It’s true, I have become quite fixated on Ben Affleck’s adventures in the DRC. For a long time, I’ve been giving him the benefit of the doubt. He seemed pretty genuine about just going there and learning what he could; hoping a way to help would fall in to place. I’ve been over this before, here, here, and here. All seemed reasonable well and good as these celebrity things go.
It was at the corner of Altruism Way and Hubris Boulevard where the Ben made a wrong turn and the time has come for me to pass judgment on Affleck’s African travels. He drifted from newbie, interested in the affairs to the dreaded ABSS (African Baby Saving Syndrome). Everything about the guy has gone awry with a recent article that he wrote in Time [Mutha-Uckin’] Magazine. What the…? Time doesn’t really need this and to be honest, if Affleck were just trying to “do good” he wouldn’t feel the need to write an article on what so many professional journalists have already covered.
For those used to hyperbole when it comes to Sub-Saharan Africa, the title alone says it all, “A Glimmer of Hope in Africa” Christ, did he really go there? Oh yes he did. And of course, you can’t just stop there because you really need to have some stats to go along with this:
The most vulnerable suffer the worst. One in five children in Congo will die before reaching the age of 5 — and will do so out of sight of the world, in places that camera crews cannot reach, deep in a vast landscape and concealed under a canopy of bucolic jungle.
Great. That does little to really help out the four that make it and yes, I have Paul Theroux’s reoccurring commentary in Dark Star Safari in my head right now of, “…and these were the lucky ones…” But, it seems that Affleck might just pull the article out of a nosedive when he says:
It is common in the West to read about African lives in grim statistical terms, so we’ve become inured to these huge numbers of deaths. Making matters worse, the conflict in Congo is often seen as a hopelessly byzantine African tribal war, encouraging the damning notion that nothing will ever change.
Well okay, that seems good. It seems that Affleck does get it. He baited you with a grim stat to then flip it around and go, “Aha! I gotcha! I’m about hope in this here article thang.” But no, he goes on to sum up the recent history of conflict in the Kivus and tosses in bits such as:
The FDLR subjugates people either by rape (often performed in groups — and on people of either gender) or with the AK-47, a weapon so ubiquitous that it has picked up a tragic moniker: the Congolese credit card.
Man… what gives? That’s just sucky news and yeah, it’s everyday life for a lot of people there. I know since I saw how people live around Bukavu in my scant initial trip and it’s freakin’ rough. But really, if you toss in the savage crap, people just think of them as savages and are able to dismiss all of this as an primitive African problem, which is a load of crap and doesn’t do anyone any good. Oh yeah… he apparently also met with now-captured rebel general Laurent Nkunda. You know, I was still going to even try and be nice to Ben until I saw that. That’s just glamor crap. There is absolutely, positively no reason on the face of the earth, moon, Mars, or some undiscovered other planet made of jamón, that Ben Affleck, winner of an Academy Award for screenwriting should ever, ever, ever have met with Laurent Nkunda. What was to come of that?
Ben: “Laurent, I know how the burdens of notoriety really weigh down on you over time. I mean, I dated Gwenneth Paltrow for an entire year. So, you know, maybe you guys should disarm and go home.”
Laurent: “Ben, you seem like a really nice guy coming to Congo all these times and well… yeah, okay. Boys, get your bags, we’re checkin’ out! Rebel times are over!”
Yeah, that didn’t happen obviously. Nothing happened other than Ben being able to say he met a dangerous rebel general and possibly his pet goat. In the end, Ben is just trying to point out that the solution so far seems to be coming out of Africa. Despite everything that foreign governments have tried to do, they never succeeded in ending the fighting, but out of the countries who are involved in this, they found a solution; for now.
That’s the problem. Ben’s article should have focused so much more on that that and so much less on the grim elements. Because there’s a good chance that there will be more rebel groups in the future while there are all the minerals in the region and everyone inside and outside Congo needs to know that there are those who can stop them. I mean dammit, some part of me still wants to encourage Ben probably out of a sense of brotherhood between two tall guys with big foreheads, but if you’re going to focus on the positive, focus on the freakin’ positive. Stop tempering it will all the bad. There are and will be plenty of folks doing that, probably with a lot smaller foreheads. Oh and stop feeling like you have to meet with rebel generals too. The rebel goats are still okay though.