National Public Radio’s Goats and Soda recently highlighted a new philanthropic campaign by American singer, songwriter, dancer and actress, Beyoncé, #BeyGood4Burundi. According to her website, it appears that Beyoncé is working with UNICEF to build water supply systems for healthcare facilities and schools, and the drilling of boreholes, wells and springs to bring safe water to districts. However, the initiative’s seeming lack of forethought into its execution (there are sparse details on plans for execution; funding; and lack of in-depth research on context and intervention; etc.) reminds us of many other older celebrities’ initiatives to bring aid to Africa (e.g. Bob Geldoff, Michael Jackson, Angelinque Kodjoe, Annie Lennox, Oprah, etc.). As we at CIHA Blog have written about previously, have we learned nothing? Neither new types of philanthropy (e.g. by tech giants) nor “effective altruism” counter the neocolonial and paternalistic practices of the aid industry. Indeed, both threaten to reinscribe them more forcefully given the immense amounts of money that are potentially involved.
In contrast to Beyoncé’s initiative, a recent IRIN piece entitled “International action needed over Burundi now” discusses a different type of international action that the author believes is required for Burundi moving forward. Research Analyst at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Dominique Fraser highlights the ongoing human rights violations and high risk for mass atrocities in light of the current President Pierre Nkurunziza signaling that he may amend the constitution and run for a fourth term in 2020. This follows a political crisis he ignited two years ago in Burundi when he announced that he would run for a controversial third presidential term and thousands of people were killed, disappeared, and tortured in the violence that followed.
Fraser writes that the African Union, the United Nations, and the East African Community should work together to compel the president to find a political solution to the conflict. Given that the crisis is inherently political, she holds that only a political solution can end it.
Perhaps it would be prudent for the #BeyGood4Burundi initiative to recognize that unless the political situation is improved, philanthropic interventions may only end up as glossy PR stunts or short-term band-aid solutions at best. At worst, such philanthropic projects could (and have in the past) even ended up sustaining dictatorships or being exploited for particular political gain.
Featured Image Source: #BeyGood4Burundi website