French President Emmanuel Macron and singer Rihanna attend the GPE Financing Conference, an Investment in the Future organised by the Global Partnership for Education in Dakar, Senegal, February 2, 2018. (Reuters)
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Rihanna, the Bajan multiple Grammy award winning superstar songbird with one of the world’s largest social media followings is earning a favourable international reputation for her sound social conscience.
It’s her deep interest in the education of children in poor developing states in Africa and other parts of the world.
That interest went viral when she travelled recently to Dakar, Senegal’s capital, linked arms with Senegalese President Mack Sall and was warmly greeted by French President Emmanuel Macron and several African heads of state, not to mention thousands of ordinary Senegalese when she entered the large conference centre in the nation’s capital.
“The Conference Centre in Dakar erupted with cheers and whistles as the Umbrella hit-maker was announced, with Macron and the singer from Barbados posing arm in arm with Senegalese Mickey Sall,” was the way a major international news agency with a global reach recorded the moment in the African republic.
Actually, the occasion was a summit devoted to finding ways and funding innovative projects designed to boost education in the world’s developing countries and both Rihanna and President Macron hosted the important meeting. The girl from Westbury Road in St Michael, the French leader from Paris, Senegal’s President and the head of the World Bank were the summit’s headliners and they helped to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in education aid earmarked for Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia and the Pacific.
“This is a fight we’re never going to stop fighting until every boy and girl has access to education,” said Rihanna who is an ambassador for the Global Partnership for Education which aids projects in almost 70 countries.
The Bajan didn’t stop there. She called on the leaders of the world’s industrialised nations, including Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May to extend a financial helping hand to the global initiative.
Before the summit, Rihanna had urged Macron to increase his country’s contribution to the Partnership, the singer’s Clara Lionel Foundation and other institutions involved in the global effort to expand access to education and that’s what he did by pledging the equivalent of almost BDS$500 million. It was a sizeable increase over his original pledge.
For his part, President Macron who has visited more than a dozen African states in the nine months since his election listed education as the “only single response” to the challenges and extremism and fundamentalism many African nations were facing. Clearly, Macron decided to put his money where his mouth was. The overall goal is to raise more than US$3.1 billion.
Coming from a birthplace which guarantees every child access to a free secondary education and heavily subsidised university education to qualified students, Rihanna who attended Combermere School in Waterford before emigrating to the US to pursue a musical career knew from first-hand experience what education do to make a difference in people’s lives.
It explains why it didn’t come as a surprise when Rihanna who won a Grammy at the recent award-show at Madison Square Garden in New York has placed so much emphasis on education in international development.
The Bajan has more than 59 million social media followers, a total that’s third behind Selena Gomez who has 133 million followers on Instagram alone and more than 220 million overall. In second place was Jennifer Lopez with more than 70 million.
The mood in Africa and the international generosity displayed in Dakar were in sharp contrast to the outrage directed at US President Donald Trump who recently labelled developing lands in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, especially Haiti and El Salvador as “sh..hole countries.” He reportedly made the statement while addressing a White House meeting on immigration. According to US senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat, Trump made the remark while suggesting that instead of Haiti, El Salvador and other states, the US should open its immigration doors to citizens of Norway.
The remark triggered an avalanche of criticisms from Caribbean and African leaders who dismissed the vulgar and unflattering characterisation of the developing countries. (TB)