Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian to Africa’s rescue

By Simon Allison 27 February 2013

Forget NGOs, development goals, policy papers: all Africa really needs is a little super-stardust. Luckily, with Kim Kardashian on hand to revive the continent’s image and Beyoncé ready to share her poverty alleviation expertise, we’ve got exactly that. By SIMON ALLISON.

Africa is rising, we hear again and again amid reports of growing GDP and a burgeoning middle class. But don’t worry if all those numbers and statistics and economic mumbo-jumbo tires your little brain, numbed and flaccid after years of dumbed-down entertainment, because finally we have some actual, conclusive proof. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen of the reality TV generation, here is the Africa Rising narrative in language you can actually understand: Kim Kardashian, the biggest celebrity nonentity since Paris Hilton, was in Nigeria, and there are pictures to prove it.

This immediately tells us two things. First, someone in Nigeria can afford her, which means there must be real money floating around (maybe, just maybe, that former finance minister who keeps emailing you about his safety deposit box was onto something). Because special K is no sucker, and she doesn’t come cheap: a 45 minute appearance and brief speech (oh so brief: “Hey, Naija” was all Kim managed in Lagos) is going to set you back a cool $500,000.

Second, and this is the kicker, is the fact that pregnant Kim, along with the future reality TV star in her belly, is even prepared to slum it with the locals in Lagos, accustomed as she is to the high life in New York and Los Angeles. And it’s not just Lagos, either; last month she was in Cote D’Ivoire promoting some product or other, and a couple years ago South Africa was the grateful beneficiary of her anodyne personality.

And from this we can all be encouraged: if everyone else is trying to keep up with the Kardashians, and they are, then who knows what other stars might be heading our way, or where they might go? It won’t be long before we see Snooky trying her luck on the Jozi shore or Honey Boo Boo teaching child soldiers in the Congo how to apply pageant make-up. Africa is on the map: not as a war zone, not as a corrupt dictatorship, not as a refugee camp, but as a glitzy, overpriced nightclub full of girls in tiny dresses, overly-manicured men and vacuous celebrities. This is what passes for normal in the modern world, and now we’re a part of it. Lucky us.

But it’s not all good news, unfortunately. The Kardashian whirlwind that descended on Lagos left some top quality journalism in its wake, as hard as that might be to believe, and not just those hard-won pictures of how “Kim Kardashian & Her Bountiful Boobs Avoid Breaching Security At LAX” en route. Interested in how much exactly it took to lure Kim to Nigeria, investigators at Sahara Reporters discovered something odd about another major celebrity visit to Lagos.

In 2006, Beyoncé and Jay-Z were brought to Nigeria to perform at a festival organised by one of Africa’s biggest media groups, ThisDay. The event, costing $10 million in total, was sponsored by various companies and institutions, including Bayelsa State which, at the time, was governed by none other than Nigeria’s cowboy hat-wearing president Goodluck Jonathan. No one’s sure quite how much of this went to the couple themselves.

So far, so good. Jay-Z did his thing and Beyoncé won over her audience with a few mumbled words about her “ancestors being from here” and “feeling at home”, along with “a little gift”: a heartfelt, not-at-all-lip-synched rendition of the Nigerian national anthem. Entertain, they did; alleviate poverty, not so much.

You may be wondering: what does poverty alleviation have to do with anything? Well that’s the problem. According to a document uncovered by Sahara Reporters, a cool $1 million of the sponsorship money generously donated by Bayelsa State came directly from the state’s poverty alleviation fund. That’s right: at some point, someone convinced Goodluck Jonathan that the one thing that poor people in his state really need is a really expensive hip hop concert. In Lagos. A good 600km away.

Jonathan, predictably, has so far ignored these reports. But he should address them head on, because there are any number of reasonable explanations: maybe he thought that the influx of publicity generated by a superstar appearance in Nigeria would encourage foreign investment, some of which could end up in Bayelsa; maybe he figured that his administration was so corrupt that the $1 million was never going to get to the poor anyway, so why not spend it on something to cheer every one up; maybe he mistook Jay-Z and Beyoncé for activist superstars in the mould of Bono or Madonna and thought they were going to bring a poverty solution with them.

Not buying it? You’re not alone. “Jonathan has some sizable questions to answer,” wrote Elliot Ross for Africa is a Country. He does indeed, but don’t worry – all will be revealed on next season’s series of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. DM

Read more:

  • Kim Kardashian does Lagos, on the Guardian
  • Africa is keeping up with Kim Kardashian: but will it pay the price? on the Guardian
  • Did Goodluck Jonathan pay $1 million from anti-poverty fund to bring Beyoncé and Jay-Z to Nigeria? on Africa is a Country

Photo: Kim Kardashian (Reuters)


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