On the final day of the inaugural One World Media Festival, award winning author and comedienne Jane Bussmann will take to the stage to perform her live comedy show, Bono and Geldof are C**ts.
Coined by The Guardian newspaper “The showbiz writer who went to war” Jane’s TV credits include: The Fast Show, Smack the Pony and Brass Eye, and working with John Pilger. She has written for the majority of major British broadsheet newspapers and co-created the first internet sitcom with David Quantick, The Junkies.
Ahead of the festival FLUX Magazine had the privilege to speak with Jane. Currently residing in Kenya, the capital of the Aid industry, she spoke to us about the “bollocks image of Africa” that has carefully been constructed over the last three decades.
With Africa and African Aid being one of the great cultural misunderstandings, it is therefore fitting that Jane’s show Bono and Geldof are C**ts should conclude the inaugural One World Media Festival that advertises itself as, “Creating Global Conversations” and “Highlighting the Media’s Power to create cultural understanding and contribute to global justice.”
FLUX: How did you become involved in the inaugural One World Media Festival?
Jane Bussmann : I was doing a show at the Frontline Club called Bono and Geldof are C**ts, and the creator of the festival Mick Csáky came along. He was blown away because I don’t think he had ever heard anyone swear so much in such a short time frame ostensibly about politics. But he understood what I was trying to do, which was to get a really shitty industry in the spotlight by hopefully giving people a fun night out. Not many people write comedy around this kind of shit because it is supposed to be this sacred cow, but I’m sorry, it’s an absolute abomination.
It’s the last great taboo and I know this because the Frontline show, as soon as they put the tickets on sale it sold out in hours. Then they put another one on sale, and that one sold out in hours as well. So there are a lot of people who agree with this now, and are getting hopped up and want to do something about it.
The whole image of Africa is one that is unbelievably depressing, and it is an image that has been carefully crafted by incredibly well paid PR machines for three decades now. Nobody wants charity, what they want is a job, and so by creating the idea that this entire workforce is a disaster and they can barely read, are living in their own poo and they’ve got AIDS, is just outrageous.
I live in Kenya, the capital of the African Aid industry, and all I see around me is people having nice lunches, in incredibly expensive restaurants on money that’s donated to feed the hungry, not the peckish. And you see people living in houses with a slave, but they’ll say, “She’s not my slave she’s my housekeeper.” If you pay her five quid a day, she’s a slave. It’s a really, really outrageous parasitical culture, but as far I can see is not what’s needed. What are needed are jobs, not hand outs. Hand outs are embarrassing. Nobody wants them.
FLUX: We need to be aware of the difference between helping people to help themselves, and taking away the ability for people to help themselves. That seems to be the biggest obstacle in our view of Africa.
Jane Bussmann: Look at Ethiopia. More people are aid dependent than ever before. Geldof walks around going, “Here’s the girl. I saved her and now she’s a lawyer.” Yeah, she’s a lawyer from a country that is largely aid dependent; nice work. Now Geldof goes around talking about his investment scheme but it’s a bit late now. It’s a mixed message. You can’t say come and do business in Africa, it’s great, and it’s full of dying babies. It’s a false image.
Africa is a really fun place to live otherwise I wouldn’t live there. It’s got a booming middle class. Rwanda’s GDP growth has risen by 7-8% annually while the rest of the world’s in the toilet. But that’s not an image that suits the charities. Even now when they do new ads because they have realised people won’t pay money to be made to feel depressed anymore, they run even worse ads like the OXFAM campaign; OXFAM the self-appointed publicists for Africa, doing adverts that say, let’s make Africa famous for its stunning countryside or whatever. What? No! We know Africa is depressing, you told us. The show is a piss take of the thing really.
FLUX: Charity is being used as this exploitative force by people who are supposing the positive rather than the harmful consequences of their actions.
Jane Bussmann: Well I think when Scarlett Johansson, God love her, goes and does a publicity film for OXFAM and after two minutes of her bouncing tits in a Land Rover, they then decide that obviously that the low cut shirt was inappropriate. So then she’s wearing skin tight trousers and a shirt that doesn’t do up so all you are looking at again are her tits. Then she does this speech about the only thing keeping the Somali refugees alive in Kenyan refugee camps is OXFAM. Excuse me what about the Somali, the Kenyan government? Where were the Somali government? They were in a luxury hotel the Intercontinental, being paid to talk peace by the international aid community. And what do they do in this hotel? They get into a chair fight during a peace negotiation; you can’t make it up.
FLUX: To think we are capable of independent thought and yet so many people are getting pulled into this view of Africa. As you say you just couldn’t make this stuff up.
Jane Bussmann: You couldn’t make it up. You do a show in Los Angeles and you make jokes about – “I can’t afford to stay in this hotel, you have to work in a charity to afford it” – and they are like “Oh that’s very cruel.” You say that in Africa and you get a standing ovation. They hate charities there; they want to work for them because the salaries are great, but they hate what they do.
