The Tragedy We Do Not Understand

There are forty-seven countries that make up the African continent. Five of these have been effected by the Ebola virus, within certain regions and communities. Liberia. Guinea. Sierra Leone. Nigeria. Mali. According to Bob Geldof, in his latest Band Aid, it is our responsibility in Great Britain to ‘bring peace and joy’ to ‘West Africa’ this Christmastime. Because, of course, amongst the thousands of kilometres, the hundreds of languages and dialects, and the numerous communities – made up of individuals I might add – within West African countries, there is not a modicum of hope, peace or joy, ‘a kiss of love can kill you and there’s death in every tear,’ ‘and the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.’


Ebola has killed over five-thousand people collectively across Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Mali. This is a tragedy. It is a tragedy that some of the individuals effected by the virus did not have access to the treatment that may have saved them, and it is a tragedy that more people are going to die. The communities in these countries that are unable to provide the appropriate treatment and disease management programmes to combat the virus need help. A financially and institutionally privileged country like the United Kingdom has a responsibility to deliver that help.

However, our responsibilities are greater than that. What I would also call a tragedy is our complete insensitivity and, arguably in some individuals, wilful ignorance, to the cultural diversity of African countries. We have a responsibility of understanding. And whilst I am sure that the intentions of Bob Geldof, and each of the artists involved in Band Aid 30 are ultimately good, this song epitomises everything that is so wrong with regards to our limited understanding of cultures other than our own. The communities being torn apart by the Ebola virus need help, but so do we, it seems.

Adele and Fuse ODG both declined Geldof’s invitation to feature in Band Aid 30, Fuse ODG explaining his rejection of the invitation in an article in The Guardian, and Adele quietly donating to the cause. Lily Allen and Emile Sandé have also expressed concerns over the lyrics. It is disturbing that Bob Geldof, despite the criticism, has responded with, unfortunately, exactly what I would expect; ‘bollocks’ basically. Sinead O Connor, who features on the track, reportedly responded with ‘shut the f**k up.’ Perhaps it would benefit them to take the advice of their own lyrics and ‘reach out.’

This flagrant refusal to recognise that the lyrics of Band Aid 30 are not just shockingly insensitive, but actually dangerously imitative of the language of Colonialism – ‘we let in light and we banish shade… it’s a world of dread and fear’ and even ‘let them know its Christmastime’ – must be taken seriously.

I don’t see that the solution is to ‘boycott’ the song altogether as some have suggested. It is imperative, of course, that the proceeds are used to combat Ebola in those communities in those countries that have been effected by the virus. We must interrogate the attitude expressed in the lyrics themselves, an attitude that is diseased, petrifyingly infectious, and as damaging in its own right as Ebola. Perhaps then, we can begin to take in our own tragedy, the tragedy that we do not understand.


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