Angelina Jolie and the AU – Getting a celeb on board gets you headlines

2015-06-15 16:37
Angelina Jolie. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla/Nuus Noord

Angelina Jolie. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla/Nuus Noord

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The African Union Summit, held this weekend in Sandton, Johannesburg, was the perfect example of why it works to have a celebrity advance your cause.

The agenda wasn’t altogether headline grabbing, and the red carpet wasn’t exactly rolled out for journalists as the organisers got on with things at their own pace. And then suddenly, Angelina Jolie was spotted arriving at OR Tambo airport. News got out that she was addressing the AU summit, and journalists started scrambling.

Jolie’s visit went unannounced “because of security concerns around crowd control”. A source was quoted as saying that “she also doesn’t want it to be about her, but about the cause she is advancing”.

The cause Jolie was highlighting was sex crimes against women in conflict zones.

Whether or not her visit will have any effect is probably too soon to tell. But the summit, which made only page 16 in this Sunday’s City Press as matriarchs were lauded and important matters were discussed, received a major lift in awareness and publicity.

Thanks to Jolie, the event was punted on Page 1 (although the controversy surrounding Sudan president Omar al-Bashir also ensured the summit had a front-page mention) and the Jolie article (and her women’s rights cause) appeared on Page 3

Celebrities may not be solving the world’s many, complex problems, but they certainly highlight various important issues. Where would issues of poverty, hunger, health and security in Africa be without U2 singer Bono? Think environmental issues, and Leonardo DiCaprio probably comes to mind.

Although not as well-known, spare a mention for Kevin Costner and his “centrifugal oil-water separators”, a number of which were snapped up by oil company BP. Matt Damon, a cofounder of, has dedicated himself to bringing awareness to the importance of clean drinking water.

George Clooney’s work for peace in Darfur and Sudan has earned him numerous awards. And now that he’s married to a human rights lawyer, he can really make his philantropic work fly.

Some celebrities have had more tangible results. Chef Jamie Oliver managed to persuade the British government to do something about the state of food in schools thanks to his healthy eating campaign. And don’t forget musician Paul McCartney and vegetarianism – coincidentally, it is World Meat Free Day today.

The research into celebrities has had some mixed results. Last year, research found that although 45% of US adults believe that celebrities can make either a large (11%) or some (33%) positive difference to issues they are promoting, a greater proportion (51%) feel that they make little to no difference.

But research done in the United States at Rutgers-Camden University and published in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly in September 2014 suggests movie stars, musical performers, and other celebrities who are associated with philanthropic causes help increase financial support from the public.

And there’s no arguing that the substantial financial contributions made by celebrities help.

A 2002 study titled Charitable Giving: How Much, By Whom, To What, and How? by researchers at Boston College Centre for Wealth and Philanthropy found that, in the United States, families with a net worth of $1.15 million or more make 50% of all charitable contributions, even though they represent 7% of all households nationwide.

Think media mogul Oprah Winfrey and her donations to educating women – she even opened a girls school in South Africa – and the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which he founded in 1992, and which support programmes to prevent the spread of HIV and help those living with HIV/Aids. Microsoft’s Bill Gates has donated millions of dollars to education in South Africa through his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

And Angie? Women’s rights and the rape of women in conflict zones is a complex issue. It will take much more than one speech by one celebrity to see an improvement, especially on a continent that isn’t exactly known for its human rights record.

I doubt that her visit has managed to – or will – upgrade the lives of women in Africa but it certainly highlighted the African Union Summit – and gave the weekend papers some pretty pictures.

Read more on:    au summit  |  angelina jolie  |  celebrities

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