Can a Western charity song rescue 'Africans' from Ebola?

It is nearly that time of the year when millions of Christians and, to a certain extent, non-Christians from all four corners of the globe relish the tradition that is Christmas.

It is nearly that time of the year when millions of Christians and, to a certain extent, non-Christians from all four corners of the globe relish the tradition that is Christmas.

The festive season is celebrated each year in many different ways around the world, varying by continent, country, religion, and culture.

Every culture and family has their own unique Christmas traditions that they follow each and every year, which is what makes them a tradition. Some people focus on decorations, including decorating Christmas trees, sending cards and exchanging gifts to friends and family.

Of course, others prefer a more spiritual season of prayers and togetherness. However, one thing that all Christmas enthusiasts share is meticulous planning.

Nothing is left to chance so to speak.

But I am not here to talk to you about Christmas. What I want to do is draw your attention to the latest in Bob Geldof’s humanitarian adventures of ‘saving Africa.’

Yes, the Irish singer/songwriter is at it again; and this time, he has a brand new line-up of UK artistes, including Bono, One Direction, Chris Martin, Rita Ora, and Seal, all singing a song called ‘Do they know it is Christmas?’ in an attempt to highlight the Ebola epidemic which has devastated some parts of West Africa, including Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

So far, estimates by the World Health Organisation indicate that the death toll has surpassed the 5,000 mark. It is upsetting.

And so, with good intention, Bob Geldof and co. decided that like they did in 1984, now is the time to remake a song which, over the last 30 years, has raised in excess of £100 million. Initially, the efforts were intended to help millions of Ethiopians who were faced with severe hunger.

Back then, however, much as the musician’s efforts were commended, several critics argued that the song’s lyrics were patronising, false and out of touch with reality.

For starters, the original song had lyrics such as: “And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time. The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life. Oh, where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow.”

An alien listening to such a song would not take any chances of visiting such a place. Who in their right mind would?

Today, the picture has been changed but the frame remains the same. Geldof and his C-list celebrities have tweaked with the lyrics but have again failed miserably and instead reinforced negative stereotypes about the African continent.

For example, one line in the new song goes: “No peace and joy this Christmas in West Africa. The only hope they’ll have is being alive.”

Another one reads: “Here’s to you, raise a glass to everyone. And here’s to them, and all their years to come.” I mean, how patronising!

Please be clear that I commend every effort of mankind trying to intervene by lending a helping hand.

What I have a problem with is the detrimental cost associated with such help. In fact, I see it as combining charity with ignorance, and without a doubt, it can be a recipe for failure, one that has the potential to do more harm than good.

Stay with me for a moment. For a second, consider the lyrics “No peace and joy this Christmas in West Africa.” Now, as far as this goes, it insinuates that the whole of West Africa has been besieged by the Ebola epidemic and like the next line reads, the only hope West Africans have is being alive.

I know for sure that Mr Geldof is wise enough to know that although Ebola has spread in West Africa, it has only spread to three countries out of 18 West African countries. Why then the need to carelessly refer to the whole of West Africa?

Mr Geldof, like many other well intentioned Westerners, falls in the ignorance trap of general characterisation which does more harm than good. Such efforts are sure to stigmatise the region as not fit for tourism, investment and other opportunities long after the song has stopped playing.

Certainly, Ebola has proved to be a virus that can spread so quickly and indiscriminately. If left uncontained, it is a virus that is sure to leave behind a legacy like none other.

But, be that as it may, we should not tolerate the likes of Bob Geldof using their prominence to falsely convince the world that in Africa we are always suffering.

Yes, in some parts we are suffering but in others we prospering – just like it is the case in other parts of the world. We ought to use our history to rewrite rules that define us beyond our borders. Invincible rules that deter ignorance from taking over.

The writer is a UK Parliamentary Intern and holds a Master of Science in Public Services Policy.

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