Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Special Issue: Africa

Old news is sometimes good news! As I sat in Timothy’s coffee today, adjusting to student life once again, I picked up the July 2007 Vanity Fair. The words Special Issue: Africa were blazoned across the cover, against the background of the smiling faces of Bill and Melinda Gates, and Warrant Buffet. Apparently, the magazine put out 20 different covers that month, all featuring different actors in the current era of philanthropy and activism on behalf of Africa. Not just limited to the cover, “Africa” (in the humanitarian sense) was featured throughout the magazine in articles, photographs and even advertisements (ie, the Red Campaign available at the Gap).

My interest in how we’re getting the message about issues of poverty, HIV/AIDS, and debt in Africa out in North America and Europe is keen; I’m always on the look out for new and innovative ways that individuals, NGOs and companies engaging in the continent. Two months ago, Vanity Fair succeeded in just that. By having Bono (Africa’s self appointed spokesperson) guest edit, the one time fashion magazine was fully co-opted by the movement for change in Africa (or at least one branch of it). The result? A huge group of readers (regular and not), that probably aren’t quite as engaged in the issues as, say, subscribers of the African Economist, were given a pile of information on issues far outside their usual attention.

Although in the development world we constantly question the quality of the interventions performed by these mainstream/celebrity activists, I feel like the initial pull of fame endorsing an issue is important. Get people interested, and only then turn them into critics. The sheer number of people that tune in to big name humanitarian assistance makes them incredible useful, as far as I’m concerned. Even if you don’t believe in Madonna approach to development, its difficult to disagree that it’s better to have her on board than not.

Media moments like this one just passed- the Vanity Fair Africa Special Issue- give me confidence that Africa’s issues are becoming more important to us, here in the West. They are finding their way onto our agenda through interesting and innovative venues. It gives me butterflies in my stomach.

Check out: the Darfar: Darfur exhibit at the ROM in Toronto- From Dusk to 11pm every day between September 8 and 17. Or visit

1 comment:

Stephen said...

Hi Kate

I agree, its interesting to see Vanity Fair a fashion mag pushing the cause for Africa so vigorously. Like you I want to roll my eyes with every celebrity endorsement of a cause. The image of an actor waving from their private jet as they pull up to a climate change conference enters my mind and I shutter. Ultimately though, it does bring attention to the cause and incites interest in the "everyday" people. These are the ones who make the real difference day to day with their actions.

As an aside, I came across a very interesting article on Warren Buffet and Sudan a couple of months ago. I don't want to critique Mr. Buffet's motives as I think him to be an incredibly genuine person, but this article is a must read and illustrates the complexities of the situation.
"Berkshire wealth clashes with Gates mission in Sudan",0,7433631,full.story?coll=la-home-headlines