Beyond Bob Geldof’s Ebola Christmas

charity

The debate and backlash that surrounded Bob Geldof’s resurrection of Band Aid’s 1984-charity single, Do They Know It’s Christmas, to raise funds for Ebola held my attention for many days. While some questioned the rich celebrities’ motives, others were appalled by the patronizing lyrics, which they claimed cast West Africans as people who cannot solve their problems and so were always in need of foreign aid. In between were a thousand other pros and cons. I capture selected sentiments (edited), below:

 

They need all the money they can get. What have the people complaining done?

My parents gave money when I was two. Now I’m thirty-two, I have to give money—hang on, my daughter is two. Is this a generational thing?

Well at least they’re changing the lyrics.

How about new lyrics: cure the world, yes they know it’s Christmas time, doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?

It’s called Band Aid not Deep Surgery for crying out loud!

 

Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, the countries facing the wrath of Ebola, cannot afford to turn up their noses at financial assistance from Band Aid 30. I suppose it is left to the rest of us to speak up for them. And we did.

By now Bob Geldof knows:

  • Rhetorical questions like, do they know it’s Christmas time at all? will be answered on Twitter and Facebook, with viral effect, as long as he keeps asking.
  • Hyperbole, that literary device sometimes used to coax emotive response, has been withdrawn from his poetic license—where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears; where nothing ever grows; and now, where a kiss of love can kill you and there’s death in every tear.
  • Irony, well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you, has never been more tongue in cheek.
  • Synecdoche, a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa, is the preserve of Africans for Africa.
  • White savior complex means that in the absence of a black Jesus, Africans might accept a mixed race one, the scion of a black father and a white mother or vice versa.
  • The danger of a single story will haunt him, although thirty years later, Africans are yet to acquire their own Cable News Network, African Broadcasting Corporation, or Al j’Africa to tell their multiple stories.

 

But I suspect Bob Geldof also knows:

  • Visibility creates heightened awareness. Celebrities generate greater visibility for causes than the United Nations does1.
  • When it comes to charitable giving, people act from the heart not from the head. Facts and charts are boring.
  • Emotion is the language of donation, images of children and women, the defenseless, make viewers emotionally invested2. Images of a prosperous Africa will zip purses close.
  • Words can evoke powerful empathetic responses because they transport us into other people’s world. Hence, no peace and joy this Christmas in West Africa – the only hope they’ll have is being alive.
  • He is a musician who knows how to compose popular songs that will sell.
  • He wants to help on his terms not yours.
  • Generosity is most potent at Christmas.

 

So, can we take a pause from shouting ourselves hoarse on social media and dismount our righteous soapboxes please? Give us your aid on our terms, sounds chivalrous, carries the ring of revolution even, but isn’t it as naïve now as it was then? Does he who pays the piper not dictate the tune?

Band Aid 30’s charity single, Do They Know It’s Christmas? in aid of the Ebola crisis, has become the fastest-selling single of 2014, selling over 200,000 copies since its release about a week ago3.  Who is buying the ‘demeaning’ song that Fuse ODG, British-Ghanaian rapper, refused to be a part of because he is, “sick of the whole concept of Africa – a resource-rich continent with unbridled potential – always being seen as diseased, infested and poverty-stricken.”4?

It would seem no amount of revising would have made the ‘new’ song acceptable to those condemning it. Only a song by Africans for Africans stands a chance of not being condescending. The Africa Stop Ebola, single, an African initiative that includes well-known musicians such as Tiken Jah Fakoly, Amadou & Mariam, Salif Keita, and Oumou Sangare, was recorded before the release of Band Aid 30’s charity single. It is currently at number seventy-eight on the iTunes download charts. Band Aid 30 is at number one5. Telling isn’t it?

Perhaps frustration arises from fighting something intangible—Geldof still raises millions with his ‘questionable’ lyrics and the African countries in question readily collect financial aid from the sale of lyrics that ‘demean’ them. Remember when the local radio stations in Nigeria played Band Aid’s song over and over and we sang, danced, and clapped (omg, omg! horror of horrors!) to the catchy chorus, feed the world . . . ? Right, that was thirty years ago. But, will the stations play the new version?

The long-term solution for underdeveloped African countries is not charity. There should be more to aid than handing over millions of Pounds6. Okay. But is that Geldof’s job? Really? Should only Bob Geldof be put on trial? Or maybe he should be hung for exploiting human nature.

A man can’t ride your back unless it is bent7. There are many ways to straighten our backs. Using Bob Geldof as target practice is one of them. I get it. Can we now concentrate on other ways of straightening our backs so that Geldof wouldn’t dare resurrect Band Aid 40 in ten years’ time, because not only would our outcry have sensitized public opinion, we would also have perfected African solutions to ‘Afro-global’ problems.

A new generation of Africans wants to tell new African stories. They know that media isn’t 100% objective. It exists to serve the interest of the owners, which include profit and propaganda. Maybe we don’t have to be so defensive about the old stories; they are part of our stories too, no? Those stories will evolve as those societies truly do and the burden of change lies with us.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

 

  1. Geldof decided to remake the single after the United Nations contacted him, saying help was urgently needed to prevent the disease from spreading beyond West Africa. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/17/us-health-ebola-geldof-idUSKCN0IZ0GY20141117 
  1. Oxfam, the international aid agency, reports in 2012, that three out of five people polled said they were or had become desensitised to images depicting issues such as hunger, drought and disease. http://www.oxfam.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases/2012/12/show-africas-potential-not-just-its-problems-says-oxfam
  1. http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/nov/18/band-aid-30-becomes-fastest-selling-single-of-2014 
  1. Anyone who has experienced Africa in a positive way is a citizen of the New Africa and needs to play their part in challenging perceptions– and if I can make chart-topping music that celebrates Africa then surely Band Aid and its extensive network can do the same. – Fuse ODG  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/19/turn-down-band-aid-bob-geldof-africa-fuse-odg  
  1. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/20/-sp-africa-stop-ebola-band-aid-alternative 
  1. My quote. For further reading: I don’t know of any country in the world where a bunch of foreigners came and developed the country. I know about countries that developed on trade and innovation and business. – Herman Chinery-Hesse. http://www.povertycure.org/issues/foreign-aid/
  1. Quote by Martin Luther King Jr., “Whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.”

 

Image Credit:

Map of Africa:  http://all-free-download.com/free-vector/vector-clip-art/africa_clip_art_19737.html

 

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