Africans to Geldof: We don’t need another Band Aid solution

Thirty years after Do They Know It’s Christmas? was recorded to raise money for the Ethiopian famine, the song is making a comeback with new signers (One Direction, Sam Smith and Rita Ora) and a new cause (Ebola). Bob Geldof and Midge Ure announced the return of the paternalistic Christmas classic at a press conference on Monday.

Despite the long-term harm caused by the song and the Live Aid concert, Geldof and his cohort are bringing back the song, which he admits is bad. While Geldof is stuck in 1984, the world has changed a lot.

“What would have been great is if Bob and company realized that the song didn’t work and said they are not going to do another one,” said Solome Lemma, co-founder of Africa Responds and the founder of Africans in the Diaspora, to Humanosphere. “Even if they were going to do this, partner with African artists, African activists and African stakeholders.”

A new generation of artists will record the song’s troubling lyrics, such as There’s a world outside your window / And it’s a world of dread and fear / Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears, on Saturday for a Nov. 17 release. It will mark the third time the song has been recorded since the original in 1984. Money raised will support the international response to the Ebola outbreak.

Geldof urged people to buy the new track to support the cause.

“It really doesn’t matter if you hate this song or you don’t like this song. You have to buy this thing,” he said at the press conference. “I really urge everyone. Don’t download it; don’t look at it on YouTube. It’s a couple of quid. It’s a great thing to do at Christmas.”

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Reactions to the announcement were swift. The #BandAid30 hashtag quickly trended on Twitter with news stories, some excitement and harsh criticism.

Lemma’s initiative Africa Responds grew out of the current crisis. She helped establish a platform for supporting truly local organizations working in the three endemic countries, in partnership with TMS Ruge, Stephanie Yawa de Wolfe and Ernest Danjuma Enebi. The team of African-born young people partners with four organizations who mobilize communities to respond to Ebola. Their work is a counter-point to the ideas propagated in Geldof’s song. band-aid-30

“It is just not true that these people are helpless. Since the beginning of the outbreak Guineans, Sierra Leoneans and Liberians have organized themselves,” said Lemma. “They are not standing on the sidelines waiting for Bob to come and save them.”

Unlike the latest edition of Band Aid, the partner organizations are the most important part of Africa Responds. Lemma stressed the importance of a community-rooted approach to responding to the Ebola crisis. Supporters of Africa Responds will contribute to the work of Africare, FACE Africa, THINK and HOPE. It stands in contrast to the money spent on the new Geldof song that will go to “charity.”

“We’ve learned from the first Band Aid that we can record and mobilize resources, but you have to ask what is happening to these resources,” said Lemma.

Do They Know it’s Christmas is a relic of the 1980s. It was born out of a period where little attention was paid to a massive famine in eastern Africa. The scale and devastation of the famine galvanized activists and celebrities to act and raise awareness. It was a sign of the times and something that should be consigned to remain as a lesson learned from that period in humanitarian aid. Geldof said that there will be some lyrical re-writes, but the song as a whole needs to be scrapped.

The legacy of the song and Geldof’s Live Aid concert are deeply worrisome. The group did succeed in drawing attention to a crisis by enlisting fellow artists to play a concert and record a song for charity. It also succeeded in perpetrating long-lasting impressions about the African continent.

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A research report carried out in 2001 interviewed British adults about their impressions of the developing world. The found that 80 percent of Brits associate the developing world with starvation, famine, disaster and foreign aid. Nearly three out of four people agreed that developing countries “depend on the money and knowledge of the West to progress.”

Such a point of view perpetuates the idea that people in developing countries are helpless and in need of the benevolent support of outsiders. The way countries are presented has a significant impact on the way people come to understand how people are living and what needs to be done to make things better.

“When I came to the U.S. from Ethiopia in 1990s, I  was asked if I had enough food. That is because of these campaigns,” said Lemma. “These songs and the mass public consumption of the issue has a long term impact.”

If Geldof and company are looking for an alternative, say they want to enlist a bunch of African artists to do their own song in order to raise money for the Ebola response, they could turn to Africa Stop Ebola. Heck, they could simply toss support behind the song these African artists already made.

You can buy it on iTunes with proceeds going to Doctors Without Borders. Or you can watch it below:

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.