Dear #BandAid30: Yes, We Know It’s Christmas in Africa

I mean, we own calendars. We are all quite aware of the fact that December is coming up. We are also aware that Christmas happens in the month of December. It’s basic knowledge, so I don’t know why BandAid seems to think otherwise.

Here is the situation:

Bob Geldof *extreme side eye* and a group of musicians just put out a remake of the 1984 classic—”Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

It starts off with footage of an Ebola patient being carried out of his/her home (gotta get that shock factor in. You know how Westerners love them some starving or dying Africans). The next scene shows the stars of the song on some sort of red carpet, waving at flashing cameras, laughing, smiling, hugging…the whole shebang. With this level of camaraderie and good cheer, one would think it’s the Oscars. But, no, they are there to sing a somber song about dying Africans. I don’t know why the producers of this video thought these two scenes went together. I mean, really?

Here are some of the winning lyrics from the song:

And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom”

First of all, most of us don’t even use Christmas bells. I’m pretty sure that’s a purely Western concept. Clanging. Chimes. of. Doom. Really, Band Aid? Even after 30 years and COUNTLESS think pieces, you still don’t see what is problematic with this imagery?! This “here” versus “there”, “us” versus “them” binary does nothing but create an inverse through which the plight of some Africans can highlight the good fortune of Westerners. We don’t exist for your personal introspection, we are not some grim, sobering example that makes you relish in how good your life is. We are real people, with real personalities and real complexities, not a faceless mass that you can use to tell yourself “look how good we’ve got it”.

And then, OF COURSE, you have Bono. The self-appointed Patron Saint of African Calamity. Poster boy par excellence for the “white savior industrial complex”. Basically the African Jesus, if Jesus wore oddly tinted sunglasses. OF COURSE he is here; nothing gets his engine running more than swooping in, in his White glory, to save distressed, voiceless Africans.

Here, we have African Jesus and his disciples.

Bring peace and joy this Christmas to West Africa”

Sigh. How many times are we going to go over this? Adding the “West” to “Africa”, is not any less totalizing than referring to all African countries as “Africa”. Granted, I understand that singing “bring peace and joy this Christmas to Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone” might not have been gone well with the song. But the song is crap anyway, so adding a bit of geographical specificity to the lyrics couldn’t have made it any worse than it sounds.

A song of hope where there is no hope tonight”

Yes, of course, in your bid to raise funds, go right ahead and paint this group of people—the whole of West Africa, if we are to go by your lyrics—as hopeless.  Ever since the outbreak started, countless brave women, men, girls, and boys have come together to fight Ebola in their communities. Every single day, these people are out there on the front lines, risking their lives and helping their communities. But, you glossed right over that, didn’t you, Band Aid? That fact detracts from the disaster porn that you’re peddling, so you ignored it. Africans are hopeless and helpless. That’s your story and you’re sticking to it.

“Feed the world, let them know it’s Christmas time”

I’m confused. By downloading this atrocious, sonically discordant song, are we feeding the starving Africans or telepathically “touching” and curing them of Ebola (à la Jesus, of course. Look at these miraculous Westerners healing the sick from thousands of miles away. What a wonder!)?

“Buy the song. Stop the virus”

True humanitarianism is not an economic transaction through which you can solve world problems by throwing in a dollar here or a pound there. There are no simple answers to these complex, structural problems that you’re trying to solve. True humanitarianism requires you to ask difficult questions about what you’re being incited to act upon. Questions such as: where exactly are the donations going to? Which on-the-ground organizations are they being donated to? What exactly will they be used for? You ask, “does this really matter?” Yes, yes it does. As a do-gooder, you have the responsibility to deeply understand the issues that you are trying to solve and, more importantly, be able to think critically about the adverse effects that arise from your lazy attempts to “help”.

As my friend, Julia, put it: this song is “patronizing at best, neo-colonial at worst, and exploitative throughout.”This use of reductionist tropes, just to get people to “help”, is tired, and we are sick of seeing it over and over again.

And, yes, we know it’s Christmas in Africa. Dammit, we might be “starving and dying”, but at least we can afford calendars. AT LEAST, give us that credit.

PS: No, throwing in Angélique Kidjo as the token African doesn’t make this any less problematic.

Me, in a perpetual state of “can’t”
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16 thoughts on “Dear #BandAid30: Yes, We Know It’s Christmas in Africa

  1. I also can’t. You sometimes get the feeling that these chaps do these silly things purely with the objective of getting us to write up such blogposts, articles and rants. It’s an expensive way to inspire such good writing, but I guess it’s one way of getting some good done.

