The Ben Affleck Congo Video Business

Well, it appears that all the Congo travelin’ Mr. Affleck has been doing has resulted in the video I’ve embedded below. I agree with what Wronging Rights wrote. It’s like Affleck was scanning the blogosphere just a bit after his whole Nightline thing and saw that people were really annoyed by him popping his mug in to the camera frame so often. In this video, he instead pimps the UNHCR of all things. I’ll get to that a bit later though.
As with his previous attempts, I have to say that Affleck is working to be one of the least annoying celebrities prancing around Congo these days. That being said, he is still a celebrity and still an American. I’m guessing that Ben doesn’t speak French. If he does and I’m wrong, je lui rends hommage. But, I would put money down that he doesn’t. Why you might ask? Because instead of having a single word spoken by the subjects being filmed (despite this shot, Affleck was not the DP) he runs the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” as a soundtrack. Now, that’s a great song and it would seem to be more than fitting given that the UNHCR does indeed give shelter (as well as food, water, basic medical care, and varied degrees of security), but again, it strays in to the gaping void that is Western objectification of a downtrodden people.
America is a damned fine country in that when we set our minds on doing something, we make it happen. I mean, we defeated Nazis, split the atom, went to the moon, outlasted most of Communism, and elected a (sorta) black president. That’s a pretty impressive record despite all the backfires (Great Depression, Nixon, the 80’s). But the reason this worked was because it was “us” doing it. We made it personal. The reason that the problems persist in Congo and we’re still fighting a war in Iraq is because this strife is remote and/or with people we really don’t care about. Affleck’s video unfortunately falls prey to this and while it gives a boost to the UNHCR, it does absolutely nothing for the Congolese in the long term. Why were there no interviews? No personal stories? No perspectives of the actual people? You see how people are looking disdainfully at the cameras in so many of the shots? That’s because they’re freakin’ tired of being zoo animals for the Western media to take pity shots off. I’d be tired of that crap too and I wouldn’t give a damn if Oscar Winner (for screenwriting let’s remember), Ben Affleck was making a five minute pity video about my life, which isn’t really going to net me anything but (hopefully) another cup of rice.
I was wondering when Affleck would get on board and start directing his efforts at a specific agency. With this latest move, he has, but why oh freakin’ why the UNHCR? I mean, I recognize that the UNHCR does a massive job that is so incredibly difficult most folks can’t even comprehend it. Building an emergency city for a fleet of thousands of refugees is absolutely not like building Burning Man. The people coming a refugee camp have nothing and are often sick as opposed to Burners who come in their own cars funded by daddy’s Amex.
The UNHCR has also done an atrocious job at times. In the Yugoslavian Wars, they helped the Serbs (unknowingly) in ethnically cleansing the Bosniaks out of Bosnia. While the collective, “Oh, seriously, our bad on that one” doesn’t hold water, you’d think that would have learned and just a scant few three years later, they wouldn’t set up a refugee camp that ended up (unknowingly) becoming the base of the Hutu genociders, from which they were able to emerge a regrouped and more powerful force. The “unknowingly” aspect to what the UNHCR does is pretty typical. They just plunk down in an area and don’t really spend the resources needed to know what is really happening on the group. They claim that this is because they have to remain neutral and provide aid to all who need it, but in reality it makes them often guilty of helping the wrong side. These things happen I suppose.
The issue in the Afflecks and Jolies doing all this “work” for the UNHCR is that for better or worse, it’s an agency that’s going to stay with us forever. No matter how much positive or negative light is shined its way, nothing will really change it. They only move in to an area when the shit builds up so much you don’t even know that there was fan under that pile to start with. And when they do move in, there will always be the money from foreign governments to take care of these issues. You see, it’s the least they could do, since they don’t work to actually stop the refugee problems before they start. In not even a perfect and more poignant world, the UNHCR would be completely unneeded.
So, the real problem in all of this is that Affleck’s energy is still massively misdirected. I feel bad, since I can see he’s really and truly making an effort to help and as opposed to what Jolie does, there is no glitterati element to this. He’s out on the ground trying something, although because obviously no one close enough to him is educated enough in the issues, his shots aren’t long enough on the subjects to reveal what a delightful people the Congolese are and how these constant stories of suffering only work to boost short term aid projects and not long term development work.

The Ben Affleck Congo Video Business

2 Replies to “The Ben Affleck Congo Video Business”

  1. Miquel,

    “Yeah, that’s true, but they also happen to be providing bases for Hutu military groups to rearm.”

    I worked for UNHCR early 1995, in Goma (DRC). We coordinated the aid in several camps, totaling 1.2 million people (over 2 million in the whole of East Kivu).

    At that magnitude, it is easy for a few hundreds, probably even thousands, of Hutu extremists to sneak in. And we knew. But could do little about it. At times, armed elements would just close a camp for days on end. Nobody could get in nor out.

    What was UNHCR supposed to do? There was not even a UN armed force in DRC, back then.

    It is really not as black and white as you state…


  2. The point I’m making is indeed black and white. You can’t just plunk down in a region and say, “Hey, I’m here helping now!” without knowing the situation. Given that a venerable organization such as MSF was chased off by the UNHCR’s handling of the situation should be heavy proof of that fact.
    But the parallel exists in how Affleck has just set down and started to “help” without really knowing Congo or what is happening there. That was the point I was making not, whether or not the UNHCR has failed in its past missions, since it really can only fail when measured by normal scales. There will always be deaths in refugee camps. It’s an unstable, desperate situation and the group running the place will get the blame. I don’t criticize them for their work, but more their planning and overall approach to everything which is why I mentioned the part in Yugoslavia as the issues at hand are recurring with UNHCR and not mission-specific.

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