Pray the Devil Back to Hell

“Pray the Devil Back to Hell”, an extraordinary, hopeful documentary about the role that the women’s movement played in ending the civil war in Liberia, was screened in Davos on Saturday. Afterwards, the issues it raised were discussed by a panel, including the film-makers, Nick Kristof of the New York Times (a fan of the book) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (who is featured in the book).

One of the film makers, Abby Disney, a grand niece of Walt Disney, is one of a growing band of philanthropists who are embracing the power of movies-with-a-message to change the world. (Jeff Skoll, who we write about in the book, is probably the philanthropist who has taken this furthest, not least by funding Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth”.) Earlier in the week, she appeared on a fascinating panel about philanthrocapitalism moderated by Matthew at Burda Media’s DLD conference in Munich, where she espoused the need to build strong non-profit organisations and attacked the narrow obsession of some philanthropists with measuring everything.

In Davos, however, her target was some big NGOs who she said “girl-wash” themselves, by talking up their enthusiasm for empowering women whilst failing to make much progress in addressing the structural problems that tend to disempower them. The women’s organisation in Liberia gained its power from being a grass-roots organisation and, Disney argued, by remaining one, refusing to accept a seat at the peace negotiations as to do so would have involved compromises that could have weakened its voice.

Hearing Tutu speak is to be reminded of why The Elders is such a great idea. He is exactly the sort of wise, experienced old person that world leaders should turn to in a crisis, and it is excellent that through the efforts of philanthrocapitalists, starting with Peter Gabriel and Richard Branson (as we discuss in the book), Tutu and his 11 fellow Elders are now properly funded so they can pursue their work in a more effective and strategic way. Following the documentary, his discussion of the problems of masculinity (especially the insecurity of men that often drives them to do bad things), in particular, was honest, self-critical and inspiring.

Tutu talked briefly about the power sharing deal just announced in Zimbabwe, which The Elders played a key role in brokering. He made it clear that many aspects of the deal made him uncomfortable, yet he urged that the international community give it every chance to succeed whilst remaining tireless in its scrutiny of the implementation of the deal and in its insistence that justice be done. Let’s hope that one day there will be an uplifting documentary to be made about Zimbabwe’s escape from hell.