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Rapper 50 Cent joins battle against Somali hunger

The multimillionaire rap star 50 Cent took a tour of a displacement camp inside Somalia to raise awareness on hunger. Does it help when celebrities do good?

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / February 10, 2012

Rap artist and actor 50 Cent (l.) mingles with residents and officials during a visit to a Somali refugee camp to see firsthand the effects of hunger in Somalia on Thursday.

Challiss McDonough/WFP/Reuters

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Move over Bono, Angelina Jolie, and George Clooney. Here comes 50 Cent.

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The rap star from New York flew briefly to the Somali town of Dolo along the Ethiopian border to visit a refugee camp run by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. 50 Cent, or Curtis Jackson as he is also known, has committed to providing 1 billion meals to the hungry, and according to the Associated Press, he is donating 10 cents from the purchase price of every bottle of a new energy drink called Street King, which he promotes. Ten cents covers the cost of a typical meal provided by the World Food Programme, the UN’s emergency food relief agency.

"What I am seeing is devastating -- these women and children have risked everything to come to this Somalia camp, just to get food,” he said, in a statement released through the WFP. “They need our help.”

In addition to his visit to Dolo, 50 Cent also visited the Nairobi slum of Kibera, billed as Africa’s largest slum.

When stars get involved in global issues, there is inevitably a frisson of excitement in the entertainment press about that star’s commitment and bravery, and in the news press, there tend to be a slew of snarky articles about how such trips are self-serving, self-promotional branding exercises. Both can be true, of course. And when powerful aid agencies such as the United Nations Children’s Fund asks a starlet like Angelina Jolie visit refugee camps in the Darfur region, they can be almost assured that her visit – and their agenda – will gain the attention of the world’s media. In a world of short attention spans and decreasing foreign news budgets, it’s a logical choice to make.

Rap and rock stars, action heroes, and yes, even comic book characters – DC Comics recently sent its Justice League to take on hunger in the Horn of Africa – do their job well, raising public awareness about world crises.

But some critics have begun to ask whether any of this attention does any actual good.

In her biting critique of the reporting of influential New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, published this week by the W.E.B. Dubois Institute at Indiana University, Kathryn Mathers writes that the twin events of the growing AIDS crisis and the post-traumatic shock of the Sept. 11 attacks created a new mood of American humanitarianism. Laudable as it is for Americans to want to contribute to solutions – rather than, say, launching another war – this new humanitarianism was wrapped up in some very old and repulsive assumptions about Africa as a helpless and hopeless continent, which had almost no role in contributing to those solutions or determining its own future:

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