Small confession: I like “Do they know it’s Christmas?” and will probably buy the Band-Aid 30 single. It’s a decent pop song with a few good hooks and the Band-Aid 25 version wisely ditched the synthesizers for electric guitars. As a depiction of Africa, it’s so laughably false as to stagger the imagination. Lines like “Tonight, thank god it’s them and not you;” “Where the only water flowing, is the bitter sting of tears;” and the repeated “Feed the world” are massive failures of fact but reflect Bob Geldof’s bombast and the simple point he was trying to make in 1984: “Give us your fucking money!”
Since Bob Geldof announced Band-Aid 30, I’ve seen a lot of commentary about how the song is dated, it contributes to a false stereotype of Africa and Africans, it takes away from other charitable ventures, Geldof’s a smug bastard whose just trying to stay relevant, et cetera. And this is all very true. But it should not take away from the fact that money raised by Band-Aid 30 will do some good and the awareness-raising that goes along with the single will do much more.
Band-Aid 30 might, might raise US $10 million. The United States government has discussed allocating $6 billion. But Band-Aid does two things the US government cannot: 1) it gets people to contribute to global development challenges who would otherwise not do so, and 2) it’s a gateway drug for future development professionals.
Bob Geldof is not a dumb man. He knows the lyrics aren’t true, but this is the fourth release of the single and each time he’s released it, the song has topped the British music charts and raised money and awareness for what are fairly complex issues like politically-engineered famines and multilateral debt relief. Band-Aid also gives people a simple answer to the age-old question of “What can ordinary people do about extraordinary problems?” Simple: buy the record (or probably MP3 file or iTunes single these days) and feel good about yourself. People who do not otherwise give to global charities will buy the Band-Aid 30 single and those dollars will go to fight Ebola. That’s a pretty good outcome. Is it as good as giving directly to Doctors without Borders or Samaritan’s Purse or the other organizations on the ground in West Africa right now? No. But my guess is the people who buy Band-Aid 30 weren’t going to give money to those organizations. So if the option is not giving anything to fight Ebola and buying Band-Aid 30, then Band-Aid 30 is the preferable option.
But what Band-Aid 30 will also do is also engage people. How many people will read about the US’s contribution? Not many. How many will buy the Band-Aid single? Many, many more. Some of the people who buy or listen to the single will want to learn more about Ebola and the health systems in West Africa. Will this be a large number? No. But these will become the people who support the MSFs of the world. I clearly remember listening to Band-Aid and Live Aid in 1984 and 1985 and that sparked a lifelong interest in international development. My guess is there are many other development professionals for whom Band-Aid was their gateway drug to global issues. People need to start somewhere and Band-Aid is an invitation to do so. People who buy the single will watch the documentaries and the news reporting with a little more interest and care and learn about the realities of the situation.
So it’s okay to buy the Band-Aid 30 single; but also send MSF a much bigger donation…
Michael P. Moore
November 14, 2014
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org