How thankful should we be to Band Aid 30?

By Ben Andrew

It's that time of year again. The time when you can hardly leave the house without a wave of christmas songs being blasted at you from every shop and restaurant. And this year Bob Geldof and Bono have thrown their hats into the ring.

Band Aid 30, with high profile additions such as Ed Sheeran, One Direction, Ellie Golding and Olly Murs, have reconvened to raise money for the Ebola crisis with a new edition of the well-known “Do They Know It's Christmas” single.

Now I don't want to be overly critical of anyone who's raising money for charity. There are plently of people with the celebrity status of Bono, Bob Geldof and the rest of Band Aid 30 who haven't spared a thought for victims of the Ebola crisis. Their attempts to try and use their fame to raise money for victims of Ebola is clearly admirable.  

But despite the tweaks to the latest version, the lyrics of “Do They Know It's Christmas” remain tied with the exaggeration and misinformation we are all too familiar with when discussing problems in Africa.

We are told by this song that “there's death in every tear” that “there's no hope” and, most ridiculously of all that “the christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom”. Don't get me wrong, these are an improvement on the lyrics of previous editions. At least we no longer have to hear about how, in Africa, “nothing ever grows” and “no rivers flow” (they seem to have forgotten the Nile). But these lyrics are still nonsense, and an insult to African people.

Many have claimed that this is not a problem. If it helps Baid Aid raise money, they argue, then why does it matter if they portray Africa in as pitiful a light as possible? However, while lyrics like these may help raise money for Band Aid, the myths and misinformation that the West so often hear about Africa creates a wealth of other problems which can harm the long term prospects of many African countries.

The truth is that Africa is often viewed through a collection of simplistic stereotypes. Africans are poor, they are starving, they are uneducated and they are all the same. This stereotype may help charities like Band Aid secure people's guilt money, but how does it affect a new African company trying to secure foreign investment? How does it help create the long term structural changes so many African nations need?

Fuse ODG, the British-Ghanian rapper who turned down the chance to perform with Band Aid, puts it perfectly when he says that he's “sick of the whole concept of Africa – a resource-rich continent with unbridled potential – always being seen as diseased, infested and poverty-stricken."

This view of Africa needs to change. Africans in all walks of lives are having to battle against the view that their enormous and varied continent is one vast disaster zone. Any song which raises money for Ebola is aiding a good cause, but the nature of their lyrics makes it hard to give Band Aid whole-hearted support.

Is this simplisitc view of Africa all Band Aid's fault? Of course not. But it would be nice if people with such a huge audience helped to combat these negative stereotypes, rather than reinforcing them.