A huge population of Africa was excited that Beyonce would be performing on the continent, thanks to the Global Citizen Festival. What they did not anticipate was the patronising attitude that the festival brought to the fore when world leaders and corporate moguls took to the stage to pledge funds for something or the other.
Global Citizen is “a movement of engaged citizens who are using their collective voice to end extreme poverty by 2030” through a series of activities including concerts and grassroots and digital engagement. Some of the areas of focus include Girls & Women, Health, education, finance & Innovation, Food & Hunger, Water & Sanitation, Environment and Citizenship.
It is under this banner that the festival in South Africa was held on Sunday to celebrate the 100th birthday of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela. The festival brought in top-notch celebrities, with Beyonce and her husband Jay Z leading the pack; Oprah, Ed Sheeran, Usher, Pharrell and regional stars such as Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, DBanj and Cassper Nyovest.
More about this
Many were there for the performances but they had to endure speeches and pledges from corporations and heads of states and government representatives. And this is where my issue lies.
In some of these speeches, Africa was painted as the dark continent. The place that is holding the rest of the world back from development and from getting rid of some evils including disease, poverty and hunger. A lot of the speakers were lyrical about these issues, clearly showing that they were really not 100% aware of the underlying factors that contribute to such ‘social ills’ or the complicated history of a continent disestablished by foreign powers over the years.
It is also through these speeches that blatant disregard of the political angle of these ‘social ills’ was revealed. Africa’s problems are more about political will than individual effort. Over and over again, individuals have found a way of circumnavigating the tough political landscape to make an impact on the society, but not so many have such resilience especially when poverty, repression and other crises are constantly against them.
And thus, instead of addressing these core issues and the politics of existence on this continent, festivals like the Global Citizen continues with the destabilisation of Africans. It does not matter that they got companies and head of states pledging to fund important functionalities including health and fight against HIV and poverty.
In most cases, the same governments are the same that mishandle the resources and wage wars that send even more Africans below the poverty line. Therefore, with such festivals, there is no accountability from the pledging governments, some of which have even failed back at home in working on the same aspects they are pledging for.
Zero accountability coupled with dependence on external funds would inadvertently privatise public resources, leaving governments using taxes for other things- usually making its officials rich at the expense of the citizens it was voted in to protect. Basic services will now move towards corporations and in no time people will be forced to fork out money even when they cannot afford it and thus conversely facilitate poverty instead of fixing it.
Therefore, instead of placing the onus on individuals, platforms like Global Citizen should hold accountable governments and find a way of measuring the implementation of the pledges and keep track of the impact of the contribution for global citizens who have contributed to their programs.
It calls for divesting from a myopic view of global problems and stop making strange bedfellows with companies, which through their activities, put the lives of Africans and global poor in dire straits. It calls for an interrogation of policies and laws that governments and companies across the world put in place to ensure that they do not affect the underprivileged in the society and instead uplift them to ensure they are equal in all ways.
Without that, we’ll hold as many concerts and festivals as we want but nothing will come out of it.