Last weekend, cultural power-house ‘The X Factor’, hosted the debut of ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’. Some would say that Geldof’s troupe of mainly white Western artists’ rehashing of an originally awful record was a good thing. After all, it raised a million quid in five minutes and as for the awareness, my God, you can’t put a price on the good it will do! Right? Wrong. I have no doubt that Band Aid and the original concert had good intentions at their core. However, thirty years of aid work and charitable giving has had, at best, chequered success. The complex ramifications which have resulted from the West’s throwing money at Africa have been numerous and varied. Anyone studying these would know that simply getting the band back together is not the easy fix, as is apparently claimed by Geldoff, Bono etc.
Lets start with the Logo. Is the use of a map, showing a continent of around 54 states, really the best way to raise awareness of a disease found in only a handful of countries in the region? The continent of Africa is vast and charities’ irresponsible use of emotive rhetoric and images has created a perception of Africa as a single state that is unable to support itself, constantly with its hand out. On the contrary, most of Africa isn’t suffering from ebola. Africa is home to policy stable, economically affluent, prosperous states which often suffer from the stigma unjustly attached to them, however unintentionally, by charities. Lyrics in the original song such as ‘No rain nor rivers flow’ generates a completely misleading image of the continent. What Bono’s supposedly ironic line ‘Thank God it’s them not you’ is supposed to emote I have no idea but it certainly isn’t positive.
And this is not the only song trying to create support for the fight against ebola. There are at least another three songs recorded by African artists, none of whom are being promoted by the gang of narcissists donating their celebrity to this cause. If half of Bob’s efforts had gone into promoting African artists instead of bolstering dozens of white artists’ portfolios, there would be no complaint from me. However, I have to agree with the rapper Fuse ODG who pulled out of the recording: this new song projects a negative image of Africa.
The cash. The 1980’s and 90’s saw a massive rise in the aid industry and charitable giving. Without doubt this was driven by good intentions and that includes Geldof’s Band Aid projects. But that doesn’t instantly mean it’s necessarily ‘a good thing’. Charitable interventions have been responsible for some disastrous side effects: funding despots by paying for work visas etc., sustaining militias which steal aid donations, destabilising economies by saturating markets with external produce, giving out drugs with no instruction for use – the list goes on. That’s not to say it’s all bad. Many charities operate ethically and effectively, to the benefit of those they help. Bob’s project could have just as easily run a programme supporting artists in specific states suffering from ebola, perhaps by promoting the growing number of songs already produced. Instead, saint Bob reached for his mobile and employed a thirty-year-old model with no regard for historical adjustment.
So, what about Bob Geldof? He has attracted more than his fair share of criticism in the past and not all of it justified. Granted his career was in the doldrums before the original Band Aid, but he wasn’t alone in his desires to better the lives of those worse off. His use of his celebrity and public acts such as the ‘Give us yer fockin money’ incident, did much for raising public awareness of important issues. He may have personally benefited following these events but at the end of the day, at the time, something was better than nothing in regard to aid for Ethiopia. However times have changed. With all our knowledge of the potential pitfalls and developments in expertise as to how to make aid work better, why is Geldoff so hell bent on the reincarnation of his outdated project? It’s not that he’s unaware off all the above problems; on occasion you’ll hear him discuss them, but he seems unable to let go of the original model.
The other day Geldof was cut off on Sky News for saying ‘bollocks’ twice. The fruity language was inspired when the presenter asked him the respond to criticism. Nice argument Bob. One of the criticisms had came from the founder of Africa Express, a man who has dedicated his live to promoting African music, to helping the people of that continent without just throwing money blindly hoping some might stick. To dismiss a serious comment from an expert in the field like this is arrogant at best. Calling the President of Ethiopia ‘a cunt’ took balls, without doubt. But I can swear as well and I say, when you start to dismiss expert opposition to your argument in such a way it’s time you fucked off and had a word with yourself.