Band Aid 30 for most Africans stands for everything the continent considers undesirable; Western saviours running to the rescue of stricken Africans, an out of control aid industry with questionable long term benefits, uncertain destination of the cash raised, paternalism and the need to save Africans from themselves and their lack of focus on the right priorities.
However, whatever the view of the song, “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, it raised $1.6 million within 5 minutes of its release on the 18th November, and will go on to raise many more dollars. Because of that….and Bob Geldof, some people with Ebola will not die. The video below shows why this assertion is right.
The time to talk about preventative measures, is not in the middle of a crises, and crises this is. A disease with at least a 50 per cent mortality rate ravaging through Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone is a disaster, undoubtedly not of the scale of malaria or HIV but the rate of transmission and death rate has been of an order to cause countries and people to act out of hysteria rather than reason as the probability calculations point to a nightmare scenario should it worsen or even continue at the same rate. In the middle of a house fire, no one thinks of all the safety measures they could have taken to prevent the fire in the first place, certainly not while they are in a panic and trying to save their lives and property.
Africans at the front line have done an amazing job responding to the Ebola crises, including those in the diaspora. The African Union has contributed funding, so has the African Development Bank. Africa’s billionaires have responded something that was unthinkable thirty years ago when Band Aid was launched in 1984 in response to the Ethiopian famine. The main contributors though have still been Western governments and institutions. In addition there have been a number of separate public appeals which have raised money, the UK Disasters Emergency Committee alone has raised over $30 million.
Europeans, Africans in the diaspora and many other nationalities have volunteered, yes volunteered to fight alongside frontline Africans to fight to get the disease under control and in so doing put their lives on the line with their local African colleagues.
The sight of people dying in the gutters, and the dead being left to fester in homes speaks of non-existent healthcare systems, a lack of infrastructure, organisation and enough trained personnel and resources. All of which cost money. Africa has not raised all the money to combat Ebola by itself, because it can’t. The countries at the epicentre were incapable of securing the necessary financial, logistical and personnel resources to mount an effective response despite trying. People were openly calling for outside help.
Nigeria and Senegal contained the crises by their own efforts without Western intervention which is brilliant. Nigeria in particular has the resources, it also had the benefit of fore-warning, insight, diligent personnel who tackled the problem head-on with at least one clinician sacrificing their life in the process.
Band Aid 30 as it did in 1984 has been said to represent the worst of Western attitudes to Africa, and it does. It continues to present the continent as hopeless and incapable at a time of rising prosperity and the ascent of the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative which dominates the minds of Africans abroad in particular. It continues to present Africans as victims, but what there can be no doubt about is its ability to raise money, and it is money that is required to prevent the distressing images of Africans dying in the gutter in front of our very own eyes.
It is money (spent wisely of course) that is required to prop up hospitals clearly starved of funding and resources. Connaught hospital in Freetown could never be described as a good hospital by Western standards, but it did have capability and a level of capacity with staff trained in some of the finest medical and nursing institutions abroad, but that was in the 1970s and 80s. Thirty to forty years ago! Today, with an intervening war, it is a shadow of its former self with heroic staff working under impossible conditions to give the best medical care they can.
In 1984 Band Aid sold an estimated 3.7 million records, raising $12.5 million for famine relief and the Live Aid concert which followed in July 1985 raised an estimated $98 million and was watched by an audience of 1.5 billion globally. The Band aid Trust raised and spent almost $150 million in the years to 1992. That’s a lot of money.
Africans have every right to be outraged at the lack of engagement at a local level with Africans on the ground and the blighted image of the continent as happened with Band Aid in 1984 and the subsequent anniversary events which followed. It is doubtful whether things have moved on, because in the West, the image of Africa and Africans as seen through the lens of the media has not really changed and the Ebola crises is seen as symptomatic of that lack of change.
Whatever the case, the money raised by Band Aid will add to the pool already collected and there is no doubt that because of that extra cash there will be more resources available and more lives will be saved as a result.
Perhaps what Africans on the continent and abroad should equally be concerned about, is the fact that there are countries with such poor healthcare systems and resources that they struggle to protect their own citizens without external help. Could Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have contained Ebola by themselves? Very doubtful.
Perhaps when the disease is finally under control, Africans on the ground will give healthcare the priority it deserves. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that even Nigeria and Senegal have fully robust healthcare systems, because they don’t. Those who can afford it still go abroad for treatment. That does not happen in countries with sophisticated healthcare systems and advanced medicine. Health is wealth. The exhausted and crippled economies of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone tell us that.
Perhaps with that prioritisation there will also be a focus on training, infrastructure and integrated healthcare system development that will give Africans a fighting chance against unseen enemies like the Ebola virus, just as much as the important priority of addressing the global trade systems that so disadvantage the continent.
If ever there was to be another ‘Ebola’, and there will be, perhaps Africans can provide the resources needed so that the continent is not seen to be continually asking for help. There is no doubt that sometime that day will arrive but sadly, it is not yet and is unlikely to be so for a good few years to come. For the moment Band Aid can raise money to save lives, and at the current time that ability is worth more than wounded African pride at yet another negative portrayal of the continent.