The Politics of Band Aid

The Politics of Band Aid

Does the backlash against Band-Aid centre attention upon the politics of celebrity activism? Charlotte Fraser looks at the role it has in detracting attention away from broader, structural and long-term factors which have contributed to the Ebola crisis

Band Aid is a charitable enterprise which brings celebrity artists together to record music and send proceeds raised by sales of the tracks to combat humanitarian crises. Traditionally fronted and organised by Bob Geldof, Band Aid has come together multiple times over the last 30 years, has attracted some major names in the music industry and has raised billions in aid.  In November 2014, the 4th reincarnation of the original Band Aid group from 1984 released Band Aid 30 in order to raise money for the Ebola crisis in Africa. Geldof presented the campaign to the public as “the most anti-human disease” but, with the public’s help, as a combatable problem, “we can stop it, and we will stop it.”

©Matthias Muehlbradt/Creative Commons license
©Matthias Muehlbradt/Creative Commons license

Band Aid 30 has elicited criticism and galvanised debates across media platforms. Whereas past releases of Band Aid singles passed with relatively little controversy, this current one has unleashed a debate about Band Aid and its effects. Critics argue Band Aid and its lyrics are patronising and perpetuate a singular image of Africa. Others focus on celebrity responses and their reasons for refusing to participate in the record. Lilly Allen, Adele, Fuse ODG among others have openly announced their turning down of participating in the record and even Emeli Sande has noted her dissatisfaction with the lyrics and has admitted that her edits were rejected for the final version.

This debate on the politics of Band Aid opens a space for alternative perspectives on the nature of international aid and counters some generalised perceptions of Africa. Indeed, Africa is a diverse continent with some of the world’s fastest growing economies and should not be singularly represented through the lens of poverty and destitution. However, for all the merits of the backlash against Band Aid, it has largely been overtaken by two opposing trends.

The trend towards collectivism

Critics note that Band Aid is in danger of perpetuating damaging binary structures of “us” and “them”. This ‘othering’ is a relic from colonialism whereby the ‘civilised’ Westerners went to educate and save the, non-western, ‘others’ of non-Western societies. This myopic stance sustains perceptions of Africa as somehow below Western civilisation. Such a simple differentiation leaves no room for a multiplicity of voices. It is reflected in the less-than-nuanced lyrics of the Band Aid song, and although it would be myopic to boil down a broader problem of power relations to one song, there is a danger that these lyrics reflect and perpetuate damaging and misconceived perceptions of Africa. This is an important consideration and is parodied for example in the Radi-Aid, Africa for Norway satirical video.

The trend towards hyper-individualisation

However, there is an additional element to this which needs to be teased out. Whilst on the one hand the concept of “us” suggests some kind of commonality and unity, the response to Ebola through Band Aid demonstrates a simultaneous yet converse  trend towards hyper individualisation.

As long as the response to Ebola remains centred on the actions of a few individuals, the effect will be that Band Aid becomes more about the politics of charity and celebrity activism than efforts to  combat the disease. Thus, criticism and counter-criticism concerning the politics of Band Aid actually serves to focus attention on the West, rather than what is, or is not, being done on the ground to combat Ebola. For example, much attention has been centred on Adele, her refusal to participate in Band Aid and instead to quietly contribute money to the appeal. The media frames this as a singular response to a very complex problem when it is widely agreed that combating Ebola requires a coordinated response at an international level. The danger with the politics of Band Aid debate is that it has the effect of centring the response to the Ebola crisis on a few individuals.

The broader problem with this trend towards hyper-individualisation is that it presents Band Aid as a panacea, when it really is a plaster to cure a few short-term problems without engaging in serious and nuanced debate about why the outbreak developed into the crisis it now is. Furthermore, it allows a sense of altruism for those artists and the people who buy the single allaying the ‘white man’s burden’.

The distraction of Band Aid

The reasons are far more complex and long-term than discussions around who has sung for Band Aid, really engage with. As Harman shows, the health systems of countries suffering under the current Ebola outbreak and their problems with containing it can partly be explained by a lack of government investment in public health infrastructure or heath surveillance.

