After finding herself in Hollywood interviewing it-girls for a living, Jane Bussmann tried to escape to an African war zone for a better life.
She hoped to become what she describes as “a clichéd good person” in Africa, but unfortunately the charity Doctors without Borders weren’t recruiting celebrity journalists. “It was a particularly stupid time in history, the golden age of stupid, in which I was supposed to write that Paris Hilton was an icon for young women. As far as I understand, she spent most of the 2000s walking around in bunny ears and a pair of pants. I think she only spoke about four words in 10 years. I was going so bananas that I was Googling genocide to cheer myself up.”
Jane developed a crush on the attractive American peace activist, John Prendergast, who was on his way to an African war zone. Jane followed him to Uganda without any qualifications, in pursuit of an interview. When he was diverted by the assassination of an African leader, Jane found herself stranded in Uganda.
“Pardon me, but what kind of c**t talks about us funding Millennium Goals, and then operates a tax dodge in Holland for his band?”
“I didn’t have posh journalist money, so I ended up living in pretty sketchy places for six weeks, and in that six weeks, because I was very close to the ground (if not on it), I just heard the stories that I wouldn’t have heard if I’d been on a four day press conference.” Jane got the real story of what she calls the ‘poverty industry,’ and came home to tell this story on stages across the UK.
“It was driving me nuts, that the official story being told was a huge lie, designed to keep a bent president in power, a bent army fully equipped, bent charities living nice lives, with a bunch of children being used as the currency. I got angrier and angrier. It made me puke.” Jane’s findings became the celebrity satire, “The Worst Date Ever” or “How it Took a Comedy Writer to Expose Africa’s Secret War”.
But what is Jane’s real issue with Live Aid, Bono and Bob? Surely they had good intentions …
“They are hypocrites, they berate us for not being generous enough to save people dying and starving while creating an image of Africans as pathetic victims. They are trying desperately to backpedal now, but for years their industry made famine look like Africans’ incompetence and weakness in the face of natural disasters, when it was largely caused by crime and war. They’ve hidden wars where there were political situations, and funded dictators. “
Jane tells me the Ethiopian famine in 1984 was a lie. “That was a totalitarian dictator running a totalitarian dictator’s extermination campaign. Of course he was. He was a totalitarian dictator, that’s what they do. But it was all hushed up by the charities, because it was making them famous and it was making them rich.”
Her new show focuses on charities and is called Bono and Geldof are Cunts. It sold out at the Sydney Opera House and war reporters’ HQ The Frontline Club in hours. Jane insists the C-word is an underused comic tool. “I mean what kind of cunt says Africans can’t play at Live 8, because they’re not well known enough by the general public, having put the Boomtown Rats on stage and then says, “Oh okay, the Africans can play in Cornwall?’ It’s ridiculous, it’s outrageous.”
“Pardon me, but what kind of cunt talks about us funding Millennium Goals, and then operates a tax dodge in Holland for his band? What kind of cunt sells himself as an every man, and then when he’s asked why he has registered himself as a non domicile (to pay less tax) says, ‘my time – is that not a tax?’ Would your time be worth so much money if it wasn’t for the black kids?”
United Nations charity workers can be entitled to have their children’s flights paid for – so they can go to boarding school back home. “So they don’t study with the brown kids, who got them the job in the first place. Cunts. I mean what exactly does ‘not for profit’ actually mean if you have a nice salary, a nice house and four slaves? And I use the word slaves on purpose, because a housekeeper paid $5 a day by someone earning western charity wages is a slave. Western charity workers live in mansions and luxury apartments, and they qualify for hardship allowances. Corporate perks in a poverty industry.”
One of the most interesting stories that came out of Live Aid was told by Geldof’s business partner in Live Aid, the promoter Harvey Goldsmith.
