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Africa’s First Ladies Converge on LA

April 24, 2009

africa-ladiesUsually, humanitarian-themed gatherings organized by self congratulatory celebrities are no big deal in Los Angeles. But last week, our fair city bore host to a rather unusual set of guests: the first ladies of 13 different African nations, who came to work out a solution to AIDS and other diseases plaguing their respective countries. As it turns out, some African Countries have more than one first lady; the LA Times reports that attendee Inkhosikati LaMbikiza is “one of at least 13 wives of Africa’s last absolute monarch, King Mswati III of Swaziland”. No word as to whether any of Swaziland’s 12 other first ladies were in attendance. While it has been noted that African first ladies generally tend to prefer shopping sprees to championing worthy social or humanitarian causes, these girls were extremely well behaved. One of the event’s organizers noted, “The impression you have is they are only interested in shopping and painting the town red… I never expected them to sit through two days of meetings so close to Rodeo Drive.”

I’d like to think that LA’s large African immigrant population and wealth of African neighborhoods, like Little Ethiopia may have helped lure these prominent African women to our city limits. However, the likely truth is that these girls weren’t thinking of anything other than appealing to charity-prone celebrities to help champion their cause – and yes, maybe a bit of shopping too. Through the years, celebrity altruism has been something of a mixed blessing, both for our city and for whatever cause celebrities descend upon. Some celebrity causes célèbres are ineffectual fads, such as many stars’ pledge not to buy conflict diamonds after the 2006 film Blood Diamond – a pledge which lasted all of five minutes. Back in 2004, the efforts of LA’s visible personalities to promote presidential candidate John Kerry backfired, not only for Kerry but for the city. The term “Hollywood liberal” was elevated to cliche status, and good ol’ boys from Texas proved their ire for our town was even greater than the hatred felt by East Coast intellectuals. But through the years, there have been some celebrities who actually have been dedicated to bringing about positive changes: Don Cheadle and George Clooney were recognized at the summit of the Nobel Peace prize as having done significant work helping to end the genocide in Darfur.

Africa’s first ladies may not have left Beverly Hills to see the many other wonderful things our town has to offer. But they accomplished a lot, and hopefully their new friends may be able to help them stateside while they continue the work back in Africa.

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