FLUX: I just watched Utopia, John Pilger’s documentary on the “Hidden Australia.” Two of the most significant cultural misunderstandings are Africa and the “Hidden Australia.” This is something we need to amend our understanding of, and the aim of the festival to create a better cultural understanding is a worthy cause.
Jane Bussmann: John Pilger’s brilliant, he’s a genius. He understands that it needs to be a good story. What I have learned over the years is that people rarely turn on the TV or the radio to be made to feel depressed. So if you want to get a message out, it had better be a good night out. So when we wrote the show we just tried to pack it with as many absurdities and silly stories as possible.
I can bore the pants off you with the explanation of how law and order is the only thing that is going to stop the women of the Congo from getting raped. But law and order is the job of the Congolese government, and so all she can do is vote for a government that gives a shit about rape. But then if thirty million pounds of British tax payer’s money is paid into a bent government’s bent election that mysteriously keeps that women’s bent government in power, what’s the point of us sending William Hague and Angelina Jolie over there to talk about the rape? It’s the job of the Congolese government, and we just kept a bunch of crooks in office on the tax payer’s money. It makes absolutely no sense at all.
To be honest it’s much more fun to talk about all the people that go to the Congo and their stupid celebrity actions that happen out there. So you’ve got to keep these stories in the public eye, but I just do knob gags basically.
FLUX: A little controversy around the show is not necessarily a bad thing, as it will keep what you are talking about relevant.
Jane Bussmann: Absolutely, and these things are supposed to be sacred cows. It’s like yeah I’m sure I could be sued for saying Bono and Geldof are c**nts. In my book I had to black out the word c**t but it actually looks really funny because it looks like it’s been censored. At the end of the day you want to talk about it. We’ve got the arguments and I’m sure people can say, “Oh but they cancelled the debt.” So what? Cancel the bollocks. It’s an absolute bollocks image of Africa. The ONE organisation put out an ad with the map of Africa made up of words like HIV, illness, starving and poverty. Thanks for that. Another charity ad shows a silhouette of Africa made out of a zip of a trouser fly, and when you unzip the zip inside you just see the word Aids. So Africa is now a fly full of aids. You can’t make this nonsense up. It’s ludicrous.
FLUX: Do you think we can change this nonsensical view of Africa?
Jane Bussmann: Yes, in about ten years’ time when they are lending us money. They’ve got booming economies and we haven’t. Despite a collapsing infrastructure, if Africa can have booming growth economies with piss poor electricity, roads with pot holes bigger than the road, with the crappy starting points, then they are just going to explode.
FLUX: It seems the point we have reached in our conversation is the importance of money. It is the driving force of change, and whilst we are oppressing Africa now, their growth will eventually force us to change this misguided view.
Jane Bussmann: It’s really on the up. Things are getting better. The only thing that has got to happen is the West needs to stop giving millions and millions in direct support to bent governments. It’s just not fair. People want a better life, and if they can’t vote that guy out because we are keeping him in power by giving him millions and millions every year, then it’s just not playing fair.
Governments are doing it less and less, but they still do it in huge amounts, and even though they say, “Oh President Museveni, we wish you wouldn’t shoot protestors, it’s really not nice.” And then they say “Oh, we’re definitely going to stop your aid this year, but then we’re scared of your political opponent so we’ll give you another… Don’t do it again.” It’s this idea of he’s a bad man, but he’s our bad man. Think how much more corrupt our own government would be if he got half of his budget free regardless of how badly he behaved. When he wanted to hold the election, the Congolese gave him thirty million to collect those ballot boxes. Congolese rape victims don’t fix our bent elections, why do we mess with theirs?
FLUX: How important do you think One World Media is? It’s got a great ideology at its core? It is something deserving of support, that ideology of bringing together media under one banner to create a better cultural understanding.
Jane Bussmann: I think it’s absolutely brilliant. I think now is the time to use the new technology to get that information out there. The best thing that can happen to journalism is that the mass of information we see through Twitter should be filtered through proper journalism. That’s the missing link between the mass of information being filtered through Twitter and the proper trained journalists who can then turn that information from the ground into news stories. Then we’ll see bent armies made powerless. Then we’ll see shitty politicians being made answerable. At the end of the day impunity is completely stoppable by attrition. Regimes that fell during the Jasmine Revolution were the ones where the protestors just kept going. That’s where something like One World Media that’s talking about proper journalistic principles being spread worldwide to harness this new public voice is important. It is an important time in history, and everybody should just come on down for free and have a coffee and corner somebody.
The One World Media Festival runs from 8-9 November at the University College London.
The closing event: Bono and Geldof are C**ts plays 9 November 6:30-7:30pm. THIS IS AN OLD EVENT.
Interview by Paul Risker.