Coffee House Culture House Daily

Yes, Bob Geldof, Africans know it’s Christmas. Do you know it’s time to pack Band Aid in?

19 November 2014

10:19 AM

19 November 2014

10:19 AM

In this week’s Spectator, out tomorrow, our leading article looks at the Band Aid 30 single and why it’s time for Bob Geldof to pack Band Aid in. Pickup a copy tomorrow or subscribe from just £1 here

Anyone listening to the BBC this week could be forgiven for thinking that the musician Bob ­Geldof had just emerged from Africa, like a ­latter-day Dr Livingstone, the first westerner with news of a deadly new virus. He and his makeshift band of celebrities have adopted Ebola, their song blazing from the radio while Geldof himself has been in every studio exhorting people, with his usual stream of expletives, to buy it.

Unless you have been in isolation for the past six months, the Band Aid single will not have raised your awareness of the disease one bit. Since the outbreak was first confirmed in Guinea on 22 March, many hours of news coverage had been broadcast and many millions raised to help the aid effort. Few have noted that diarrhoea has killed 73 times as many Africans as Ebola since the disease broke out. We can treat diarrhoea far more easily, though no celebrity  would sing a Christmas song about it.

[Alt-Text]


The fear that Ebola might become a problem in the West seems to have focused minds here — and the Ebola response has been swift and considerable. The Disasters Emergency Committee, which has co-ordinated fund-raising for a number of medical charities, has raised £21 million in donations from British citizens. The Department for International Development, for once engaged in a worthwhile cause, has committed £230 million. A 90-bed field hospital has already opened in Freetown and more are being constructed. Fifty NHS volunteers will soon fly out to join charity workers who have been working in the field for months.

And now Bob Geldof walks into this international effort as a nostalgia act from the 1980s. He seems unaware of all the parodies of his charity singles. One spoof, ‘Africa for Norway’, is a video showing Africans recording a charity song to raise funds for radiators to keep Scandinavians warm in winter. ‘In Norway, kids are freezing,’ runs the first line. ‘It’s time for us to care.’ The video asks us to consider what Africans would think of Europe if the only images they saw were of the freezing and the dying. (This winter, incidentally, at least 20,000 British pensioners are likely to die of the cold — an annual event. Where is the charity single for them?)

As one Liberian student put it this week, Geldof is suffering from a ‘white saviour complex’. Listen only to Band Aid and you might want to give to Africa but never invest there. You would not guess that any African country could have an economy, still less that they have hospitals, doctors and administrators who are making the biggest contribution to fighting Ebola. It ought also to be noted that Africa is making extraordinary progress in the way it fights diseases. Western aid has played a role in this, but so has the more potent force of Chinese investment — and, most of all, the efforts and resourcefulness of Africans themselves.

The very title of Geldof’s song, ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’, suggests that Africans are as ignorant as they are poor and sick. Apart from in Arabic north, Christianity thrives in Africa rather more than it now does in much of Europe — so there is a somewhat high awareness of when Christmas falls (in January, for Ethiopians and Egyptians). In Britain, people will most certainly know it’s Christmas but we’re less likely than ever to mark the occasion by actually going to church. In Geldof’s 1985 Live Aid concert, David Bowie knelt and said the Lord’s Prayer in front of the crowd. It is unthinkable that any pop star would try to do this now and expect the audience to applaud — unless they were touring Africa.

The trouble with Geldof’s giveathons is that they engender a spirit whereby giving becomes more important than helping. Band Aid emerged at a similar time to those other celebrity fests: Comic Relief and Children in Need, both of which raised vast amounts, though few of the donors have much idea how their money is spent. Often it is not the causes that are the centre of attention but the celebrities, who earn virtue points and valuable minutes of free PR at the same time.

Thirty years ago, Geldof was a pioneer who raised a lot of money for a worthy cause. Since then things have moved on — we now have a £12 billion foreign aid budget, for example, and even this is outdated in an era when economic growth helps Africa more than aid ever has done. Africa deserves our respect and co-operation, not condescension and charity singles which reinforce damaging stereotypes. To adapt the rhetorical question posed by Geldof and his cronies: do they know it’s time to pack it in?

