Madonna the Latest Pop Star to Shine Celebrity on Africa

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First Bono, then Angelina Jolie, now Madonna. Africa is officially a Hollywood fad.

While visiting projects she funds for AIDS orphans in the southern African nation of Malawi this week, Madonna reportedly adopted a 13-month-old Malawian boy.

With so many Hollywood actors, British rock stars, and American talk show hosts beating a path to the continent - building schools, visiting refugee children, raising awareness on AIDS and the fighting in Darfur - it's a wonder the entertainment industry can still function. Their splashy arrival in the serious world of humanitarian aid has led some to question how much long-term good they are actually doing. But most aid agencies welcome it, saying that these A-listers draw more press attention (witness this story) to the issues than noncelebrity aid workers ever could.

"We're talking about building constituencies of interest," says Jeannie Zielinkski, country director for the international aid group CARE, responsible for aid programs in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. "If I made a funding appeal myself, I would only be singing to the choir, those who already care about Africa. How effective is that? But you get a celebrity singing a totally different song, reaching a much wider crowd, to me that is really useful."

What stars have done for Africa

In the troubled Sudanese region of Darfur - where hundreds of thousands of Sudanese have been killed, and millions of refugees live in makeshift camps - actors George Clooney, Don Cheadle, and Mia Farrow have visited, raised money, and spoken before Congress on the need to stop what many see as a genocide of Sudanese minorities.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jessica Lange and Angelina Jolie have visited burgeoning camps of people displaced by a decade of civil war, where perhaps 4 million were killed.

British pop singer Bono, of the rock group U2, has set up a Washington-based pressure group called DATA, which lobbies in the halls of Congress and in European capitals for debt relief among Africa's poorest nations. He's also launched high-end "ethical clothing" labels that promise fair working conditions in African textile factories.

And here in South Africa, in the township of Soweto near Johannesburg, American talk show host Oprah Winfrey has built her own school, hired her own teachers, and interviewed the hundreds of girls who will attend.

"Jessica Lange jumped feet first in the DRC (the Democratic Republic of Congo), and she was really moved by what she saw on the ground, particularly with women, the sexual violence and the rape," says Sarah Crowe, spokeswoman for UNICEF's operations in South Africa. …