©DFID - UK Department for International Development/Creative Commons license
©DFID – UK Department for International Development/Creative Commons license

The reasons for this failure should be explored and rectified. Is it governmental incompetence? Or perhaps the sheer number of actors such as NGOs and bilateral aid agencies playing a role in national strategic plans? A lack of funding and flexibility to respond to needs on the ground, enhanced by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) prioritisation of HIV/AIDS, malaria and reducing child mortality? In truth it is probably a mixture of all these factors, and more.

These factors all points towards a recognition of long-term, structural problems which have contributed to the current crisis. There is a very real danger that the debate surrounding Band Aid presents this Ebola outbreak as a one-off, short-term problem that can be funded and solved; it does not encourage engagement in the broader issues of international politics. And it does not encourage thinking around more nuanced, thought-provoking questions as to why Ebola has escalated to the problem it currently is.

Band Aid is any fundraisers dream and it is raising money for a highly worthwhile cause. There is, however, a need to engage with the debates that Band Aid opens up to ensure that the attention remains upon the real issues, rather than on the politics of charity and celebrity activism.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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World AIDS Day: HIV and post-2015 development

World AIDS Day: HIV and post-2015 development

The 1st of December marks World AIDS Day. On this occasion, Lydia Greenaway offers some thoughts on combating the disease, the Millennium Development Goals, and the post-2015 agenda.

Today is World AIDS Day, a day that aims to increase awareness, celebrate progress and bring people together in a global movement. This month also draws us closer to 2015, a year of opportunity for development, as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) come to a close and the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) take the stage.

In 2000, AIDS gained a central place in the development framework, as a primary focus of MDG 6, to ‘combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases’. Buoyed by activism and community involvement to hold leaders to account, this political commitment helped push AIDS to the top of the health agenda, enabling significant achievements over the last decade and a half. Since 2001, new HIV infections have fallen by 38% and new HIV infections among children have fallen by 58%. Since 2005, AIDS-related deaths have decreased by 35%, and 13.6 million people living with HIV now have access to life-saving anti-retroviral therapy.

©NORAD/Creative Commons license
©NORAD/Creative Commons license

Despite this progress and hope, however, challenges remain. As we head towards a new development era, it is clear that the agenda is becoming increasingly crowded and complex. This year, after a feat of consultative processes, the Open Working Group, a UN Member State body mandated at Rio+20, released its proposal for the SDGs. The Group proposes 17 goals, a substantial step up from the 8 MDGs. Under these goals are a total of 169 targets, spanning social, economic and environmental issues, as well as implementation, data collection and accountability. Furthermore, the SDGs are universally applicable, to be met in all countries. This vastly increased scope is likely to change the structure and dynamics of development over the next decade.

Ensuring that AIDS is not lost in this new framework is imperative. AIDS currently features as a target under the health goal: ‘by 2030, end the epidemic of AIDS’. This is a feasible target, but the agenda must look beyond AIDS as merely a health issue. Acknowledging the social and political determinants of the disease is a primary step to addressing health inequities. Failing to centrally position issues of equality, gender and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in the post-2015 agenda could put the AIDS target at risk.

Despite increased awareness about transmission, 2.1 million people were newly infected by HIV in 2013. Furthermore, AIDS disproportionately affects women and young people. Young women in sub-Saharan Africa are twice as likely to contract HIV as young men and AIDS is the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age. Worldwide, one young person is infected with HIV every 14 seconds and less than 30% of young people in sub-Saharan Africa have the knowledge to protect themselves from infection. Deep-rooted social and legal barriers to information and access still remain, affecting key populations, including LGBT+, drug users, sex workers, migrants and refugees. For example, same-sex sexual acts are criminalized in 78 countries and punishable by death in seven, while 38 countries, territories and areas restrict entry, stay or residence to people living with HIV.

