New Internationalist

Jane Bussmann on the poverty industry, Kony and dance therapy

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Lydia James talks to the British comedy writer, performer and author as she begins a tour of her new show, unsuitable for both children and NGO staff.

When and why did you start making your comedy political?

Marc Smith
Jane Bussmann Marc Smith

Before I began writing about celebrities in Hollywood I wrote for some serious newspapers and did scripts for sitcoms. I then moved to Hollywood to write about celebrities. If I had not been living in Hollywood, I wouldn’t have sought out genocide. And when you hear about everything that is wrong, you can’t walk away from it.

Tell me about your trip to Uganda

My current show is a spin-off from my trip to Uganda. It’s based on my tongue-in-cheek rom-com, a book called The Worst Date Ever. I went to Uganda in 2005 to find out more about Joseph Kony (leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a guerrilla group which used to operate in Uganda. He is said to have kidnapped somewhere between 20-66,000 children) and the human rights atrocities he had committed.

I went out there wanting to work for a charity, and came back thinking that it would be the worst thing ever. The poverty industry is perpetuating the war: Save the Children, UNICEF… all the major NGOs. It’s a piss take: the Belgians are flying to the Congo to do dance therapy. They’re teaching Africans how to dance! You can’t make this stuff up. These people are beyond reproach.

You supported the Kony2012 campaign despite its controversy. Why?

No-one knew about Kony before this campaign but people are talking about it now. I spent eight years talking about it and pitching stories about it but no-one was interested. One producer said to me, “it’s an amazing story, Jane, but does it have to be in Africa?” These kids got it out there, it doesn’t matter how; it was a platform. Loads of people were saying things like the CIA were behind the video – the CIA wouldn’t go to Africa! These kids meant it; one even had a nervous breakdown because of all the bad press. The campaign was aimed at American college students, and the video represented that.

You are scathing about the poverty industry in Africa; is trade the solution, though?

The poverty industry doesn’t want to talk about trade. Everyone hates charities in Africa. Charities can’t invest in factories. These people (involved in the poverty industry) should book a holiday instead if they want to go to Africa. Africa is booming but there is a mixed message – on the one hand, people are saying come and do business in Africa, on the other hand, there are those trying to show how depressing Africa is.

There is increasing awareness by some NGOs of the need to change the way they portray Africa and to move away from employing the ‘gap yah’ generation of Oxbridge graduates and work with African people in Africa. Do you welcome this?

It’s too late. They’ve spent 30 years telling everyone that Africa is depressing. I’ve seen the mansions they live in. A lot of UN flights are business class.

Your comedy show is entitled Bono and Geldof are c**ts. Are Bono and Bob Geldof still to blame for making people see Africans as victims, or are they just easy scapegoats?

I stand by Bono and Geldof being c**ts, as well as anyone else who is involved in the poverty industry. Bono lectures on tax evasion but U2 has an offshore account in the Netherlands. He gives a concert in Berlin to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the falling of the Berlin Wall but builds a wall around the concert: c**t.

What will be your next project?

A sitcom – a mad, crazy sitcom about journalists and celebrities called Distinguished Ladies. Watch the pilot trailer for it.

Lydia spoke to Jane at the One World Media festival which took place on 8 and 9 November. Jane Bussmann’s show plays at London’s Soho Theatre between 18-23 November

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