Jane Bussmann on charities: she moved to Africa to be a good person and ended up hating the professionally good.

I loved charities until I moved to Africa. In fact I wanted to work for a charity, any charity that would have me.

By charities, I don’t mean Mrs. Miggins and her mobile library van. Although there should be some authority somewhere on God’s green earth checking what Mr. Miggins is doing in the back of the van.  By charities, I mean poverty the industry. I’ve met plenty of sane workers in the poverty industry who despair of the shocking bollocks of their management’s edicts.  But somehow, it cannot be stopped.

I landed in Northern Uganda, at a time when Joseph Kony’s kidnappers were picking off kids for sex slaves and the Ugandan army, when they could be arsed, were bombing the shit out of the kids and kidnappers alike. At first my hatred of charities was just a vague feeling. A sort of resentment of their total lack of urgency.  An industry that finessed posters making me feel I had to send them money immediately so they could fix an emergency – people were starving, people were dying, people were being kidnapped – seemed very unwilling to do anything other than hold meetings about it.  When I landed, I saw a bunch of fat bastards sat on their arses.

Secondly, it was the way charities ate lunch.  Whenever I drive past a flash restaurant at lunchtime in Africa, the car park is packed with expensive cars with red numberplates.  Red numberplates mean they are part of the poverty industry – living tax free while they clear up the mess that is poverty by having lunch meetings about it.

Ten minutes up the road, the people who keep them in work – poor locals – simply haven’t eaten. Breakfast was a donut and a dirty plastic cup of chai at the side of the road. Even the middle class bank workers who cut them their tax free salary cheque eat on benches in the mud in the back of the market, a 35p plate of fruit salad to tide them over.

The poverty industry is a nice life: you live anywhere from a nice flat with a pool and a slave (sorry, staff paid 6 dollars a day) to a mansion with a pool and five slaves. You can get thousands on top of your salary in hardship allowances. Your kids’ school fees paid till their early 20s. Business class flights while the people behind you on the plane have to listen to your bullshit film ordering them to put money in your Change for Good envelopes.

The UN spent three quarters of a billion over two years on travel. I have no idea what percentage was on business class, but the Geneva and New York secretariats alone spent $54m out of their $74m portion choosing free champagne over economy.  Here are UNICEF’s Geneva HQ staff rules: ‘below the level of Assistant Secretary-General, the standard of accommodation for air travel will be business class if a single leg journey is 9 hours or more’.  The US government is struggling to get this changed to 11 hours in an industry where poverty workers deliberately make journeys longer to qualify for upgrades by flying indirect routes.

The poverty industry think they are right. In many cases, that they have God on their side. But to keep their spectacular jobs in poverty, some people have to stay in poverty, and it isn’t going to be them.  So by accident or design, the poverty industry makes it happen.

How? Remember the last time you got up in the morning, put on a clean shirt and went out and try and persuade a potential employer to give you a better job?

Imagine if the day before you got there, some random white guy had told the employer you were a mess. That you couldn’t sort your shit. You were uneducated. Violent. You had a chronic disease. You had too many kids, kids who were sick, kids you couldn’t even be trusted to feed.

I’m not even going to get into the poverty industry’s last 30 years of multi-million dollar campaigns showing potential investors why they shouldn’t invest in Africa and create jobs not handouts for Africans – jobs that might put charities out of business. (See the rather good upcoming Popbitch 2 app for “Bono and Geldof are C***s”). Instead, ignore Bono and Geldof (who in the ultimate hypocritical act, having badmouthed Africa professionally for thirty years, are now saying we should invest in African professionals) and come and see for yourself how Africa is booming despite white people, not because of them. That’s the great thing about living in Africa: it’s boomtime. Up to 5-10% economic growth, no bank bailouts, no bankrupt countries.  The exploding middle class means jobs not charity for young people.

Everyone who lives in Africa has a story worthy of Evelyn Waugh about charities prolonging misery for profit.  I met a boy shot through the testicles, in so much pain he could no longer sit up. The charity looking after him said they should probably take him back to hospital, but, well, you know, they’d kinda messed up the budget that month.  They said this while eating a huge lunch. A child kidnapped by Kony, he was “safe now”, in the care of World Vision, a huge international Christian charity you’ve seen beg and plead and talk utter shit to get your money to help children in Uganda.

Try the charity that lost funding at one of their Northern Uganda centres after it was discovered a huge percentage of the desperately damaged children they claimed to help didn’t even exist. They were ghost children, invented to shake down the donors for cash.

Try the Western-funded emergency feeding centre where the kids just kept getting hungrier.  The funders came to do an inspection. Initially annoyed because no one had even bothered to level out the car park, which was so bumpy they tripped, they found another business operating round the back of the feeding centre.  A brewery.  It was fermenting children’s food into alcohol, a nice little earner for the female boss (and yes, I do make the point she’s a woman, because I’m fucking sick of women being pimped as photogenic victims for money by charities).  How many children had she let die? The bumps the inspectors tripped over were children’s graves.  I could carry on, but I’ll get too fucking depressed to write jokes.