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
  • Stu

    A far better piece of investigate prose than the trollop above: https://medium.com/@liveaid1985/live-aid-responding-to-the-critics-77c6fc3a0ef0

  • Stu

    …to chime in here again, at risk of being bombarded by the Geldof-haters and those who shrug off the Ebola issue in West Africa. The graph the blogger has provided us with uses data from WHO’s Global Burden Of Disease rates for 2012. Fair enough, that year is the most recent set of data made available to us by WHO to afford a comparative analysis between other causes of death in Africa. Yet the blogger conveniently includes the ENTIRE continent of Africa in his stats against the deaths related to Ebola in the three countries affected by it.

    I’ve done some of my own investigation into the matter, and asked WHO to provide Global Burden of Disease statistics for just Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea in 2012, as that offers a far more accurate representative comparison.

    The results are astoundingly different to the graph in question:

    HIV/AIDS – 10183

    Diarrhoea – 16943

    Malaria – 20800

    Hunger – 4680

    TB – 12685

    Syphilis – 971

    Ebola – 5459 (10351 outstanding cases)

    I think it’s plain to see that the Ebola epidemic deserves the spotlight it’s received, as well as the charitable drives offered by those like Bob Geldof and others, celebrity or not, who wish to see the disease in West Africa eradicated.

  • Bonkim

    Foreign aid is keeping populations multiplying in areas of the world where previously climate was inhospitable to life.

    • Sean L

      That’s the opposite of the truth: there are more *threats* to life: but these indicate the abundance of life. The multiplicity of diseases in the tropics are manifestations of life. There are more species of life in places like Uganda or Kenya, some of the greenest places on earth, than anywhere. It’s a large part of why such places are under developed economically compared to the northern lands which are truly inhospitable to life, the abundance of natural resources. Your worldview seems to be derived from TV news stories of famine and starvation. But the fact that in Uganda the banana is equivalent to the potato in Ireland, as a basic starch, like rice or pasta elsewhere, isn’t a story. Besides there are also deserts in Africa. It’s a vast territory. . .

      • Bonkim

        Check population explosion in the arid regions of the world. I don’t watch TV apart from occasional news – and analyse from my own observations and cause and effect analysis. Not clear what point you are making about Kenya or Uganda both relatively well off countries having been part of tyhe British Empire. Check effect of overseas aid in the arid regions mainly Islamic – lack of social organisation and medieval mindsets, and populations being kept alive by foreign aid – locations hostile to life.

        • Sean L

          Surely Islam is a highly successful form of social organisation, whatever its deficiencies economically. That’s its great strength that it commands such allegiance in spite of the otherwise deplorable conditions it fosters. Anyway I don’t see how any of that relates to my original comment which had nothing to do with Islam or arid regions. Obviously arid regions are inhospitable, that’s just another way of saying the same thing. Interesting that it’s based on your own observations. How much time do you spend in these places? And where do you mean – Somalia? Sudan? Mauritania? Mali? You’re a brave man to even set foot in such inhospitable terrain. I salute your courage. Are your visits purely for observational purposes?

          • Bonkim

            You don’t have to travel to every location to understand how environment, geography, history, and religion shape human societies and how they interact. If you look up European history – it was only when people threw the blind yolk of the Roman Church, and started questioning that they liberated their mind and enterprise to explore the world and harness its resources, expanding science and technology, generated the ability to think independently and link cause and effect to solve problems.

            If you look at the most failed and failing societies – Islam is at the centre of their people as the Roman Church was in Europe once. China, India, Japan also were enslaved when they were dominated by blind religion and autocracies that used religion to dominate – but now emerged from all that and forging ahead.

            Having said that – overpopulation, and resource depletion will increasingly play their roles in destroying mankind on earth.

            Religion is now coming back to Europe as well – look at the multiple versions of evangelical Christianity and other beliefs as people see no answers to the many insurmountable problems facing mankind.

