Open letter to Not on Our Watch: are you watching Ivory Coast?
The celebrity as activist is a phenomenon that is here to stay.
A development campaign is hardly complete without some celebrity being given a guided tour through crowds of people, in far-flung places, whose lives have been devastated by acts of God or the cruelty of men.
And an entertainer’s portfolio is hardly complete without a humanitarian campaign. Celebrities seem to be lining up to get into bed with almost any NGO, for almost any cause, no matter how improbable the relationship. I doubt anybody would have guessed Ronan Keating was passionate about and well-versed in global agriculture issues – until of course the Boyzone singer, in his capacity as FAO goodwill ambassador, writes the forward for a UK Parliamentary Inquiry on Food Security. No, didn’t see that one coming either.
So celebrities are part of the development landscape but where are they in the months or years before simmering disagreements boil over into conflicts that claim thousands of lives and displace millions? Surely it is then they should be using their ‘paparazzi power’ to steer the media and the policy maker’s attention towards situations that would otherwise remain unseen? They may have a favourite cause but what should their response be to emerging crises?
I thought I’d ask some celebrities.
The letter below is to Not on Our Watch, a charity founded by George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Jerry Weintraub and David Pressman. Their reputations as celebrity campaigners and this mission statement made them the obvious choice.
Our mission is to focus global attention and resources towards putting an end to mass atrocities around the world. Drawing upon the powerful voices of artists, activists, and cultural leaders, Not On Our Watch generates lifesaving humanitarian assistance and protection for the vulnerable, marginalized, and displaced. We encourage governing bodies to take meaningful, immediate action to protect those in harm’s way. Where governments remain complacent, Not On Our Watch is committed to stopping mass atrocities and giving voice to their victims.
To whom it may concern,
In the ensuing months, UN agencies have left the country, with the exception of UNHCR and UNICEF – the latter, a source says, are not legally allowed to operate under no head of government. Peaceful demonstrations have been met with violence and the latest reports say that Laurent Gbagbo is recruiting young, disenfranchised men to join his forces as civil war becomes more and more likely.
Sound like Rwanda? And like Rwanda, Ivory Coast’s geopolitical insignificance, the rapid succession of protests in the Middle East and North Africa and the threat of nuclear destruction in Japan has meant that global leaders have largely ignored the failing west African state and the world’s press continues to make lack-lustre observations.
There has never been a better opportunity for celebrities to turn the world’s attention to a situation that is desperately lacking coverage and decisive action. Visiting refugee camps is well and good; hugging the orphan and comforting the grieving mother, humane. But surely we must act before the camps are needed, a child looses her parents or a mother mourns her son?
Rwanda should have taught us: though none of our own interests seem to be at stake, the suffering of humanity cannot be ignored.
Will Not On Our Watch live up to its name?
The letter was sent on March 22. As of yet, I have not been graced with a reply.