insight into who is doing what and to what effect.

As she follows him on a week-long four-country tour, Bill Clinton tells her, "It's easy ... to say, 'Oh, this is not serious, they are just trying to get press' My experience has been this is not true. Not everything every actor does, works. Just like not everything I do works. Not everything Bill Gates does works. But it's not true that it's not genuine. By and large, it just is."

A visiting scholar observes, "The bang for the buck is high in Africa. You can leverage your money and time. So you are not only bringing in more mosquito nets, but potentially shaping the entire national policy."

For the open-minded and/or star-struck, the Monitor series is a whirlwind tour of what George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Mia Farrow et al are doing on a continent where nothing can be enough. If it stirs readers without big names to write small checks, that would add to their efforts.

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