Many critics say that
celebrity activists are hypocrites - spending time
with HIV/Aids patients in Africa, and then coming to
their home countries living extravagant lifestyles.
One such critic is Abdul Mohammed.
In his recent
commentary published on this newspaper headlined,
"Celebrity Activists: A Poor Imitation of UNICEF"
[Volume 10, Number 488, September 6, 2009] Abdul
passionately criticized the recent appearance of
celebrity activists who have promoted their public
profile at the expense of substance. He described
the newly emerging celebrities as 'self-appointed'
whose main interest and activity include photo
opportunities and sound bites.
Although he refrained
from mentioning the media savvy celebrities by name,
I would include Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and
Lindsay Lohan to this list. These celebrity
disasters, once unusually described by Newsweek's
cover story as "Celebrities Gone Wild", cannot
assume the position of activists. Their embarrassing
portfolio makes them unfit to be role models to
teenagers and reveals their commitment in
I am comfortable with
Abdul's picks of the old day UNICEF celebrity
activists such as Catherine Hepburn, Danny Kaye, Sir
Lawrence Olivier, Peter Ustinov, Richard
Attenborough, Harry Belafonte and Sydney Poitier.
They truly deserve the privilege as they have
exploited their popularity as an influential
instrument to shape policies.
However, it would be
unfair to disregard the immense contribution of
present day celebrity activists in different walks
One such celebrity is
Bob Geldof (Sir). Ethiopians never forget him and
his colleagues in the mid-1980s as they raised 100m
dollars for famine aid in a rock concert. By 1991,
the Band Aid Project had also raised more than 140
million dollars for six African countries, including
Bob Geldof, who is
well-informed on a wide range of global issues, is
well-known for his involvement in the "Make Poverty
History" campaign aimed at alleviating third world
poverty. The 2005 European Edition of TIME has
recognized Geldof as one of the 2005 European Heroes
by placing him in the front cover of the magazine.
afford to forget the talk show host, Oprah Winfrey.
She had donated 450,000
dollars to the Addis Abeba Fistula Hospital. Oprah
had also raised 10m dollars to rebuild homes after
Hurricane Katrina. Her Leadership Academy for Girls
in South Africa is engaged in preparing girls from
impoverished backgrounds into the country's future
leaders. Oprah is writing limitless success stories
using her Angel Network initiative.
celebrity activist is Angelina Jolie.
She is the Goodwill
Ambassador for the UN. Media reports show that Jolie
pays one-third of her income to charity. She also
pays her own travel expenses while conducting UN
missions in risky areas such as Pakistan, Sierra
Leone and Cambodia. We do not have to forget also
that this shinning star has adopted orphans from
Ethiopia as well as other countries.
The U2 front man, Bono,
is also an activist on behalf of debt relief for
African nations. He was a Nobel Peace Prize nominee
and named by TIME magazine as its Person of the Year
in 2005. Bono was rumoured to have been seriously
considered for the possibility of the World Bank
Presidency, according to Forbes magazine.
Bono was also
instrumental in the G-8 decision to forgive more
than 40 billion dollars of debt owed by 18
countries, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa. He had
constructive talks with political heavyweights such
as former US President, George W. Bush; US Treasury
Secretary, Paul H. O'Neill and Canadian Prime
Minister, Paul Martin to mention just a few. World
Vision Canada has described Bono as "a tireless
crusader for issues affecting Africa."
celebrity activists include: George Clooney, known
for pressing his case concerning the crisis in
Darfur; Leonardo Dicaprio, the environment activist;
Michael J. Fox, the stem-cell research advocate and
Sean Penn, anti-Iraq war campaigner who shelled out
56,000 dollars in 2002 for a full-page ad in the
Washington Post deriding the Bush policy in Iraq.
These are only the
major players. But the list is endless.
The local media have to
encourage Ethiopian celebrity activists to involve
themselves in philanthropic causes. I think there
are many celebrities in the country who keep charity
work low key. It is up to members of the media to
bring up the activists' success stories to the
limelight. After all celebrity involvement is
crucial to raise awareness of the public in the