Why it’s time to BAN Band Aid… at Development Truths

Sigh. The air has turned colder in the UK, it’s almost acceptable to bring up Christmas and three African countries are suffering from an (admittedly devastating) outbreak of the Ebola virus. We know what this means… it’s also about time for Sir Bob to come to the rescue, saving the African continent yet again with another excruciating rehash of the paternalistic, patronising and painful festive Band Aid classic “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” thirty years after the original.

Initially, one might ask why Geldof think’s it’s necessary to release this song when there is already a (admittedly French-produced) version “Africa Stop Ebola” with West African artists Guinean Kandia Kora, Mory Kante, Marcus and Sia Tolno, Ivorian Tiken Jah Fakoly, Malian Amadou & Mariam, Oumou Sangaré, Mokobe and Salif Keita, Congolese Barbara Kanam and Senegalese Didier Awadi (what a line up!).

The intentions are good, but the song is damaging, patronising and perpetuates the difficult-to-shift impression across much of the mainstream media and public perception in the UK (and much of the ‘West’) that Africans are helpless and are waiting to be saved. This is despite the fact that Liberians, Guineans and Sierra Leoneans are helping themselves to combat Ebola, and Nigeria and Mali have successfully contained and eradicated cases of the disease.

According to research carried out by VSO in 2001:

80% of the British public strongly associate the developing world with doom-laden images of famine, disaster and Western aid. Sixteen years on from Live Aid, these images are still top of mind and maintain a powerful grip on the British psyche.

This false understanding of the African continent has a huge impact on all who live and work and were born there. It defines roles such as ‘powerful giver’ and ‘grateful receiver’ and leads people living in the West to assume that everyone must want and need to embrace our democracy, culture and political models; beliefs that are then reflected in the global political, economic and social system and in relationships between countries and between citizens.

Here’s my take on why it’s time for Geldof to hang up his sword and cape, climb down from his white horse and ‘hand Africa back’ to those who live there:

It’s Christmastime; there’s no need to be afraid
(Although it’s perfectly acceptable to stockpile Ebola Survival Kitsban flights from the whole continent of Africa, and talk about Ebola as if the only reason we should be concerned is that it might actually leave the continent)
At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade
(Shade? Phew, that’s something they could do with in Africa surely? It’s SO HOT THERE ALL OF THE TIME)
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy
(Or how about some good old fashioned equality in the distribution of wealth and resources?)

Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime
(But not too tightly, you might catch something)
But say a prayer to pray for the other ones
(Yes the OTHER ones)
At Christmastime
It’s hard, but when you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear
(Did you know: they don’t have fun in Africa; only dread and fear)

Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears
(And tears are the source of the Niger, Nile, Congo, Zambezi, Orange…)
And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom
(If only they had festive music like this)
Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you

And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime
(But there might… )

The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life
(And this is unique to Africa)
Oh, where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow
(The EU has been clearly lying to us about the fact that it imports 40 per cent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural exports (but don’t get me started on ridiculous inequalities in the global economic/food system and the imbalance of African imports/exports)
Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?
(Funnily enough, they do. Because one in four Christians live in Sub-Saharan Africa)

Here’s to you, raise a glass for ev’ryone
Here’s to them, underneath that burning sun
(And it’s only going to get worse thanks to Western-led climate change)
Do they know it’s Christmastime at all? 

Feed the world
Feed the world
Feed the world
Let them know it’s Christmastime again
Feed the world
Let them know it’s Christmastime again

Even Geldof knows it’s crap. It’s time to disband.


Development Truths: my blog is a critical ‘international development’ microblog, mainly focussing on the African continent.