Beyond Violence 

Actually, They Do Know It's Christmas

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With 2014 winding down and the holiday season well on its way, Christmas carols are all around us. And this year, for the fourth time, amidst all the consumerism and greed, Bob Geldof and his BandAid friends are here to remind us of the less fortunate in this world. After all, ‘do they know it’s Christmas time at all?’ This year, the recurring holiday single was re-launched to raise funds for the response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, with new lyrics tailored to the cause. While this is indeed a very serious problem deserving attention and a professional effort to combat it, BandAid’s remake of ‘Feed the World’ makes only a superficial contribution.

The patronising subtext of the song’s lyrics is staggering. In several incidences, the lyrics insinuate that without ‘our’ help, West Africa is just a hopeless pool of doom. It reinforces the idea that the communities suffering from the Ebola outbreak are helpless without the dollars donated by the charitable people who hear the song and are overcome by empathy for the people living in that ‘world of dread and fear’. So once again, the white man is depicted as the savior of Africa, a continent apparently overflowing with misery to such an extent that it even makes those living there ignorant of the fact that the ‘most wonderful time of the year’ is upon us.

However, this year, there are some cracks in the BandAid bauble. At least three celebrities that were on Geldof’s wish list to contribute to the 2014 version of Do They Know It’s Christmas?, Adele, Fuse ODG and Lily Allen politely declined the invitation. Additionally, even from within the current lineup, comments on the outdated lyrics resonate, as reported by The Independent . All in all, the media in the past weeks has been buzzing with disapproval of BandAid and the tone it takes when it comes to charity and Africa.


Coincidentally, the response to the new BandAid single follows another topic that has quickly been gaining volume and support; the discussion of the negative aspects of voluntourism. This term, a combination of volunteering and tourism, emerged to define the often short trips that, people (most of whom are quite young) from the developed world take to ‘do good’ in a developing country. Ironically, it is mostly themselves that benefit from these vacations. Returning to the comfort of their homes with reports of a beautiful and fulfilling trip, they leave the orphanage, school or hospital they visited behind no better off, and possibly even worse off, than they found them in the first place.

However, making a sacrifice and trading in a summer holiday of beach fun or a road trip with friends for a long and hard toil in basic conditions is often instantly advertised on social media as a way to brush up one’s image- a website that has collected some great examples of this is Humanitarians of Tinder. However, several discussions on voluntourism have arisen over the past year. In essence, these outspoken opponents of the phenomenon are critical of the lack of skills that international volunteers bring to the table, often rendering their work inefficient or even downright counterproductive. In addition, voluntourism is often acknowledged to be patronizing and can even propagate a dichotomy between the developing and the developed world that is reminiscent of colonial times.

In some cases, the criticism of the aid industry has been expressed satirically in parodies covering distinctive parts of the aid sector that, although executed humorously, still hold truth. A recent example of this is the video ‘Who Wants to Be a Volunteer?’, made by the group of Norwegian students who also brought us ‘Africa for Norway’. Similarly, ‘The Samaritans’ is a mockumentary satirizing the aid sector with all the stereotypes that you might expect from a show about a dysfunctional NGO operating in Kenya. The added dimension of humor painfully points out the ridiculousness of the naked truth still widely supported in Western societies.

These criticisms of what is wrong with the way many of us still regard charity, aid and the developing world are part of a movement that slowly gives way to an inclusive world view where white people are no longer here to ‘Save Africa’. Even though this concept has been around for many years now (a prime example being William Easterly’s well-known and well-read book ‘The White Man’s Burden’, the record sales of BandAid’s 2014 version of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ proves that there is still a long way to go.

Written by A. Hooijer and published on 15-December-2014

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