“But say a prayer
Pray for the other ones
At Christmas time 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
Where a kiss of love can kill you, and there is death in every tear
And the Christmas bells that are ringing
Are clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight we’re reaching out and touching you.”
These are some of the lyrics to the new Band Aid single Do They Know It’s Christmas? , a remake of Bob Geldof and Midge Ure’s 1984 original, which was recently recorded in a London studio by musical acts Sam Smith, One Direction, Coldplay and Ellie Goulding in an effort to help contain the spread of Ebola in West Africa.
The Charity Group Band Aid was co-founded by Ure and Geldof in the eighties to raise money for the impoverished who were affected by famine in Ethiopia. The group has been around for about thirty years, and has been known for their history of recording this particular song for charity. They performed the song again in 1989, and in 2004, they returned to the studio to raise funds for humanitarian aid in Darfur, Sudan. Each iteration of the song has been graced with the presence of some of the United Kingdom’s biggest musical stars including Kylie Minogue, Natasha Bedingfield and Paul McCartney.
While Gedolf has encouraged fans to buy the single and not just listen to it online, many Africans and friends of Africa around the world are less than pleased with the brouhaha. It appears to be a good cause and quite altruistic, but very misguided for a few reasons.
Well first of all, let’s start with the song’s title It is understood that in light of the impact of Ebola, particularly in the countries affected, the holiday season may be a time of reflection, we’re pretty sure that West Africans know Christmas is around the corner, and they sure know how to celebrate it. From early morning church services to exchanging gifts and eating lots of food, Christmas is generally known to be a festive time shared with family and friends. In fact, in many West African countries, the holiday season starts as early as December 1st and may run through mid-January. West Africans know what time it is, Bob Geldof –no reminder needed there, thank you very much.
“No peace and joy this Christmas in West Africa
The only hope they’ll have is being alive
Where to comfort is to fear
Where to touch is to be scared.
How can they know it’s Christmas time at all?”
An image, is an image, is an image As if the west’s image of the continent wasn’t bad enough, the world is reminded (yet again), of how dreadful and fearful West Africa is, and how the region will be void of peace and joy this season. If you are a visual person, you will admit that these words paint a picture of darkness and absolute hopelessness. The continent has been working really hard to change its image as a poster child for poverty, death and disaster. It is gradually trying to unearth the potential that has been held back for years, in an effort to depict a new vibrant image to the world, one that will continue to attract tourists, business opportunities and foreign direct investment. The advances made by the continent have yet to be fully acknowledged by the west, and this worldwide single is not helping at all.
It doesn’t address the root of the problem As most aid is structured, funds flow typically scratch the surface of prevailing symptoms but don’t address root causes, mainly because there is a lack of understanding of the continent itself. We are willing to bet that a lot of money went into the production of this song; what prevented these funds from supporting research, health systems strengthening or facilitating meaningful and accountable partnerships with countries to address socio-cultural and political issues that have played a substantial role in the spread of Ebola?
It underestimates Africans in general The backlash from Africans is not just about middle class citizens who wish that their continent received the dignity that it continually appears to elude.Activities like this inevitably take the focus off what Africans are actually doing to respond to the outbreak, and may even give an illusion of apathy on the part of Africans. Several organizations are at the fore front of the fight and are working closely with partners around the world to respond to the Ebola crisis.Concerts have been held on the continent, and songs have been performed and recorded, all in an effort to create awareness and instill a sense of victory and not defeat over the virus.
In today’s Africa, the song is inappropriate, patronizing and just painfully awkward. The continent doesn’t need warm and fuzzies — there needs to be a rally of support that strategically engages problems on the ground. It is time to sing a different tune.