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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Do bandaids help a broken limb?

So we have another Band Aid - Band Aid 20 - to re-re-release "Do They Know It's Christmas (Feed the World)". And I'm going to be ever so slightly controversial and question the effectiveness of such a stunt. It's great that something's being done to help the children and people of Sudan and indeed much of Africa. More work is needed. I do have to question whether this is actually the way to do it or whether it is counter-productive, though.

First off, is the money raised from the record actually going to make a significant difference? I don't know exactly how much they got last time, but this is just one record. Still, all money must be worthwhile.

My criticisms come in when I start to feel that it can be used as a smokescreen. I wonder how many people won't donate as much to existing charities, which work for people such as those suffering in Sudan all year, every year? The whole concept is entirely temporary and can risk putting the good work done by many other more permanent charitable organisations into the shade.

I suspect it also gives people the misguided impression that they have 'dealt with the problem'. They will have bought the latest faddish record rather than 'The Cheeky Girls' from two years ago, but the problem in Darfur is ongoing and needs more ongoing attention than a one-off injection of a moderate amount of money (although that will undoubtedly help). What is more, the general problems of Africa upon which Band Aid was founded need a more lasting structural approach than a similar injection of cash. Is it not just a cosmetic spectacle, helping the image of many millionaire popstars and detracting from the real political problems causing such poverty and desperation?

I don't want to sound like a scrooge, a miser, a selfish spoil-sport or a deeply horrible person. I just question whether a partial quick fix being presented as saving the world is entirely accurate or productive.

This whole discussions was provoked by my reading about Will Young, winner of Pop Idol (I think...) who said

"Get out there, buy the single, buy two copies ... People have to be less selfish and start thinking about others. I feel very passionate about it. Since Sunday, it's really gripped me."

Maybe I am being wrong-headed and irrational. Maybe I just resent being lectured about selfishness by someone who has made millions from a highly-commercialised television show and whose contribution to the problem is giving his voice to a record for 10 seconds. I wonder how many Will will be buying?

I do think he has summed up my fears though: he's been gripped since Sunday and won't stay gripped for long. It all boils down to whether you think limited exposure is good. Is a bandaid for a broken leg better than nothing?

UPDATE:

I'm delighted to find I'm not the only one thinking this, from comments emails and also Samizdata. There they make a very good point about the risk of just empowering even more bloodthirsty groups. I'm also chuffed to have beaten Samizdata to a story!!

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