  2. So what I’ve seen here is a suggestion not to buy the song, but no suggestion on how we actually help? I can’t quit my job and move to help because I don’t have enough money, and I have too much responsibility here to get up and go. All I can do us send a little money from what I earn. The song isn’t perfect. Far from it. And yes in some ways the lyrics can be seen as patronising. But picking out holes in the lyrics doesn’t actually help anything. Yes, more charity money in general should be going to the cause rather than the organisation, but it’s sad there are people who try to belittle the little good these people have come together to do because of the ‘imagery’. It’s pathetic in fact. They raised £1million in 4 minutes after singing this on X factor. What help can you provide that can amount to a fraction of that? In fact, by telling people not to buy the song you’re taking away from it. Even if they can’t be there to physically help the people I’m sure that the money (however small) will go towards something good…. more hospital beds, drugs, shelters etc. The more publicity it gets the quicker governments and scientists want to work on it. I’m tired of people complaining yet doing nothing themselves.

    • Ok. if you really wanted to “help”, maybe you should’ve thought about the actual problem here. People are dying in the thousands because of weak health systems, caused in major part by neoliberal policies towards Africa. These policies, designed by and imposed upon African countries by these Western savior countries that are now trying to “help”, have skewed funds and donations in these countries away from BUILDING health systems and institutions to handing out mosquito nets and ARVs (which solves the symptoms, but not the actual problem). Throwing money at a problem doesn’t solve it, going to the root case of the problem does. And the root cause here is not going to be solved by pelting these “helpless” Africans with your dollars and pounds, it could be solved by asking your government why they’ve only made aid donations to health projects/NGOs that favor their own PR objectives (look how we are saving these malaria-ridden and HIV-infested Africans) as opposed to funding health initiatives that build sustainable health institutions in these countries.

      Or, maybe if that’s too much of an effort for you, asking Bob Geldof and his cronies why they didn’t collaborate with African artistes (no, the SINGULAR addition of Angelique Kidjo doesn’t count), many of whom would’ve been more than capable of lending their voice. But, who are we kidding, Africans are voiceless, right??? Plot twist: Africans are not voiceless; we don’t need Bob Geldof and One Direction to speak for us. This is not about “imagery”, this is about complex realities that this song clearly ignores, just to push some silly save the world agenda.

      By all means, if donating makes you feel better at night, please go ahead. But don’t walk around with a chip on your shoulder like you’re saving those hopeless Africans who are doomed to death without your 3 pound donation.

      • Never been on your blog before. I don’t comment on blogs ever (actually that’s a lie I secretly go on CNN to tell every commenter there to shut up..I digress)

        But ah yes your rant, love when I see people get so fired up for the right reasons, particularly the comment above.

        On to more serious things, I think the onus is on African’s to change this ugly narrative for and totally b ourselves. Like we honestly can’t expect Bob Geldof (the rest of the world more generally) to care or understand our plight. My anger is directed more at African’s themselves. When do we take charge of this responsibility and try to change our narrative.

        On something completely unrelated, I saw a picture of Wizkid today and he looked like Run DMC from like the 80s or let me be fair and say early 90s and I thought wow our identity crisis is still very much alive. Not that he can’t dress like Run DMC if he wants to…freedom and all.

    • I think the post is meant to convey a need to change the Western mentality in general. If you want specifics you should donate to Doctors Without Borders immediately, not only for this but for the incredible work they do in places like Syria and Iraq where many more people are dying, and at the hands of their fellow human beings, than are dying from Ebola.

      I cant stand celebs trotting off to Africa and then coming back telling me it was some kind of “awakening” for them, so it can be hard to recognise which foundations are vanity projects and which arent. But if, like me, you are a football lover, Craig Bellamy’s foundation has a very good reputation, he’s been setting up football academies in Sierra Leone for years and he refused to have any media presence about it and never did any interview talking about it.

      Those are two organisations that dont need to present humanity’s problems with strings and choirs to demand your support.

      So yeah, if you want some practical advice, theres my 2P.

    • One way they could have helped is by enabling some of the drugs which were tested and proven to treat the white doctors infected with the ebola virus, to the those countries in West Africa plagued with the virus.

  3. Never been on your blog before. I don’t comment on blogs ever (actually that’s a lie I secretly go on CNN to tell every commenter there to shut up..I digress)

    But ah yes your rant, love when I see people get so fired up for the right reasons, particularly the comment above.

    On to more serious things, I think the onus is on Africans to change this ugly narrative for and totally by ourselves. Like we honestly can’t expect Bob Geldof (the rest of the world more generally) to care or understand our plight. My anger is directed more at Africans themselves. When do we take charge of this responsibility and try to change our narrative.

    On something completely unrelated, I saw a picture of Wizkid today and he looked like Run DMC from like the 80s or let me be fair and say early 90s and I thought wow our identity crisis is still very much alive. Not that he can’t dress like Run DMC if he wants to…freedom and all.

  4. I totally get what you are saying. This song is muy condescending. There are hundreds of millions of Christians in Africa and some of them have televisions and mobile phones. I’m pretty sure news has filtered through that Christmas is a thing!

  5. On the other hand, what if it raises tens of millions of $ to invest in the fight against ebola? It might actually help some sick people. They should have chosen a different song of course.

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