  • Sean L

    Isn’t everyone supposed to be dead already from ‘global warming’ anyway? Otherwise in many respects one can have a higher standard of living in some African countries. That’s because of the absence of any state welfare or labour laws, or at least any that are enforced. About £150 a week will see you right for a butler, footman and a couple of maids. Throw in another £50 for a couple of night watchmen and that’s your staff costs sorted. As to the general decrepitude, the only sense I can make of it is as a legacy of subsistence farming as the predominant mode of existence. Thus people have no conception of the longer or even medium term and see no reason to trouble themselves with rudimentary maintenance tasks. Although I believe we often go too far in the other direction. It’s pathetic to see people here wearing safety helmets to ride a pushbike. Which was unthinkable even in my childhood. In Africa, I’ve often seen entire families conveyed on motorbikes in chaotic traffic. Yet no one bats an eyelid. Whereas we’d imprison them for ‘child abuse’. But generally children seem more content in Africa, whether or not in their bare feet. Possessions are vastly overrated anyway. Else what’s the meaning of the institution we know as the camping holiday, whereby we pay good money to live like nomads for a few weeks, unburdened by possessions?

    • Bonkim

      Lack of social organisation, and ignorant middle-ages religions. Failed and failing societies should be allowed to breed themselves into extinction. Don’t interefere with nature.

      • Sean L

        If I had the first idea what any of that meant, quite independently of anything I said, let alone in response to it, I’d attempt a reply. But I don’t, so can’t.

        • Bonkim

          Ignorance is bliss. If you put a lobster in water and heat the water slowly – it does not feel the heat and dies eventually without knowing the reason.

          • Sean L

            Profound.

  • The_Parallax_view

    Without the Live Aid franchise “Sir” Bob would have been consigned to the history books as a minor 80’s pop star with parenting issues.

    Pop concerts won’t sort Africa’s manifold problems , African’s need to sort themselves out and rid themselves of their backward cultural and social habits.

  • ArchiePonsonby

    “Do they know that it’s Christmas?” Probably not, seeing as how most of them are Muslims

    • Daniel, Oxford

      500 million Africans are Christian

      • Bonkim

        They don’t count – the Muslims are what we worry about.

      • ArchiePonsonby

        So am I. So what?

    • Bonkim

      What is the big deal about Christmas – Christmas in any case is not Christian – it is a pagan rite resurrected by Coca Cola and Santa Claus. Nothing Christian in Christmas.

      • ArchiePonsonby

        Ask Geldof, he’s a Jew!

  • giovanna

    Do you know the african song that was made in order to collect money for the ebola fight? Here it is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruYQY6z3mV8 It was already made before Geldof regrouped live aid..

  • Cincinnatus

    This winter, incidentally, at least 20,000 British pensioners are likely
    to die of the cold — an annual event. Where is the charity single for
    them?

    Perhaps an all-star remake of the Foreigner hit “Cold As Ice”

    • Bonkim

      Death is natural and occurs most in extreme weather conditions.

  • grimm

    With the last Live Aid bash (intended to help Africa) Geldof organised a massive concert, broadcast worldwide, which failed to showcase any African musicians thus denying them the opportunity to reach a wider and more lucrative audience than their local fanbase. Instead of showing the world what Africans can do we were treated to the usual overblown charity stint where mainly has-been acts perform for free in the hope of reviving their flagging careers.

    Contrast Geldof urging us all to give more while protecting his own wealth from taxation with legendary Malian musician Ali Farqa Toure who used the wealth gained from his success as a musician on projects which benefited his community.

  • https://sites.google.com/site/deanjackson60/home Dean Jackson

    See the HIV/AIDS bar in the graph above? The number of deaths is reported 690,000 since March! Hmm…where’s pneumonia? It kills 800,000 Africans/year. Where’s measles? It kills 242,000/year…other diseases are missing too…

    http://answersafrica.com/diseases-in-africa.html

    What you need to know is that HIV “tests” are rarely used in sub-Saharan Africa, and when they are used in those few instances they “are not based upon the identification of any biological retroviral entity, or even the biochemical reaction in the laboratory, but they are based on interpretation of the laboratory test signal in relation to the client’s/patient’s perceived probability of infection”.

    http://www.rethinkingaids.com/gallorebuttal/Farber-Gallo-05.html

    What does that mean? If the test shows something askew and the patient has diagnosed diseases, then the person can be classified as having AIDS! In other words, persons who don’t have the HIV virus are being classified as having AIDS.

