Sir Bob Geldof recently appeared in an awkward Sky News interview with presenter Jayne Secker to discuss the release of the latest Band Aid single. During the interview he had to fend off much criticism directed at Band Aid, in which he reacted angrily with expletives, before the interview was prematurely terminated.
I do feel however, that some of the criticism levelled at Band Aid is justified, in that although Band Aid is an admirable sentiment, it does simplify the problems inherent in parts of Africa, and raise unrealistic expectations, much like John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ did with lyrics such as ‘Imagine all the people sharing all the world’ and ‘No religion too’.
One criticism was that if all the celebrities involved in Band Aid paid their taxes then perhaps there would be no need for Band Aid at all. Another came from Ian Birrell, a journalist and Cofounder of the Africa Express, a project bringing Western and African acts together, who complained that Band Aid was ‘outdated and trite’, that it was ‘patronising’ and ‘perpetuating myths’ about Africa and ignores Africans. Also that it implies Ebola has struck the entire African continent.
The first time around, in 1984, Band Aid was a new and exciting concept, bringing together all the greatest pop stars of the day to perform on one Single. The unprecedented Live Aid followed, a global enterprise which raised millions to tackle famine in Ethiopia. The brainchild of Sir Bob (and with fellow pop star Midge Ure), their dogged determination made this a resounding success.
However, since that time the same issues continue to plague parts of Africa, with widespread poverty, military conflicts and corruption.
In 2011 it came to light that £30 million of £70 million British aid money was used by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, to buy a Gulfstream G550 private jet.
£19 million of UK Aid given to poverty-stricken South Africa was also misused, with President Jacob Zuma spending £17.5 million of that for home improvements to his property in Nkandla, complete with sports fields and a gymnasium.
The Wall Street Journal ran a piece in 2009 called, ‘Why Foreign Aid Is Hurting Africa’, in which it outlined that far from helping them in their plight, it actually does more harm than good, keeping many Africans trapped in a cycle of corruption, slower economic growth and poverty.
The International Monetary Fund published a report in 2005 entitled, ‘Aid Will Not Lift Growth in Africa’, calling for governments to limit their claims that more aid will solve Africa’s problems. Reminding them also that this money inevitably ends up in the hands of corrupt governments and does not reach their intended recipients. Moreover, in 2002, the African Union estimated that corruption was costing the continent £150 billion a year.
While no one would doubt that the core message of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ is a noble one, it does risk being severely undermined each time it is wheeled out, if inherent problems in parts of Africa continue to be ignored. Which is a tragic shame for all concerned.