A row has been brewing between UK MP David Lammy and the UK Charity Comic Relief. According to the BBC Lammy allegedly criticized celebrities including presenter Stacey Dooley for perpetuating “tired and unhelpful stereotypes” about Africans after she posted a photo of herself with a Ugandan child on Instagram. ‘Comic Relief waded into the row to defend the Strictly Come Dancing winner, saying it was “really grateful” Dooley had agreed to discover more about its charity projects. It said it made “no apologies for this”.
Comic Relief went further to reiterate its invitation to Lammy to go to Africa to do a film for the charity. The MP has turned the invitation stating that he would not be part of the charity’s PR. Comic Relief does not seem to understand that it is not about who presents Africa in a way to generate funds, it is what is portrayed.
In December 2017, Ed Shearon’s comic relief film in Liberia generated an outcry for reinforcing a white savoir stereotype according to The Guardian. But Comic Relief is not ready to change its tactics. The charity defends its approach as a successful fundraising strategy.
What organizations like Comic Relief are not getting is that a successful fund raising does not make a successful and effective humanitarian action or response. If that successful fundraising is at the expense, manipulation and exploitation of Africa’s image, then more harm is being done.
Lammy continues to hold his ground. As far as he is concerned the manipulation of Africa’s children for charity fundraising drive is not a comic relief: pun intended. He is right.
Many Africans and their allies have gone public with concerns that the negative image of Africa is deliberately manipulated and driven by the fund-raising agenda of Western based humanitarian aid and development organizations. Criticisms are also rife against the role and involvement of Western celebrities in enforcing the aid and charity image of Africa.
In today’s global economy, Africa’s crises are packaged to generate revenue for assistance. When there are major crises, this revenue supports lifesaving interventions. But the ease with which we have embraced the reference of `humanitarianism’, `charity’ and `aid’ as industries continues to reinforce the commodification of images of Africa and Africans for fundraising for charities.
Africa’s children are not accessories for promoting Western celebrities’ image and reputation. The image of Stacy Dooley and the Ugandan child is a cliché that needs to stop. Enough already.