Last week, Erykah Badu performed for Swaziland’s King Mswati’s III birthday party. But now a human rights group is coming after her and for supporting a known dictator.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) points out that two journalists are currently in jail after voicing dissenting opinions about Swaziland’s judicial system in the countries only independent media outlet, The Nation. Journalists Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko made headlines after they were thrown in jail. HRF also points out that Mswati has 15 wives.
“For an artist who claims in her music and her philanthropy that she believes in the struggle against unjust government policy, Badu’s celebration of Mswati is the height of hypocrisy,” said HRF International Council member George Ayittey. “Despite a carefully crafted image of American civil rights activism, Badu praises Africa’s last absolute monarch, a strongman who imprisons dissidents like Maseko. Badu joins a rogues gallery of celebrities like Mariah Carey, Kanye West, Jennifer Lopez, and Hilary Swank, who all performed for human rights violators to line their pockets,” Ayittey continued.
Badu is a supporter of many charities, including Artists for a New South Africa, which works to “advance human rights.” In 2003, she founded her own charity, Beautiful Love Incorporated Non Profit Development, and donates to a range of causes that seek to promote education and positive cultural change. Yesterday, she tweeted that she “will stand with any group opposing injustice” and retweeted a comment that she “owes nobody an explanation of why she performed in Swaziland.”
“She’s wrong,” said HRF director of institutional affairs Alex Gladstein. “She owes us all an explanation. The king is a kleptocrat who lives in the lap of obscene luxury while most of his countrymen toil in abject poverty for less than $2 a day. Badu’s performance for him is a slap in the face of all human rights defenders inside Swaziland and is a mockery of Badu’s work inside the U.S.”
In her own defense, Badu said she performed at the event as a favor to her friend, hip-hop’s Jacob “The Jeweler” Arabo, who was throwing the party. Badu also said she doesn’t owe anyone any explanations:
From The Dallas Morning News:
“I want to address the people, not a group or a government agency,” she says. “The people know I was not endorsing the king or helping to further his political agenda. I have no agenda. I went into a situation not completely knowing the political climate of the kingdom. I can’t be held responsible for the situation in the kingdom because I signed up as an artist, not as a political activist. I don’t belong to anyone or to anything. Anything I do is because I am a human being, and I am for the people.
“Because of my status, it’s a media opportunity for the human rights groups to further their agenda. If I did have a relationship with the king of Swaziland, why wouldn’t they take an opportunity to speak with me to see how I could help solve whatever issues they are having rather than attack me? But they did not. It’s very unfair to say my performance is an endorsement. There is no place on this planet that I would not visit. I will always take an opportunity, if invited, to go to the people wherever they are in whatever condition they are in.
“In the end, I love everyone, and I see freedom ahead for those enslaved and the slave masters. Guess I’m guilty — again.”
Badu further asserted her position on Twitter:
I have no political affiliation to anything besides my AFRO. However, I will stand with any group opposing injustice. But not on twitter.
ErykahBadoula (@fatbellybella) April 28, 2014
But there were others who wanted explanations:
One of these days people are going to stop looking at entertainers as side activists and just listen to their music and keep it moving.