Beauty contest

A Norwegian beauty contest for “Miss Land Mine”.

A Norwegian artist, Morten Traavik, is organising an online beauty contest with a difference: the candidates are Angolan women injured by landmines.

Some aid agencies have called the project a “freakshow”.

I think I approve but am not sure. As an attention-getting stunt the contest is certainly effective, and it has a serious development aim. Does it exploit and demean women and the disabled? No more than any beauty contest, and probably less – it’s especially valuable to these particular women to feel glamorous and desirable. The women are volunteers affirming themselves in an odd way, not passive objects of Western benevolence like Princess Di’s. Beauty contests are popular in Angola anyway, so Traavik’s scheme is not of itself cultural colonialism.

What I don’t like is that only the winner gets a free high-tech prosthesis fitted in Norway, a very rich country. I dare say this will change as the final nears.

If you do vote, I suggest sending guilt money to a landmine charity such as Adopt a Minefield (US) or Landmine Action (UK). More addresses here.

As with all foreign aid, there’s a risk of diversion of funds via fungibility: aid for schools etc. allows the government to spend more on palaces and guns. The Angolan government is notoriously bad: the country ranks 147 out of 179 in Transparency International’s “corruption perceptions” world rankings; the Mo Ibrahim Foundation ranks Angola 42 out of 47 African countries on governance. Angola’s huge oil revenue is secret and a lot of it is shunted directly into offshore bank accounts. You could argue that Angola’s kleptocracy is so extreme that aid diversion becomes difficult. Anyway, aid diversion is an argument for supporting schemes like Traavik’s that work on attitudes – for states of mind can’t be stolen.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web