50 Cent to feed all of Africa, and then some

Via the Huffington Post, we have this news:

Moved to action by a recent trip to famine-torn Africa, 50 Cent has launched an energy drink whose profits will feed 1 billion kids in the region.
Yep, this guy.

Here’s my first reaction: “Wow, that’s a lot of kids! In fact, it’s a surprisingly large number of kids. I wonder what percentage of the kids in Africa that will feed? Given that the entire population of Africa is 1.02 billion, if half of those are kids, I suppose 50 Cent will be feeding about 200% of the children in Africa.”

Somebody should have checked facts before putting out the press release. I assume that this is just bad writing, and that the actual plan involves feeding the same kids multiple times. Say, a million kids receiving a thousand meals each. You’ve still got to wonder how the numbers add up. At $3 a can, what’s the profit margin on an energy drink? Is the product really going to raise enough to provide 1 billion meals?

Which brings me to the bigger problem: the lack of specificity. Feeding “1 billion kids in the region” is pretty darn vague. How will this happen? Will 50 Cent partner with established charities or national governments? Or just show up and start passing out food? Will he ship food from the US? Or provide cash transfers that promote local market development? I found a few other articles on this (see here and here) but few details. The drink’s website offers no information besides the promise a September launch.

On the plus side, I’m happy to see Fiddy use his celebrity status to raise money for a good cause. I don’t really expect him to know much about humanitarian relief, but I do expect those around him to guide him into sensible efforts. Maybe that will happen over time. I remain cautiously optimistic. Another positive is that he’s selling a remarkably healthy-sounding energy drink: “100 percent natural flavors, no artificial colors…natural source of caffeine…no calories, carbohydrates or sugar… fortified with gingko biloba and vitamins.” Good news for a country with an obesity problem.

The flurry of coverage here reminds me of something else. 50 Cent is receiving a lot of good publicity for announcing a grand but vague plan to do something good. The coverage is largely uncritical of the specifics. This positive reaction (and the likelihood that there won’t be any critical follow-up coverage) encourages such grand-but-vague promises.

Sound familiar? A similar dynamic exists for bilateral aid commitments, the MDGs, and more. So the lack of specificity isn’t really 50 Cent’s fault. In other words: don’t hate the player — hate the game.

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P.S. You could also criticize the use of the phrase “famine-torn Africa” for its conflation of one region (the Horn of Africa) with the entire continent. But similar mistakes (e.g. “war-torn Africa”) are made so often that it’s almost boring to point them out.

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