The New Times (Kigali)

7 November 2007

Rwanda: Hilton Trip Will Bring Embarrassment to Country and Herself

opinion

Kigali — I am not against humanitarian work - though I have to admit I find it hard to believe the person who says they are doing something purely and only for someone else - but I do champion a humble nature of it.

Helping others in a non-patronizing way is an art in itself, mastered by few.

Actress and heiress Paris Hilton's publicized 'humanitarian' trip to Rwanda in November-now postponed-will most certainly be sacrilegious to that art world.

As an American, a New Yorker, and as someone who was peers with Hilton's younger sister Nikki, it made me cringe already to hear that the socialite had picked Rwanda to recover from drunk driving and a bad reputation.

It is bad enough that foreigners come here truly believing that they are 'professional humanitarians'; out to do good because they want to only do good. It is even worse when it is an amateur humanitarian.

The truth is, Hilton is a very extreme-and thus perfectly illuminating-example of a common phenomenon-aid and development work; people with questions of self-fulfilment masqueraded often by urges to help the needy. For many in Rwanda, good work is being done all over.

But a trip by Paris Hilton only crystallizes the situation by giving an example of an obviously-confused vertigo-laden young lady with ample money and ample ignorance who think that 'doing good' can cure her 'bad.'

So it was difficult enough to hear that she was coming to Rwanda. It is even worse now-and only confirms the ultimately trivial nature of her visit-to find out that she is bringing the video cameras with her.

Teaching in schools, visiting health clinics, Paris Hilton's trip to Rwanda will be made into a reality-TV show for viewers back in America. It is to be called, simply, The Philanthropist.

Not only is this, at least to me, a truly awful scar on Rwanda of a country maybe too impoverished to defend itself against the californiacation of development, but that is not the end of it; she wants to stay only five days.

It is already a dismal testament to the development industry that workers stay between 1-3 years. But five days?

It takes two to simply get here from the United States. What, exactly, is she going to do here?

Thankfully, while she is quite excited about all the good and attention she is going to bring to this country, her followers in America are not so stupid.

These are actual online comments in reaction to her trip!

"So she thinks just by going, she'll bring attention to the problems? Good Lord, this b**ch is crazy.

Get over yourself." (Bam, September 26, 2007)

"She can teach the people of Rwanda how to be intensely superficial, stupid, self-centred and how to pose like a desperate idiot in an empty room." (Millie, September 26, 2007)

Speaking herself about the prospects of the reality-TV show, Hilton had this to say.

"I love having everything documented. It shows people what everyday life is like for me, how hard I work. There are a lot of misconceptions about me." Let's hope so.

Maybe in fact Paris Hilton wants to help this country, we can give her the benefit of the doubt. But she is not coming here because she wants to help. She is coming here for personal reasons and she is going to make this trip very non-personal.

Hilton is a manifestation and symptom of some very - to put it politely - uniquely American qualities I think this country would rather not inherit.

Her visit, in my mind, will do nothing to help this country. But Rwanda is not and should not be a country that bars anyone.

I beg whoever is in charge of coordinating her trip; please, please, for the sake of this country and its pride, allow her in, but keep the cameras out.

There is nothing of this country to hide from the rest of the world except the shame which will come from having a woman - famous for being famous - literally parade around this sincere country in an insincere way.

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