And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time…

Sorry for returning to Christmas musings so soon, but I have been hearing that Live Aid/Band Aid song far too often recently. You know the one with George Michael, Boy George, Bono, etc., from the 1980s? Bono’s line in it is: “Well, tonight thank god it’s them, instead of you…”

I don’t know the whole story of this Band Aid effort but I know that it went on during the famine in Ethiopia. I also know that the singers were motivated by decent intentions, as people like Bono have been since.

And yet, there is something wrong with that song, isn’t there?


Sorry for returning to Christmas musings so soon, but I have been hearing that Live Aid/Band Aid song far too often recently. You know the one with George Michael, Boy George, Bono, etc., from the 1980s? Bono’s line in it is: “Well, tonight thank god it’s them, instead of you…”

I don’t know the whole story of this Band Aid effort but I know that it went on during the famine in Ethiopia. I also know that the singers were motivated by decent intentions, as people like Bono have been since.

And yet, there is something wrong with that song, isn’t there?

“Where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow, do they know it’s Christmas time at all?”

Well, there was a famine going on at the time, but it wasn’t the case that nothing ever grows in Ethiopia. Famines have complex causes and are usually correlated with war and displacement. Hunger, which kills more people than dramatic famines, is also correlated with IMF structural adjustment programs. And, as Bono has pointed out since, the debt ‘owed’ by African countries is a major cause of hunger and starvation and preventable disease.

“The only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears”?

It seems a bit distasteful to analyze a song that was designed as a charity benefit 20 years ago. But the song subtly deprives its starving subjects of their dignity, by implying that all of this tragedy stems from the fact that they are living on barren land “underneath that burning sun”. What a tragedy, give them a hand while you’re celebrating and “thank god it’s them instead of you”, will you?

I’m not saying that I want a song that takes the listener through the depredations of the slave trade, through the period of 19th century colonialism, to the era of direct military interference and intervention, into the times of structural adjustment, to the modern proxy wars and humanitarian finger-pointing. But if you’re going to pull people’s strings to make them feel something for Africa at Christmas, don’t write a song that makes them sad about the weather. Write one that makes us rage at the fact that we are extorting money from people to whom we have never given a break. Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time? Throw your arms around an executive of a drug company instead, squeeze very hard, and don’t let go until he lets the Africans make their own generic AIDS drugs and stop the senseless mass death that is happening there while he lines his pocket.

That’s pretty inelegant lyrics, but I suspect Bono could do far better.

Author: Justin Podur

Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.

5 thoughts on “And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time…”

  1. It’s altogether too often
    It’s altogether too often that that seems to be an exhaustive list of options. But for Geldof to say something like Bush is a good President for Africa really is telling of the whole attitude, isn’t it? Geldof (A Brit) gets to be the arbiter of whether Bush (an American) is a good President for Africa. The idea that Africans might have their own ideas is of course preposterous.

    They’re just out there underneath that burning sun where nothing ever grows. Mind you, if it really is the climate that’s oppressing them, Bush is doing his part for climate change. Maybe that’s why Geldof thinks he’s good for Africa?

  2. I’m so glad to have found
    I’m so glad to have found that I’m not the only one on the planet that was a little taken aback by the lyrics to this song! In fact, I was quite offended and have now made a name for myself at work as a raving lunatic given the angry rants I stage whenever this song comes on the radio. Grrr…

  3. You know, the funny thing is
    You know, the funny thing is I was thinking about this song as I was trying to fall asleep last night and I started to recite some of the lyrics to my boyfriend – and he was like, “There’s no way that can be a real song..” And I said, “YES IT IS! AND YOU KNOW IT! THEY PLAY IT ALL THE TIME @ XMAS!” I think the lyrics are really messed up! How horrible & depressing!

  4. Totally agree
    You’ve written what I was thinking when I heard this song for the 50th time this holiday season. Totally. Agree. Offensive. “And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas.” “and the greatest gift they have is life.”

    “Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?” Really?! With all of the Christian missionaries that have been sent there in the last few hundred years, and the Western TV stations & commercials they see, I’m sure they damn well know it’s Christmas time! Whether they want to know it or not.

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