Batman Saves the Congo

How Celebrities Disrupt the Politics of Development

2021
Authors:

Alexandra Cosima Budabin and Lisa Ann Richey

Batman Saves the Congo

How celebrity strategic partnerships are disrupting humanitarian space


Can a celebrity be a “disrupter,” promoting strategic partnerships to foster ideas and funding to revitalize the development field—or are they just charismatic ambassadors for big business? Examining the role of the rich and famous in development and humanitarianism, this book argues that celebrities do both, and that understanding why and how yields insight into the realities of neoliberal development.

Can a celebrity be a “disrupter,” promoting strategic partnerships to bring new ideas and funding to revitalize the development field—or are celebrities just charismatic ambassadors for big business? Examining the role of the rich and famous in development and humanitarianism, Batman Saves the Congo argues that celebrities do both, and that understanding why and how yields insight into the realities of neoliberal development.

In 2010, entertainer Ben Affleck, known for his superhero performance as Batman, launched the Eastern Congo Initiative to bring a new approach to the region’s development. This case study is central to Batman Saves the Congo. Affleck’s organization operates with special access, diversified funding, and significant support of elites within political, philanthropic, development, and humanitarian circuits. This sets it apart from other development organizations. With his convening power, Affleck has built partnerships with those inside and outside development, staking bipartisan political ground that is neither charity nor aid but “good business.” Such visible and recognizable celebrity humanitarians are occupying the public domain yet not engaging meaningfully with any public, argues Batman Saves the Congo. They are an unruly bunch of new players in development who amplify business solutions.

As elite political participants, celebrities shape development practices through strategic partnerships that are both an innovative way to raise awareness and funding for neglected causes and a troubling trend of unaccountable elite leadership in North–South relations. Batman Saves the Congo helps illuminate the power of celebritized business solutions and the development contexts they create.

Batman Saves the Congo

Alexandra Cosima Budabin is senior researcher at the Human Rights Center, University of Dayton, and contract professor in the Programme in Media, Communication, and Culture at the Free University of Bolzano.



Lisa Ann Richey is professor of globalization at Copenhagen Business School. She is coauthor of Brand Aid: Shopping Well to Save the World (Minnesota, 2011) and editor of Celebrity Humanitarianism and North–South Relations: Politics, Place, and Power.
Batman Saves the Congo

Contents


Abbreviations


Introduction: Batman Saves the Congo


1. Celebrity, Disruption and Neoliberal Development


2. Narrating the Congo: Dangerous Single Stories and the Organizations that Need Them


3. Choosing the Congo: How a Celebrity Builds a Development Organization


4. Marketing the Congo: Products that Sell Development


5. Saving Congolese Coffee: Celebrities and the Business Model for Development


6. Celebrities and the Local Politics of Development: As Seen from Kinshasa


7. Conclusions on Celebrity and Development: Disruption, Advocacy and Commodification


Epilogue: COVID-19 and Making ECI Relevant Again


Acknowledgments


Appendix A. Methodology and Data Collection


Appendix B. Affleck, ECI, and ECI Partner’s Interactions with Congress, 2011–2017


Appendix C. K&L Gates Lobbying on Behalf of Eastern Congo Initiative


Notes


Bibliography


Index