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August 24, 2002
BOGOSITY ALERT: McDonald's is allegedly coming under fire for introducing its "McAfrika burger" at a time when Africans are starving:
The concoction of beef, cheese, tomatoes and salad in a pitta-style sandwich is said to be based upon an authentic African recipe and is being sold to Norwegian consumers for about £2.80.
But aid agencies trying to raise funds to stave off a famine in southern Africa say that the timing of the McAfrika marketing campaign is insensitive, crass and ill-considered and have demanded remedial action from McDonald's.
"It's inappropriate and distasteful to launch a hamburger called McAfrika when large portions of southern Africa are on the verge of starvation," Linn Aas-Hansen of Norwegian Church Aid told the newspaper Aftenposten.
My African acquaintances and quasi-relations hate Western stereotyping of Africa as a place where people spend most of their time starving and waiting on Western aid. They regard such stereotyping as, basically, racism. Yet the Norwegian aid community seems unashamed to engage in such behavior.
McDonald's is treating Africa as if it's just another part of the world, instead of like a pariah continent distinguished chiefly by disease and helplessness. That's a good thing, and the Norwegians -- who are basically peddling stereotypes in order to get attention and raise money ("trying to raise funds" is the key phrase in the above passage) -- should be ashamed. Why aren't they looking at the real causes of starvation in Africa?
UPDATE: Here, from McDonald's own Norwegian site, is the McAfrika in all its splendor. Looks yummy.
And for a non-victim example, take a listen to Afrigo, a Ugandan band that my record label does production and distribution for. (We don't get any money for it; it's part of our foreign-aid program, which also involves giving computers and music software to Nigerian musicians). They even have a song on the virtues of privatization ("Today for Tomorrow"), which Virginia Postrel liked so much that she bought the CD. (No, really.) These guys have managed to sell a half-million cassettes and CDs in Uganda and surrounding countries, despite everything that's happened there. And they've managed to do it without help from self-promoting Norwegian aid groups who see them only as victims to be sloganized over.
ANOTHER UPDATE: There's more on this, from Big S Blog, ("McDonald's burgers I'd like to see:" -- list includes the "McFisk," "McEuro" and "McArafat."), Steven Chapman, ("I'm looking forward to McDonald's releasing a 'McNorway' burger in Africa (two all-whale patties, special sauce, lettuce, textured soya protein, pickles, onions on a GM-free sesame seed ciabatta), and this being criticised by the Zimbabwean Red Cross as being 'insensitive...at a time when 12 million Norwegians are facing obesity in southern Oslo.'"), and Bill Quick ("Good thing they have nothing more important to worry about."). Then there's this from Bjorn Staerk: "Can you imagine anything worse than having your entire continent trademarked by Norwegian Church Aid?"