That story about Akon’s “giant Ebola air bubble”

People, that story about Akon, the Senegalese-American R&B singer, performing in an air bubble to thousands of screaming Congolese in Goma, because he doesn’t want to get Ebola is false. The hip hop magazine The Source (or whoever started it), made that one up. In a classic case of how modern “journalism” works, that story has been picked up by tabloids and other news sources that take themselves too serious alike. That air bubble thing has been part of Akon’s repertoire for a while now. A few media outlets reflected that by this morning:

He has used the giant orb at a number of concerts, including 2010 gigs in Australia and Dubai — four years and thousands of miles away from the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

But what’s actually more interesting is why Akon was in Goma. For that we have to turn to of all people, Vice.com, who did some actual reporting on it.  Reporter Jessica Hatcher went there to to cover the concert. Akon, and the actor Jude Law, were thereon behalf of some organization called Peace One Day,  “a London-based [well, Surrey based] advocacy and networking group that attempts to achieve peace around the world for one day a year, and makes films about its work.”

The movement dates back sixteen years, to when a Briton called Jeremy Gilley decided to create a global day of peace. He petitioned governments, who brought a resolution before the UN General Assembly, and the day was universally established in 2001. He likens himself to Mrs Jarvis, who invented Mother’s Day in 1908. “We made the day famous – not ourselves.”

The usual positive feelings thing. You can’t make these things up.

Hatcher quotes Law: “There’s such cynicism towards people, and so many pieces written, fun poked towards people genuinely trying to do good, it’s a cliche.”

AKON6

But the locals, while enjoying the music (it’s not everyday someone like Akon or Jude Law travels to Goma–well, Ben Affleck does–or for local artists to be on the same bill as ), can see right through all this:

Don’t tell me it’s about peace,” a 29-year old Congolese peace activist, Micheline Mwendike, said of the Akon gig. Her letterbox-red nails flashed as she gesticulated with frustration. “It’s about dancing and singing. To sing and to take a moment of joy is good — but you have to choose your moment. We are killing values for this short moment.”

In choosing to dance, instead of use Peace Day to talk about good governance, she said, a valuable opportunity was being missed: to talk about justice and impunity, to talk about the diabolical state of North Kivu’s roads, to talk about the leaders who show no interest in providing basic services, to talk about the obstacles to peace. “If there are no solutions, the future generation will be in the same position as today,” Mwendike said.

Hatcher also quotes a 15 year old girl:

“My mother used to tell me, if there’s a problem, don’t look at the impacts, look for the roots. Here in Goma, you won’t find the roots,” she said. Nzuki thinks Akon and Jude Law should be out in the countryside, seeing the armed groups’ fiefdoms for what they are. “This festival is useless. I’m not interested.”

And then, finally, a senior international aid worker, who “literally held his head in his hands with opprobrium.”

“They might as well call it the Peace One Day mining company —they’re mining these people,” he said — mining them for the film they will distribute globally, for photo opportunities, and for their own sense of self worth. “It is exploitation.”

As for Akon’s politics and his businesses (he wants to “light Africa‘), we’ll just refer you to our archive, here and here.

Africa is a Country

Not the continent with 54 countries.

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