Thursday, 13 November 2014

Bim Adewunmi's boorish Band Aid boos'

It was 30 years ago today, when Bob Geldof told Band Aid to play. Yet he consistently returns, decade after decade, finding some worthy cataclysmic cause to fight for in Africa. In 1984 he was on a mission to alleviate the Ethiopian famine. In 2004 it was to aid the genocide- and starvation stricken Darfur region. And now he intends to raise money to help the fight against Ebola in west Africa. Bloody do-gooder!

As certain as any charity effort by Bono will meet with a deluge of ridicule from self-labelled progressives, it could similarly be expected that Geldof’s latest do-gooder move would be spat at by omniscient Guardianistas.

And so along came Bim Adewunmi. In an article titled “Band Aid 30: clumsy, patronising and wrong in so many ways”, Bim poured scorn on Geldof’s uninformed efforts to help. Here he goes again, regurgitating the same old format, demeaning Africans with his charity.

Oh, Bim's was a glorious piece, the piéce de rèsistance probably her ingenious way of compromising Geldof by spending a whole passage lambasting the 1984 lyrics. Bim informed us that it does actually snow in Africa (no!?), that Africans do know it’s Christmas because many are Christians (really!?) and that: 
actually, it is more likely to be water, not just "bitter tears", flowing across Africa's 54 nations. 
Ha! Take that, Bob!

Bob Geldof (right) launching Band Aid 30 

It was of course anything but a glorious piece. Trying to dress up as cerebral and suavely sarcastic, it just came across as cringe worthy and tawdry. It was Bim delivering an ignorant, “clumsy, patronising and wrong in so many ways” criticism of Band Aid, western 'double edged' charity and – the old chestnut  ethnocentric westerners' approach vis-à-vis Africa.

Bob Geldof has of course only been involved in African matters for three decades. Bim, on the other hand, was brought up in Nigeria and thus makes it clear to the reader why she has the right to pontificate on African matters.

Yet, while bragging about her African credentials she simultaneously describes herself as a typical westerner in relation to Africa (“us in the west”). Thus, by way of her own reasoning, it could be reasonably assumed that she too is typically ignorant and generally patronising on African matters.

That is just one of many examples of inconsistencies and flaws in the article. Another one is where Bim questions why the UN appealed to Geldof to help in the fight against Ebola, rather than appeal to governments. "Why does", Bim queried:
the red emergency telephone go for charity, over joined-up inter-govermental [sic!] action?

One wonders if Bim is trying to be funny here, or whether she‘s just not privy to the UN’s multifaceted modus operandi in these campaigns. Seeing as she lectures us on Nigerian matters – declaring that Ebola was stamped out in the country  is she then aware that one contributing factor to Nigeria's successful eradication of Ebola was the deployment of celebrities in the media, used “to reassure and inform people“? Which exemplifies a multifaceted campaign approach, inclusive of not only medical, financial, political, logistical and social capital, but also the cultural star-laden capital that can play an important, enlightening part in the overall campaign.

As for Bim's hackneyed criticism of the west’s ignorant view on Africa – "[w]e say 'Africa' in a way that we would never say 'Europe', or 'Asia'"  I have to question whether I am reading a high-quality British paper or a bland high-school civics piece.

Incidentally, when Africans speak about Europe – be it the crisis in Greece, the 2011 Norwegian attacks, the wars in ex-Yugoslavia – yes, they too tend by default to refer to the continent, Europe, rather than the actual country. Bim might beg to differ, but ordinary peeps in Addis Ababa, Lagos, Kinshasa, Gaborone, are about as able to discern between European countries as Europeans generally are at discerning between African countries (or between Sweden and Switzerland for that matter).

Bim Adewunmi

We've established that Bim's Nigerian upbringing gives her the right to lecture us on Africa in general, Nigeria in particular. Too bad then that she’s so badly informed – or at least informs us badly – on Nigeria. She states:

It’s easy to forget, for example, that the virus made its way to Nigeria – Africa’s most populous country and, for many, a potential Ebola tinderbox – and was stamped out only by the efforts of a brave team of local healthcare workers.

Eh, twas a tad more complicated than that. The main reason why Ebola could be stamped out so efficiently in Nigeria was that an epidemiological infrastructure – including a command centre – and well defined procedures were in place in the country. It had actually been put there to fight polio but came in handy when Ebola broke out. Now, who was the main contributor to this system? Western charity, by way of Bill & Melinda Gates foundationCome again, Bim, what was the problem with western patronising ignorant charity?

Don't get me wrong, I too dream of a day when Geldof can no longer organize another Band Aid for some worthy cause in Africa. But that dream is not borne out of disdain for Geldof. I save my disdain for the leading echelons in African countries who keep their populations in penury and perpetuates this deplorable state of affairs where Geldof can decade after decade find another pandemic-esque cause to fight for on that seemingly "constantly blighted continent". Genocidal famines, genocidal diseases, genocidal genocides. Spot a pattern?

Compare with large swathes of South America and Asia (bar the Middle East) that have been on a generally positive trajectory for decades. Hence, in the late 1970's John Lennon could fittingly sing about how:
They're starving back in China, so finish what you've got
Today, thankfully, such a line would seem anachronistic. Unfortunately, however, for many of today's Africans that 1984 Band Aid line:  
the greatest gift they'll get this year is life,
still rings true. Just like it did in 1994 and 2004.

Anyone remember the talk of an African renaissance at the turn of the millennium? 'This is Africa's century!', we were told. Said talk/movement was spearheaded by such formidable leaders as Thabo Mbeki, Yoseri Museveni, Paul Kagame.

I'm afraid that as long as Africa is blessed with such leaders, we will see Geldof return – decade after decade. And I similarly suspect that Bim Adewunmi will then be back to lambaste the lyrics and the patronising west for its charity aid. 

Plus ça change!