Luanda, Angola (Canal) – Human-rights activists have recently taken US rapper Nicki Minaj to task for a concert she performed on December 19 in Angola, a country ruled by José Eduardo dos Santos’s iron fist for the last 36 years.
Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), and George Ayittey, head of Free Africa Foundation, have penned a harsh article denouncing the singer’s performance at a Christmas concert organized by Unitel, Angola’s state-owned telecom company.
Her fee was US$2 million — of taxpayer money, of course.
Halvorssen and Ayittey point out:
Beyond her outspoken views on racial injustice in America, Minaj’s commitments to various social justice and education charities inside the United States make her Angola trip especially confounding. Her rank hypocrisy when it comes to caring about justice in one place but not in Angola eliminates any shred of credibility Minaj may have to opine on matters of race or rights in the future.
Several complaints of human-rights abuses taint dictator Dos Santos, who doesn’t even bother to hide the vast fortune he has amassed illegally since 1979. His daughter Isabel is the richest woman in Africa according to Forbes. Her fortune amounts to some US$3 billion in a country where a whopping one-third of the population lives with less than US$2 a day and life expectancy at birth is just 52 years.
“Mrs. Isabel dos Santos is an independent business woman, and a private investor representing solely her own interests,” her representatives told Forbes reporters when they inquired upon her wealth.
A Little Help from Friends
Minaj’s visit is awful enough, since it legitimizes the dictator before the Angolan population, the international community, and her followers, for whom she is far more than a singer. Dictators are mostly concerned about their image and public perception abroad, a Cuban activist told me when I visited Miami, because at home, autocrats can simply jail dissidents and rabble-rousers.
Governments don’t like cutting their ties to dictators who open doors for international business, or help their geopolitical agendas. Pressure needs to come from citizens who do care enough about international development to force politicians to overcome the easy temptation of short-run political expediency.
Of course, it would be unfair to blame Minaj and other celebrities hired by tyrants for their long-lived dictatorships. Developed countries and multilateral organizations carry a heavier load of the blame. Decades of misguided policies and millions wasted in international aid have bolstered those who condemn entire nations to poverty.
William Easterly, development economics professor at New York University, argues that this approach has failed because it tries to apply the same collectivist notions to foreign aid that have already failed in the 20th century’s planned economies.
But there is an alternative. Easterly explains:
Foreign aid could create new opportunities for the world’s poorest people by getting them some of such essentials as medicines, education, and infrastructure, but only if foreign aid itself imitates the successful approach of economic freedom, by adopting a search and feedback approach with individual accountability instead of the current collectivist planning model. Even with these changes, outside aid cannot achieve the grandiose goal of transforming other societies to escape poverty into prosperity. Only home-grown gradual movements towards more economic freedom can accomplish that for the world’s poor. Fortunately, that is already happening.