33 years since Live Aid

July 13th 1985. The Live Aid concert was held at Wembley Stadium in London. History.com reports: Quote:

On July 13, 1985, at Wembley Stadium in London, Prince Charles and Princess Diana officially open Live Aid, a worldwide rock concert organized to raise money for the relief of famine-stricken Africans. Continued at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia and at other arenas around the world, the 16-hour “superconcert” was globally linked by satellite to more than a billion viewers in 110 nations. In a triumph of technology and good will, the event raised more than $125 million in famine relief for Africa.

Live Aid was the brainchild of Bob Geldof, the singer of an Irish rock group called the Boomtown Rats. In 1984, Geldof traveled to Ethiopia after hearing news reports of a horrific famine that had killed hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians and threatened to kill millions more. After returning to London, he called Britain’s and Ireland’s top pop artists together to record a single to benefit Ethiopian famine relief. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was written by Geldof and Ultravox singer Midge Ure and performed by “Band Aid,” an ensemble that featured Culture Club, Duran Duran, Phil Collins, U2, Wham!, and others. It was the best-selling single in Britain to that date and raised more than $10 million.

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was also a No. 1 hit in the United States and inspired U.S. pop artists to come together and perform “We Are the World,” a song written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie. “USA for Africa,” as the U.S. ensemble was known, featured Jackson, Ritchie, Geldof, Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, and many others. The single went to the top of the charts and eventually raised $44 million. End quote.

Inspirational stuff in those days. The whole world came together to help stop famine in Africa. It was a moment of pride. And of enormous enjoyment of the music on offer. Quote:

A memorable moment of the concert was Phil Collins’ performance in Philadelphia after flying by Concorde from London, where he performed at Wembley earlier in the day. He later played drums in a reunion of the surviving members of Led Zeppelin. Beatle Paul McCartney and the Who’s Pete Townsend held Bob Geldof aloft on their shoulders during the London finale, which featured a collective performance of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Six hours later, the U.S. concert ended with “We Are the World.”

Live Aid eventually raised $127 million in famine relief for African nations, and the publicity it generated encouraged Western nations to make available enough surplus grain to end the immediate hunger crisis in Africa. End quote.

But you know where I am going with this, don’t you?

First of all, the world has become so polarised that I am not sure we could do another event like Live Aid. There would be protests, blimps, LGBT groups demanding special toilets, security the size of Africa in case someone tried to blow up Wembley Stadium…what a sad world it has become. Truly.

But the truth is that, 33 years on, nothing has changed. Let’s take a look at an article from Al-Jazeera from last February. Quote:

Ethiopia has been experiencing recurrent mass protests, riots and ethnic conflicts over the past two years that have claimed the lives of thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands.

State collapse is so far an extreme and unlikely scenario given that the conflicting parties are internal actors in the system and have a vested interest in its survival. A more likely but still dangerous scenario is a long-term vicious cycle of political conflict and economic stagnation that cripples state and society.

The government’s response to the problem has also been inadequate. It has primarily attributed this to corruption and a stalled democratic process. Based on this diagnosis it has taken important yet inadequate measures such as releasing political prisoners, initiating dialogue with opposition groups and demoted officials. End quote.

So 33 years on, nothing has changed for Ethiopia. Still corrupt, still facing riots and ethnic conflicts. In other words, the people of the first world tried to help them 33 years ago, and it made little difference. But what about neighbouring Sudan, also part of the relief movement brought about by Live Aid? Al-Jazeera reports again. Quote:

Sudan’s political crisis has reached its worst since the coup led by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in June 1989. The collapsing economy, ongoing armed conflicts between the regime and armed movements in the Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, endemic corruption, and the power struggle within the regime have pushed the country towards a tipping point.

Coupled with current popular protests over the 2018 austerity budget that are gathering momentum across Sudan, these factors create the conditions that will result in one of two scenarios in Sudan: either swift and meaningful change, or descent into chaos and disintegration. Without meaningful domestic, regional and international efforts to facilitate a credible, all-inclusive conference that leads to a fresh political transition, Sudan will be reduced to the latter. End quote.

So what was the point of it all? Sure, we had a great concert and raised huge amounts of money to stop people from dying of hunger. But in the end, what did it achieve? I think the fact that Bob Geldof, somewhat older and definitely crustier, was back on his bandwagon in 2005 with Live 8 tells you all you need to know. But this time, set to coincide with the G8 summit in Scotland, the aim was political. And again, it succeeded. The G8 finance ministers cancelled the debt of the 18 poorest countries. Once again, we were the world.

And once again, it made no difference.

Because you can supply food to those dying of hunger and you can cancel the debt of the poorest countries in the world, with the intention of helping them to look after their own people better. But in the end, if the governments of those countries are inept, corrupt or dealing with ethnic conflicts in areas of their countries, it doesn’t matter how much money is thrown at them. Their efforts will fail, and the money will be wasted.

The biggest mistake Britain and France made was to allow African countries to govern themselves. The biggest mistake African countries made was in letting them go. Because it doesn’t matter how much money you collect from willing donors. If your country does not have a proper administration, your people are lost. 33 years on, the people of Africa are still lost. And now that you can add Zimbabwe, Nigeria and South Africa to the list of failed states, Africa is more lost than ever.

The charity supergroup was called Band-Aid. That was all it ever was.


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Accountant. Boring. Loves tax. Needs to get out more. Loves the environment, but hates the Greens. Has been called a dinosaur. Wears it with pride.

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