A couple of months back I was at a friend’s place. We were just having a general conversation when an appeal message for children in need in Africa was shown on television. As is often the case with such adverts, malnourished children with very little clothing were shown. Mid-sentence, my friend paused in our conversation and glared at the television. “Why are they always portraying Africa like this?” she exclaimed. I tried to point out that there are people in need and such adverts are aimed at getting the necessary support to help them. She wasn’t having it though, “ how many people in Africa actually live like that?” she retorted. She went on to explain that her seven-year daughter had recently asked her why they were always showing children like that on television. My friend happens to be from Senegal and though her two children were born in France they have, visited Senegal on a couple of occasions. They do not come from a rich background; in fact to be honest, her family at home are from a poor, rural community. However, her daughter’s experience of Africa was in no way aligned to what she was seeing on television.
I had this at the back of my mind, when Bob Geldof assembled a number of British artists to record a new version of “Do they know it’s Christmas” in order to help raise funds to help combat Ebola in Africa. It may be for this reason that I felt a sense of disquiet about the recording. I therefore thought that after a few days the feeling would go away – it didn’t. In fact as I observed the artistes; listened to the lyrics; and watched Sir Bob Geldof say that you don’t have to like the lyrics to buy the song and go on to say that people who did not like what he was doing should get lost (polite version). My disquiet grew. This feeling was further heightened by the ‘chants’ of people who said that anything negative about the campaign was eclipsed by the objective, which was to help. I further found myself squirming and struggling to hold my tongue when I heard a young man pronounce that he was sure that the people in Africa would be grateful for ANY help offered to them.
Less you may be thinking, isn’t it true? Let me say no, it’s not, most especially not in this day and age. More pertinently if you really want to help anyone who you perceive to be in need, be it a friend, a family member or someone in some distant land, if you want to be effective, you do need to take the time to truly understand their position, their needs and what they are actually doing to help themselves.
So here are my problems with the “Do they know it’s Christmas” campaign:
At the most superficial level, even with the changes, to the lyrics are not representative of Africa. It’s only certain parts of West Africa that have been affected by Ebola and without question the people of Africa know that it’s Christmas. There are churches all over the place and if you just listen to any African at home or abroad talk about their Christmas festivities you will know that they know when Christmas is, even if their perspective is a bit different from yours.
More important though, Geldof could have included some African artists in the track or better still promoted one of the songs that had ALREADY been recorded by African artists to raise awareness and help combat the disease. One that particular stands out to me is a song, “Trust the Doctors”, sang by renowned African artists who sing of Ebola as an invisible enemy. The song is actually very educational.
Yes, the typical person in Britain doesn’t know the artistes and probably wouldn’t understand the song since it’s in French with verses in a number of different African languages. However, Geldof did say, you don’t have to like the “Do they know it’s Christmas, but people should just buy it to suit the cause. The same principal can therefore apply to the African songs aimed at combating Ebola. Otherwise, what we are saying: African efforts are irrelevant and therefore we are going to do our own thing to help you. That you as Africans are not capable? Mind you, proceeds from the song that I have highlighted go to medicine san frontier.
If Geldof had got behind the promotion of such as song, aside from the funds that it would have generated, it would have demonstrated to people that are tired of the constant appeals to support Africa such as the one that frustrated my friend, that Africans are also doing things to help themselves. It would have also created an awareness of African cultural and some very good African artistes.
You see there, is a need for a change in perception and attitude towards Africa. When we had black Friday and everyday people in England were shown pushing and shoving in a bid to get items which they may or may not need, someone showed this in comparison to hungry, malnourished children in Africa stretching their hands out begging for food.
Yes, there are some children like this in Africa, but if it didn’t happen this year, within the next few years there will be black Friday in Africa with people fighting for goods which they may or may not need just as we have in England. More pertinently, there are a number of Africans that I know, that have no interests in such sales because they can readily afford to buy such items at more than double the recommended retail price.
So as we celebrate Christmas here in the West, rest assured that in Africa they not only know that it’s Christmas, but they will most definitely be celebrating as well. I believe the best Christmas present to Africa this year and for all the years going forward will be provide them with help and support from a position of greater understanding of the where they are and to support their own efforts and self identified needs.
Merry Christmas everyone
Susan Popoola runs Conning Towers Ltd, an HR organisation focused on Talent Management and HR Transformation and Engaged For Success a Social Enterprise. She is also the published author of Touching The Heart of Milton Keynes: A Social Perspective and Consequences: Diverse to Mosaic Britain. She is also Winner Women4Africa Author of the Year 2013
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