In Uganda, the British government was well aware that the Ugandan government and they themselves, as the international aid community, would be shitting on the Geneva Convention[1] if they allowed the government to force their own people into refugee camps in the full expectation that NGOs would feed them. It was ostensibly to protect the people from Kony’s kidnapping; the Ugandan army protected them so badly massacres happened inside the camps.  Why?  I have a theory and if you want to fight me, my only condition is you come and live in Africa.

The British government will soon have thrown two billion in aid at Uganda, a significant chunk to help those refugees –  but conveniently via the Ugandan government, that bastion of fiscal honesty.  The refugees were kept there ten years. The Ugandan army started tipping off Joseph Kony the child kidnapper when they were coming to catch him.  Kony is free today.  The Ugandan president has a nice shiny jet.  The boss of the Northern Ugandan army has a nice shiny hotel.  DfID looked like nice people for sending all that money.  You and I see starving people. The poverty industry, be they charities or bent governments, see a big fat milky cash cow.

Eight years since I first wanted to work for a charity, I want the big ones banned.  If someone needs to be good professionally, you have to ask why. I’ve noticed on my travels around the world that genuinely good people have one thing in common: they don’t publicise it.  They live local, eat local, and know poor people by name – they just get on with doing nice things and try not to get killed by bent governments. If they speak out, and I’ve met nuns who’d been beaten up, it’s on behalf of poor people not their own operation. Why would someone need to be seen as good if they weren’t a giant asshole?

I know why I wanted to be good. I’d fucked up my life and my day job was writing about how Paris Hilton was an icon for women in celebrity magazines. But what if there was a place where good was being done? The answer to my needy self image and career incompetence was Aaaaafrica.  I got on a plane. Actresses love charities because they feel guilty about getting huge sums of cash for poncing around in a bra[2].  Politicians love charities because giving a pittance to a children’s ward in Africa makes them look like good people when they’re closing children’s wards back home.

Charities need the poor more than the poor needs them.  My perfect “us and them” story happened in 2009 during Operation Lovely Tory, or whatever cod tribal name the Conservative party gives their annual trip to “help” countries like post-genocide country of Rwanda build school toilets or any photogenic activity involving wide eyed black children, because that’s what Africa needs, forty Tories and a shovel.

Oddly, I seem to remember the Rwandans asking Britain for help before, in 1994, when genocide was perfectly avoidable. The world didn’t want to risk another Somalia, despite Rwanda being fucking miles away, and rather like saying I don’t want to go to Stockholm because I went to Paris once and the toilets stank of piss. Anyway, 800,000-odd got chopped to death in 100 days while we sat on our hands but it’s all OK because now 40 Tories trot out there every year, all alone apart from a huge pack of reporters telling the world about their selfless attempts to help the poor unfortunate darkie who just can’t stop himself getting chopping to death. It’s not about our politicians’ media image. it’s about the HUNGRY AFRICANS.

Except a journalist on this trip noticed that no one gave the Africans lunch money so they didn’t eat all day.  They also had to walk up to 15km a day to attend the event and were pretty hungry when they got there.

This is what our former minister for aid said to the journalist who mentioned that the Africans were hungry.

“(My aides) are threatening her with physical violence and I can’t say I blame them.”

My god, who was this journalist?

“I was a 21-year-old student and the story was for a work experience placement at a national newspaper.”

It’s not about us, it’s about the hungry Africans.

Professional goodness is a front. A beard for c***s from Jimmy Savile to Kenneth Banya, a paeophile child kidnapper formerly Joseph Kony’s chief strategist, paid by the World Bank to look after the kids he’d kidnapped after they escaped from him. The charities knew; I’ve got a report from December 2005, Banya kept going until a local journalist nailed him. You cannot make it up.  Another charity, this time for Kenyan street kids, the Gilgil trust has seen it’s founder using the charity as a cover for his alleged child sex crimes [3].  I see these people all the time where I live in Africa.  Sleazy middle-aged white “saviours” who came for one thing – to bum kids.  The local bar had to put a sign up explaining what constituted paedophilia, there’s that much about.

It’s a front.  A gut wrenchingly unpleasant front when it feeds off people who are really suffering.  The poverty industry need hungry Africans.  Not the other way round.



[1] Under Additional Protocol II of the Geneva Convention, Article 18, the moderate article, says Agencies may offer ‘exclusively humanitarian and impartial’ relief to civilians. However, sober Article 17 says ‘displacement of the civilian population shall not be ordered . . . unless (their) security or imperative military reasons so demand’ with ‘all possible measures’ ensuring shelter, health, safety and nutrition. Interestingly, the Geneva Convention never relieves states of their obligations to provide for their war-affected population even if other agencies are providing relief.

[2] No, not Angelina, because she puts the hours in. And the cash, and goes without a shower so she can see what’s happening on the ground, which let me tell you after 11 years in Hollywood, no fucking actress I ever met would.

[3] http://www.channel4.com/news/kenya-sex-offences-simon-harris-court-channel-4-news

Jane Bussmann is a comedy writer, performer and author whose credits include South Park, Brass Eye and Smack The Pony.
Her savagely critical and funny book about aid and the international response to the Lords Resistance Army, The Worst Date Ever, was The Sunday Times Pick of the Week, Evening Standard Pick of the Year, and her show ‘Bussmann’s Holiday’ sold out at the Frontline Club.   
You can book tickets for Jane’s next show “Bono and Geldorf are c***s” at at hello@benicepictures.com