While many of today's celebrities seem to be primarily concerned with increasing their Instagram following or inspiring sensational media headlines, there are also plenty who devote a significant amount of time and energy to charitable causes. The prevalence of poverty and disease in many African countries has made the continent a popular focal point for celebrity philanthropy, and in this article, we take a look at a few of the A-listers doing their bit to alleviate the suffering of those less fortunate than themselves.
Defining a Meaningful Contribution
While all good deeds deserve recognition, it's impossible to keep up with the starlets that spend a photogenic week in Uganda or hike up Mount Kilimanjaro to generate sponsorship (and positive publicity). Often, celebrity causes - both in Africa and elsewhere around the world - lack the structure or long-term commitment to make a lasting difference. As such, this article focuses on stars that have supported their chosen causes faithfully for several years.
Some of these celebrities have been inspired by first-hand experience of the problems faced by men, women and children in Africa; while others support issues that relate to their personal belief systems. Whatever their motivation, these famous patrons have committed to using their celebrity to focus the world’s eyes on the needs of the poor, the sick and the disenfranchised. They use their position to influence those with the power to effect change, and to raise much-needed funds.
Bob Geldof and Midge Ure
Singers Bob Geldof and Midge Ure kickstarted the celebrity trend of supporting charitable work in Africa with the foundation of charity supergroup Band Aid in 1984. The initiative saw some of the most famous recording artists of the time come together to record legendary song Do They Know It's Christmas?, which raised awareness and funds for famine victims in Ethiopia. The success of the song was followed by Live Aid, a huge benefit concert held in London and Los Angeles in 1985. Together, Band Aid and Live Aid raised over $150 million.
20 years later, the two men also organized the Live 8 benefit concerts.
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt
While Hollywood's favorite power couple may have split, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt continue to be heavily involved in charitable work both in Africa and elsewhere. Jolie is a Special Envoy for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. In that capacity, she has traveled to nearly 60 countries to support refugees, many of them in Africa. Pitt co-founded non-profit organization Not On Our Watch in 2008 with fellow actors Matt Damon, George Clooney and Don Cheadle, amongst others. The charity's primary purpose is to fight against human rights violations like those committed during the Darfur genocide.
In 2006, the couple founded the Jolie-Pitt Foundation, which has donated significant sums of money to many different charities - including Doctors Without Borders, a medical organization that works tirelessly to provide healthcare to countries in crisis (many of them in Africa). The foundation also supports its own schools and clinics in several African countries, including Ethiopia - the birth country of the couple's adopted daughter Zahara. Other African charities to have benefited from the pair's generosity include the African Children's Choir, Ante Up for Africa and the Alliance for the Lost Boys of Sudan.
Bill and Melinda Gates
Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda have also donated a huge amount of money to causes in Africa through their shared charity, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Although the charity works with partners located all over the world, half of its resources are dedicated to supporting projects based in Africa. These focus on promoting health and nutrition, preventing disease, improving access to clean water and sanitation, supporting agricultural enterprises and providing financial services for impoverished African communities.
U2 frontman Bono has a long history as a celebrity philanthropist. In 2002, he co-founded DATA with politician Bobby Shriver. The charity's purpose was to promote justice and equality in Africa by combating the AIDS epidemic, working to alleviate restrictive trade regulations and assisting with debt relief. In 2008, the charity merged with the ONE Campaign - together the two are now collectively known as ONE. Although ONE's mission is to fight poverty and disease all over the world, the focus remains primarily African with two of the charity's offices located in Johannesburg and Abuja.
Matt Damon & Ben Affleck
Actor friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck share an interest in African charity. Matt Damon is the co-founder of Water.org, an organization that provides access to safe water in developing countries. As well as supporting the charity financially, Damon has traveled to Africa many times to visit projects and raise awareness. Meanwhile, Affleck is the founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative, which works with local communities and organizations to support vulnerable children and victims of sexual violence, to promote peace and reconciliation and to improve access to healthcare.
Although this article focuses on Western celebrities, there are many successful African-born stars who have used their status to help those less fortunate back home. These include NBA star Dikembe Mutombo, musician Youssou N'Dour, soccer players Didier Drogba and Michael Essien; and South African actress Charlize Theron.
This article was updated and re-written in part by Jessica Macdonald on December 11th 2017.