©Blatant World/Creative Commons license
©Blatant World/Creative Commons license

So, does the current SDG proposal go far enough in its ambitions on AIDS? Moreover, how can young people in the UK get involved in ensuring that AIDS remains a priority in the post-2015 era? One of the key demands from young people is the promotion and protection of sexual and reproductive rights, a contested issue and notable omission from the OWG proposal. Sexual and reproductive rights are difficult to define, but broadly constitute control over one’s own body, sexual health and sexuality, and the right to autonomy and consent. This includes the right to sexual education, LGBT+ rights and the right to contraception. Poor access to comprehensive sexual education and rights over the body and sexual choices pose major health threats to young people the world over.

PACT, a collaboration of 25 youth organizations, together with UNAIDS, launched ACT 2015 in November 2013, an initiative aiming to mobilize a movement to ensure that strong HIV and SRHR targets are included in the post-2015 framework. Over the next year, they will be uniting young people in various ways, including a global day of action, to garner political commitment to HIV, SRHR and social justice. The AIDS movement needs young people as much as young people need it, to question the status quo, challenge social norms and push through an ambitious post-2015 agenda. ACT 2015 is a great way to participate and as a youth-led charity, DiA is always working to raise awareness amongst young people, so watch this space. In the meantime, you can get involved by ensuring you’re informed and aware, joining the Youth Voices online platform and lobbying your MP to make a strong, youth-friendly post-2015 agenda a priority for the year ahead. You can also head over to My World 2015 to cast your own vote on the issues that matter to you.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The fight for universal education and the Nobel Peace Prize

The fight for universal education and the Nobel Peace Prize

With 2015 fast approaching, education is a development issue that is currently under the spotlight as one of the key Millennium Development Goals. Inma López examines the future of education in light of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. 

Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi, the two children´s rights activists who won the Nobel Prize 2014, reinforce the importance of education as the key to develop a society. Malala stands as a figurehead for female’s rights to go to school, standing up, as she did, to the Taliban’s ban.

The young Pakistani shares the Nobel Peace Prize this year with Kailash Satyarthi, an activist from India who has rescued almost 80,000 children from child labour and runs the charity Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA).

© Prashanth NS/ Creative Commons license
© Prashanth NS/ Creative Commons license

 

The 2014  award brings up some important children’s rights: the right to education and the right to being free of oppression. With regards to education, the focus is on universal and free education, one of the human rights recognized by United Nations.  This human right is pushed in the second Millennium Goal. Since 2000, the effort to promote universal education has seen some success. The UN’s 2014 MDG report highlights that developing regions now have 90 per cent enrollment in primary schools and more equitable ratios of girls and boys.

So why is education still considered so important within development?

The UN certainly seems to think that education can change the world. “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world”: said Malala, addressing the UN on her 16th birthday.

Education is often considered as the key to the prevention of child labour. Education is also a necessary tool to reduce illiteracy and as a consequence, to lower poverty by reducing inequality in societies. Universal education is also crucial in creating a  freer society because by spreading knowledge, people are more able to defend their own rights. This is also why both Malala Yousafzai and Kaliash Satyarthi  pin progress within their respective countries on eliminating children’s rights violations.

© LM TP/ Creative Commons license
© LM TP/ Creative Commons license

While universal education is an excellent tool to allow societies to progress, it is a goal that is not without its impediments. According to the UN, 50 per cent of out of school children live in conflict-affected areas. Sometimes the school is too far away for many pupils or it is not safe to walk there. There are situations in which extreme ideologies do not allow it, or even cultural reasons such as the segregation of boys and girls in school. Satyarthi pointed out in a recent editorial that “employers benefit immensely from child labour as children come across as the cheapest option, sometimes working even for free”. In the same editorial, Satyarthi said that, according to non-governmental organizations, there are 60 million children working in India, which is six per cent of the total population.