    • Stu

      The problem is that the graph is a dire misrepresentation of a comparison between Ebola deaths and the other conditions. The comparison the blogger conveniently makes between the entire continent of Africa and the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, takes the focus off the issues faced on the ground in said countries. A better comparison will shed light on this from data I was able to obtain from WHO, which compares like for like; all conditions in only the three countries:

      HIV/AIDS – 10183

      Diarrhoea – 16943

      Malaria – 20800

      Hunger – 4680

      TB – 12685

      Syphilis – 971

      Ebola – 5459 (10351 outstanding cases)

      It’s important to note that due to the Ebola outbreak, famine mortality rates are expected to increase dramatically due to problems in food delivery to the most stricken areas. Geldof was right to raise money (and awareness) for the problems facing West Africa…

      And isn’t it ironic that the same people moaning about the songs lyrics stereotyping Africa (when the lyrics are aimed at the three West African countries most affected), draw comparative conclusions of Ebola vs.Malaria/Famine/Disease to the entire African continent.

  • http://www.CaerphillyPreserves.co.uk/ No Good Boyo

    Given that there’s a lot that’s positive happening in Africa, and that living standards have risen substantially throughout most African countries during the last couple of decades, is it really doing Africans in general a service to portray them all as hopeless and starving all the time?

    I was thinking this as I ate my lunch in a pub today. An advert came on showing lots of dying babies. I remember very much the same kind of fund-raising adverts on TV in the 1980’s. You might well be forgiven for thinking that nothing has changed, in which case, might there be better uses for your money? Certainly, who would want to invest in a region where everybody’s starving to death all the time?

    But things have changed, massively! Most African countries are democratic and comparatively orderly. Most Africans can afford mobile phones. Shopping malls and business parks are springing up in major cities all over Africa. Whereas a generation ago, white expatriates were employed to perform almost any skill, increasingly, it’s Africans doing them now. Infrastructure is being repaired in countries where it’s been left to rot for decades. Tribal favouritism, and corruption, is much less rampant than it used to be.

    That’s not to say that Africa doesn’t still have massive problems. Starting from such a low base, they’re hardly going to fix everything in a few years. But it’s vastly better than it used to be during the Cold War, when kleptomaniac thugs became adept at playing east and west against one another in order to fund insane levels of extravagance — such as Bokassa’s farcical “coronation”, and Mobutu chartering an Air France Concorde whenever he wanted to visit his dentist in Paris. Not withstanding the occasional lunatic like Mugabe and that chap in Gambia, this sort of nonsense rarely happens any more. And it bothers me when charities so relentlessly persist in portraying the continent as the lowest level of Dante’s Inferno — the abolition of hope. There’s loads of hope in Africa!

    • Richard

      Africa is pretty far from what you describe, though they do have (incompetent, largely) people to fill roles. If you go to South Africa, for instance, you will see whites replaced by blacks simply because they are black, not because they are up to the job. And then Zulus will hire Zulus (and despise Asians who are numerous in Natal) and Xhosa, Xhosas. You might want to check out their levels of government transparency, competence, the relative decline in almost all human indexes, over the past twenty-odd years. The rest of Africa is experiencing something of an improvement, as you say, largely driven by Chinese skills and money. But it starts from such a low base. It’s like saying you’re doing fabulously because you have two grains of rice instead of one. They generally are hopeless, which is why so many millions of them try each year to run away to Europe. I lived there for decades, by the way, and retain a close relationship with the continent. As we used to say, if an African breaks wind, the world thinks he’s a genius. It does nobody any good to overstate (or understate) the continent’s abilities.

      • http://www.CaerphillyPreserves.co.uk/ No Good Boyo

        I never said things are wonderful there. I said things are much better, in general, than they were. Nor does it do anybody any favours to portray Africa as a land of starvation and pain.

        • Bonkim

          It keeps the NGOs in their lucrative jobs.

        • Richard

          In large parts it is that, though. Some tiny bits move forward, I agree. I just know what i have experienced, which is poor people getting poorer, health care being dismal (have you ever seen people strapped to their beds and nurses laughing in the corridor?), money being stolen from the desperately poor by self-serving civil servants, etc., etc. I would like very much to share your optimism, but decades of living there unfortunately do not permit.

    • Bonkim

      How will you raise money if you don’t show dying babies to pull the heart strings of well-fed Westerners?

  • Terence Hale

    Hi,
    Mr. Geldof or catweasel has lost his place in time.

Close