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Expert Comment: Band-Aid - good aid or bad aid?

Ebola Wednesday 19 November 2014

As Band-Aid returns for a fourth charity-driven crack at the charts, Dr Michael Holmes, Senior Lecturer in Politics at Liverpool Hope, remembers a famous Old Boy from his secondary school...

Bob Geldof is back in the headlines, as he puts together a group of star singers to re-record the old Band-Aid single to try to raise funds to help deal with the Ebola crisis. There is no doubt that this is a commendable action. But I also can’t help think that it could have been just a little bit better.

I went to the same school in south Dublin as Geldof, though he was considerably older than me and had left the school long before I got there. In fact, I can remember that when Geldof’s band, The Boomtown Rats, hit Top of the Pops and the big time, within days several desk-tops in the school were suddenly marked with ‘Bob Geldof was here’ graffiti!

Geldof’s transition from mouthy punk front man to ... well, mouthy social activist came when he responded to the Ethiopian famine in 1984 by putting together the “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” single and organising the huge Live-Aid concert. Between them, these are estimated to have raised about $150 million.

But even then there were criticisms. Despite the good being done, Band-Aid was guilty of the usual western faults of paternalism and ignorance. The lyrics of the song paint an exaggeratedly bleak picture of Africa, and they include some factual howlers (my ‘favourite’ is the line “there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas”, conveniently ignoring the existence of ski resorts in Morocco and South Africa and peaks such as Mount Kenya, Mount Kilimanjaro and others around the equator which are permanently snow-capped).

A more significant error than bad song-writing was the complete exclusion of any African musicians from those involved in Band-Aid and Live-Aid. This perpetuates the bad old stereotypes of ‘aid’ as a one-way, top-down process, and of ‘Africans’ as poor and helpless and in need of western support. And the revival of Band-Aid looks like making almost exactly the same errors – there is just one African-born musician involved, Angélique Kidjo from Benin.

I accept that the main aim of the project is money-raising, and I wish it well from that point of view. But it is a shame that it fails to do more in terms of awareness-raising.

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