The current MDGs will expire in less than a year. Following this, heads of states and governments will agree on a new development agenda to build upon. Many voices claim poverty should be a priority for the new MDGs while others think that the goals are just too big and should be simplified. However, as we head towards 2015, there is no doubt that education will continue to be a huge development priority.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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No sanitation: public health implications and private-sector solutions

No sanitation: public health implications and private-sector solutions

Going to the toilet might not strike some as a development priority, but social enterprises in India and Kenya have demonstrated the immense social and health benefits of cleaning up this most basic human function. Amira Aleem investigates.

 

Drain? Or Toilet?
This open watercourse in Malgudam, Bangladesh, serves as both drain and toilet. © Sustainable Sanitation Alliance/Creative Commons license

Today, 2.5 billion people globally lack access to a toilet that adequately separates human excreta from human contact. This includes over 1 billion people who defecate in the open, or nearly fifteen per cent of the world’s population. These statistics are incredibly alarming considering that we are only one year away from the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, three of which – to reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, and combat malaria by 2015 – are contingent on better sanitation facilities for the world’s poorest.

Apart from the obvious aesthetics of open defecation, it encourages the spread of diseases such as diarrhea, malaria and hepatitis A, which are overwhelmingly responsible for child mortality in the developing world. Research suggests that 1.2 million people die of malaria each year, 90 per cent of whom are children under the age of five.

Lack of sanitation in the rapidly growing slums of the developing world, in particular, is of increasing concern to public health. Too often, urban authorities’ inability to manage an ever more dense population means that water resources are stretched thin and the poorest often go without. In fact, it is estimated that four per cent of the global disease burden could be prevented by improving water and sanitation facilities for the 1 billion people who live in urban slums without access to safe drinking water. Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Every child in school: how Westernised education is shrinking knowledge in the 21st century

Every child in school: how Westernised education is shrinking knowledge in the 21st century

The globalisation of education is underway, on a scale unprecedented in human history. While its promises are many, Blog Editor Louisa Jones reveals the negative consequences of teaching every child to think alike, and explores an alternative approach in Listuguj First Nation, Quebec, Canada.

 

IMG_0635
© Julie Lafrance/Creative Commons license

A ‘modern education’ is the most highly coveted accomplishment in the world today. It spells social mobility, riches and acceptance on the international stage. Free elementary education was enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and currently forms a crucial part of the United Nations’ poverty reduction strategy through the Millennium Development Goals.

With the weight of the world’s decision-makers behind it, few have questioned why the educational model reproduced from Chile to China continues to follow the rational mindset of nineteenth-century Europe. Book-based, compartmentalised and obsessed with testing, the Western-biased syllabus that once moulded youth into ideal colonial citizens today encourages them to abandon their own cultures, languages and environments in favour of an unsustainable urban consumer culture, according to Helena Norberg-Hodge, Director of the International Society for Ecology and Culture.

Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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‘Can we really end poverty? A debate on the future of development’

Hannah Loryman reports on this recent debate in London, in which a panel of high-level guest speakers predicted the future of international development policy after the Millennium Development Goals.

 

Millennium Development Goals
The eight Millennium Development Goals (© jiadoldol/Creative Commons)

The Millennium Development Goals, which are due to expire in 2015, set the goal of cutting extreme poverty (defined as living on under $1.25 a day) by half. As the debate around what should come next continues, some have argued that it should be about ‘getting to zero’, or ending extreme poverty. On 5 December I attended a debate hosted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and intelligence² to mark the launch of the former’s Development Cooperation Report, ‘Ending Poverty.’ In an hour and half five speakers aimed to answer the question of whether it is possible to end extreme poverty by 2030, and how this could be achieved.

The speakers were:

Sabina Alkire – Director of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, Research Associate at Harvard University and Vice President of the Human Development and Capability Association.

Jamie Drummond – Executive Director and Head of Global Strategy at ONE.

Priyanthi Fernando – Executive Director of the Centre for Poverty Analysis, Sri Lanka.

Homi Kharas – Lead author and Executive Secretary of the secretariat supporting the High-Level Panel and Senior Fellow and Deputy Director for the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institution.

Erik Solheim – Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee and special envoy for environment, conflict and disaster at the United Nations Environment Program. Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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