“He said he was shocked by the amount of money that was coming in – people are kind and lovely. I was told by someone at Live Aid there were buckets of £20 notes being passed around. So Goldsmith contacted the charities they’d been running Live Aid for, saying, “Listen, we need to meet and set up an auditing system, so we can make sure that this money is going to the people it’s supposed to be going to.” Not one of the charities they were giving millions to would come to that meeting. That’s how shady this operation was.” Why didn’t the charities turn up? “Well you wouldn’t want your mum going through your pockets at the end of a night out, you might have done something you shouldn’t.”
Criticism that has been levied against Jane is that she is discouraging people from giving money to charity. “That’s an argument charities have used for decades to avoid anyone taking a closer look at how they operate on the ground. And it’s crap – humans are nice. People will always give money to people in need. But let’s give money to the charities that ask the question, are we making things better or worse? Are we doing the jobs that the government should be doing?” Jane says the way charities use the media is effectively making the media read out their press releases and appeals for cash unchallenged.
“Foreign correspondents tell me when you get a press release you take it as at fact, and broadcast it as a main news item. But these are not facts. These are appeals for money produced by a multi-million dollar industry, which is a part of the war economy. Therefore there’s a very strong chance it’s keeping the war going. Case in point: the Northern Ugandans were kept in camps at gunpoint by their own government while foreign aid flooded in directly to that government “to help the refugees” – the World Food Programme ran press releases saying the people had fled into the camps of their own free will.”
The one charity Jane does support is Doctors without Borders, because they go in and do a service. “They are doctors and they are the only charity I know of that say ‘stop sending us money.’” After the tsunami, the President of Doctors without Borders said ‘please stop sending us your money – it was a wave, people drowned, we can’t do any more.’ “It’s like George Clooney in ER ‘there’s nothing more we can do for them’, then the World Health Organisation got up and said that’s not true, more people could die of an epidemic than they did from the tsunami.
“So the president of Doctors without Borders (who is an actual doctor) goes absolutely ape shit, and has a fight with him on French television, asking him ‘where did you go to medical school?’ You cannot catch a disease from a body that didn’t die of that disease; it was bullshit. So if you want to give money, give it to a charity like Doctors without Borders, who actually provide a service that doesn’t replace the job of the government.
“No one wants charity over a job, except with a really big hangover on a Sunday. Generally speaking what you want is a job and a future. But imagine if every time you went for a job interview, a random white guy (usually Irish) goes to see your potential employer the day before, and tells them you are a mess. That you were barely literate and that you have a sexually transmitted chronic disease. Would your employer be more likely to invest in your future? No, he would call you a charity case. That is what Bono and Geldof’s poverty industry has been doing to Africans for decades.”
Is it reductive and simplistic to talk about 56 diverse nations as one ‘Dark Continent’ of generalised suffering, poverty and war? Returns on investment in Africa have been the highest in the world for the past 20 years, and the IMF projects that 12 of the 20 fastest-growing national economies over the next 5 years will be in Africa. People who can help give young Africans a job are investors, but an American survey carried out over the time where Africa has actually been booming, has repealed investors find the image of Africa really off-putting.
Jane believes that image has been created by a multi million dollar PR machine; pictures of starving sickly people, at a time when actually Africa was experiencing incredible economic growth “when the rest of the world’s economy was diving headfirst into the toilet and sliding down the U-bend covered in shit. If you look at Westgate Centre, that was shot to shit. What you saw was an extremely high end shopping mall – those are not the images of Africa we are used to seeing. That’s a thriving economic centre which is just up the road from the slum you always see on Comic Relief.” People living in Kibera slum are there because they are looking for work, “if you shaft someone’s chances of getting a job by pretending that they are a lousy work force, that’s an unforgivable, crappy, and disgraceful act.”
Jane sets a record at the Soho theatre, where she uses the word cunt a staggering 45 times in two minutes. Each time she assures me there is a logical political argument behind it. I ask Jane what it is about the word cunt. “It’s the funniest word in the English language, it really annoys people. The funniest letter in the English language is ‘c’, it’s a funny sound, comedy writers will tell you that. The fact that it belongs to women is, I think, just a wonderful revenge. It’s the last taboo and so fun to use. What am I supposed to say, “wOh gosh how morally inappropriate? No, just say “cunt”.”