on celebrity and Africa

In 1984 I was having bit of a time.  Having just lost my Mum to cancer and given birth to my first darling son within six months, we were also supporting Dad, who was seriously ill.  Christmas that year was curious mix of happy and sad, setting the tone for the next few years, although we didn’t know that then.  It was down to me to cook the celebration dinner and prepare for the family to arrive.  All went well, the food was nice enough, and as usual we all ate and drank far too much.

We settled down after dinner to watch t.v. and Top of the Pops was on.  Suddenly the mood changed, the Band Aid single focussed us all on exactly how much we had eaten while making us think of those less fortunate.   I remember looking at my Dad, who was thin and unwell and thinking of Mum, who was no longer here, somehow the feelings all came together and I felt at one with the people of Sudan who were losing family members everyday due to hunger.

Life went on, we sent a donation and followed Saint Bob and Paula as they put together the concert in the summer.  Again tears fell, the video of a father wrapping his dead baby and lifting it from the ground made me cry, looking at my healthy son who was growing everyday.  We cheered when Bob told us to ‘give us your effing money’ and we did, again, send a donation.  It seemed the right thing to do.

That was thirty years ago, and since then we have had so many celebrity songs the impact is lost.  From Children in Need, to Comic Relief, to a second remake of the Band Aid song, we have consistently put our hands in our pockets and coughed up the dosh.  We hope it is making a difference, but we are not as sure any more. Since 1984 the world has changed.  There has been a rise of ‘celebrity’ as a life choice and a career, as if people knowing who you are makes you more interesting, more newsworthy, more attractive, when actually that is not true.  The rise of talent competitions promising to make people into superstars, feeds this process, when losers become winners, when those with little talent or intelligence are rocketed into the public eye by a media hungry for celebrity.

Meanwhile back in Africa, and in many other parts of the world, people are still dying when they could be saved. Debts due to first world countries and unfair governments conspire to keep the poorest people poor.  This year there is a new threat to these vulnerable communities.  A virus so powerful it can kill hundreds of people who do not understand how to keep themselves safe.  The traditions of caring for the dead with touch and love is accelerating the transmission of the virus without the knowledge of how to keep safe, people are putting themselves at risk.  The Disaster Emergency Committee set to and has raised over 20 million pounds to help fight the fight.

For a while, it seemed to me, we talked the talk, how bad it was, how worrying. It seems to me that it wasn’t until non African people were returning from the area and bringing the virus with them that it became a problem needing solving by the West.  Armies were scrambled and dispatched to bring education and support to the communities in need.

Several things occurred to me.,There are still many more people dying of hunger everyday than this virus will ever kill. I might be being cynical when I reflect that hunger is not contagious and although there are people in Britain who are hungry, perhaps deaths are few and far between.  I then read about one African country that treated the virus in such a way they beat it within weeks, with few deaths, and I wondered why no one was asking for their help to teach other countries how they did it.  I listened with increasing impatience to people I know panicking about the virus, wondering if they would catch it.  It all seemed to be too much hype.

Then a week or so ago, the inevitable happened.  The celebrities, led once again by Saint Bob, decided they wanted to help raise money.  Incredibly a third release of the Band Aid song was issued with yet another mixture of 60 something has beens and 18 year old pop people who were once again filmed singing in what looks like a random choir from an eventide home as the school kids come to sing.  The lyrics of the song, we didn’t really think about first time round, now seem at best crass and at worse patronising.  ‘There won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas’  Really?  Have they never been to the mountains of Morocco, plenty of snow there for sure.

This whole lumping all 54 countries of Africa together as one enormous problem population has been around forever.  I remember in junior school being told of starving children and backward civilisations in Africa, which conjured up an image of savages, head hunters and stupid people to my eight year old brain.  Image my surprise a few years later when I got hold of an atlas and realised Africa was not one country but many, each different from the other, and more surprising again that Egypt, the place we were taught was home to very clever people, inventing paper and building pyramids, was actually in Africa.  It was then, in the living room at home at the age of eleven I realised the lie of Africa and the West.  Never a mention of the rich traditions, the majestic mountains the fun and creativity of people from countries across the continent.  A few years ago I decided to teach myself the geography of the African continent and find out where each of the countries is situated. I can still name all of these countries and place them on a map today.

Anyway back to Band Aid 3 and the anger I now feel watching this bunch of slightly talented, tax avoiding has beens and desperate for fame newbies toting their arrogance across every available media opportunity. As if giving up their time is the most important thing they can do.  As if without Saint Bob telling us about it we would not know how to donate money to help  As if anyone, ever, needs another copy of that song.

So my message to St Bob and the has beens is this: If you really want to help the struggle against the virus I would say to each and every one of them ‘give the Emergency Disaster Fund your effing money’ and stop asking for ours.  Then buzz off to your houses in the sunshine and enjoy your tax free Christmas, I hope it bloody snows.

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