Bob Geldof is going to put out another Band Aid single, another rehash of the grotesque “Do They Know it’s Christmas?” with slightly altered lyrics. We’ve written about the problematic politics of such songs in detail before. Bim Adewunmi broke it down over at the Guardian today.
Disaster appeals are necessary but it also matters what picture they give of crises and their structural causes. People need to understand the long-term factors which have made the Ebola crisis possible. This crisis is part of a long colonial disengagement, and a consequence of the years of structural adjustment tearing up local healthcare infrastructure. Geldof, Bono et al are deeply complicit in glossing neoliberal policies towards the continent with a humanitarian/anti-poverty sheen of respectability. These policies will continue to fail ordinary people and actively prevent governments putting in place the quality public services people require. (Nick Dearden makes a similar point here.) Geldof is the one who always gets the international platform on crises in Africa (he says he’s responding to a request from the UN this time), but he never talks about these things. In his launch, he spoke about how “tragic” it was that “modernity” has arrived in Africa at last and it has brought Ebola with it. It’s the kind of nonsense you end up coming out with when you mean well but don’t really know what you’re talking about.
Gary Younge got to the crux of the issue weeks ago:
It is an issue of public health to which no individual or privatised response can make any substantial, meaningful contribution. To fight an epidemic like Ebola you need a well-resourced public sector, well-trained government employees, central planning and coordination and a respect for science […] what really terrifies the right about Ebola is that it shows – albeit in a deadly, scary, tragic way – that we are all connected. It shows that no matter how strong the gates around your community, how high the wall on your border, how sophisticated the alarm on your house; no matter how much you avoid state schools, public transport and public libraries; no matter how much you pay the premium to retreat from the public sphere – you cannot escape both your own humanity and the humanity of others, and the fact that our fates are tied. If you want to feel secure in Texas, regardless of your race, income or religion, it’s in your interests that people have healthcare in Monrovia.
The desire to swoop in and be a savoiur is an archetypal desire. We understand the need, especially if one’s own life is full of tragedy that one does not want to resolve or face. However, that leads to one taking actions that actually do not help. Geldof may raise money, but who knows if it will be actually “useful” or used in ways that are necessary? Besides that, such aid efforts only erase the effectiveness of local efforts, making it appear as though “western” actions are what saved poor diseased hungry Africa once again.
Sisonke Msimang has written on the ways in which the Ebola crisis in Liberia has highlighted the failures of the Aid industry to make good on its purported function:
The Liberian Ebola situation can be summed up thusly: a virus that is deadly but can be effectively contained with good planning and logistics has managed to escape from a country that has one of the largest concentrations of ‘helpers’ in the world.
Perhaps the most telling fact is that there’s already a song for Ebola by high profile Francophone West African musicians. Why doesn’t Geldof simply promote that song? Or even acknowledge it at all? “Africa Stop Ebola” features a number of major international stars: Tiken Jah Fakoly, Amadou & Mariam, Salif Keita, Oumou Sangare, Kandia Kora, Mory Kante, Sia Tolno, Barbara Kanam and rappers Didier Awadi, Marcus and Mokobé. You can share the video and like their Facebook page.