Commentary

Do They Know What Patronising Means?

All I want for Christmas this year is…another version of Band Aid, another version of the same old stigmatizing ode of guilt and patronizing pity of Sub-Saharan Africa.

You probably saw it somewhere in your facebook/twitter-feed or maybe the radio has already started to annoy you with this christmas’s most pathetic carol: Bob Geldorf and his fresh team to save the world (Can “One Direction” members even find Sierra Leone on a map?) have recorded “Do they know it’s Christmas time at all” for a fourth time.

And as if the first few versions didn’t do harm enough by setting the whole African continent equal to an Ethiopian famine or the Darfur crisis, this year’s crew decided to apparently use this logo for the release of the 30 year anniversary remake.

Yes, Band Aid is really all about Ebola this time – similarly to Africa being all about Ebola, or Ebola all about in Africa. They even adopted the lyrics from dramatizing hunger to dramatizing ‘E30la’ including some weird lines about Geldorf, Bono and co going out to touch Africans this Christmas (even though they warn you later that to be touch is to be scared)…

The haunting image of Bono coming over to fondle me would make me forget about Christmas too.

For a great deconstruction of the new lyrics I recommend this piece by the Guardian’s Stuart Jeffries who seems to be equally as confused as myself.

At least Band Aid improved a bit on their geography over the years and sing only about West Africa this time – even though the guy writing the lyrics must have forgotten to tell the bloke making the logo. On top of that, Nigerians, Malians or Burkinese must be pretty surprised that Bob Geldorf and his gang just expressed their condolences for their lack of joy and fun during this festive season.

Other West Africans who prefer the mosque over church might actually really not care about Christmas this year, but I’d say that’s more a general thing and Ebola cannot be blamed for that.

Today I also had to find out that Bobby G is expanding his patronizing humanitarian crusade to other countries and turns it into a franchise. He has flown into Germany and recruited some (formerly) great musicians for a German version of this 2014 ode to joy. I had realized that Max Herre turned into a douche, but wouldn’t have expected it from Campino.

I guess it’s time to delete my “Toten Hosen” and “Freundeskreis” albums from my iPod. Campino stated: “It’s less about art, but about the gesture.” I say it’s mostly about you not thinking about the impact of your action.

A final fun fact for the German readership: Even the rapper Haftbefehl is jeopardizing his street cred to be part of this fabulous project (for the non-Germans, the last time I checked he did this kinda stuff)

Somehow I thought the world had moved ahead – but I guess it’s time to promote the “Africa For Norway” campaign again. Watching their great video will make you grasp why Bandaid is just ridiculous. However, 2 million+ views on youtube apparently have not been enough.

Ignorance prevails.

I have always found these charity songs fairly annoying but being in Tanzania for this Band Aid season, I actually got furious. I blame people like Geldorf, Bono and their friends for the fact that friends around here have lost their jobs and many Tanzanians will actually have some more problems than usual around this year’s Christmas time. However, they are not sick of Ebola or die of hunger under the burning African sun, but they lost their income as tour guides, porters or hotel staff because of stupid Westerners cancelling up to 80% of their trips to East Africa.

Apparently, they are afraid to catch Ebola thousands of miles away from its source. Yet, now that I think about it – maybe they also fear Bob Geldof’s smeary hands touching them during their Christmas safari.

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Fresh look, Learning

Wasted Chance: Jeffrey Sachs & narrative simplicity

“…the importance of an idea is often judged by the fluency (and emotional charge) with which the idea comes to mind”

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow

Following on from Ben Butcher‘s recent post on advocacy networks in the EU, this passage from a Nobel prize winning economist got me thinking about how the third sector goes about campaigning.

The psychological research done by Kahneman and his colleague Amos Tversky has extended far beyond their own fields. Nudge, a political science book on the use of simple persuasive techniques to cut the costs of policy programmes (example: engraved flies in public urinals) has been photographed in the hands of a number of notable politicians. Without a huge amount of public information or fanfare policies are being implemented around you with the intention of subtly influencing how you respond to the world around you.

It is often noted that the way in which the general public perceive large or complex issues is flawed. People in the West, for example, are pretty certain that Africa has more wars than Asia, or that certain public health issues are much worse than they really are. This is understandable. There is an enormous amount of bad, misleading or downright incorrect information flying around. A recent piece in Salon documented how this barrage of hateful but clear and memorable information can radically alter people’s world-views. Psychological research (and received wisdom) tells us that people are more likely to believe something if a) they hear about it all the time and b) it is delivered with a heightened emotional charge. Enter Paul Dacre, Rush Limbaugh and Martin Ssempa.

This can happen with less extreme narratives as well.

Recently, Jeffrey Sachs has been taking a collective kicking from the development blogosphere – Humanosphere noted this rather unpleasant industry pile-on in this post. To an extent, I agree with Tom Paulson’s point here – the development community is overly insular and has far too few public champions of any substance, perhaps part of this backlash is to do with tall poppy syndrome. Furthermore, Sachs’ biggest critics have been those focused on measurement rather than message. The vituperative put downs seems like an overreaction, in the wide scheme of things.

But there is more to this debate than measurement.

Jeffrey Sachs promised a lot more than a well functioning, measurable development project. He promised nothing less than The End of Poverty. Which is a pretty big claim whichever way you look at it, even if it did have the giant red flag of a foreword by Bono.

This narrative garnered enormous support from hugely visible figures. It went far beyond the relatively small bubble of development. It was a narrative delivered again and again by impassioned supporters, replete with harrowing statistics and images of suffering all over the world. Not only was there a sense of scale for just how terrible things are in the world but, now, unlike with Biafra or the folly of LiveAid, there was a clear roadmap to how we all could help to stop it.

The simplicity of the narrative was key – as Kahneman tells us, simple ideas feel easier to think through and so seem more convincing. The other benefit of this simplicity is that it was easy to parrot, easy to repeat, easy to spread.

“A reliable way to make people believe falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.”

International development doesn’t get a lot of play in the media. There are only two major news organisations that I can think of that have any specialised interest section for it (find them here). It’s an extremely complicated issue which isn’t a big vote winner – of course it doesn’t get a lot of attention in the media outside of disasters. So when somebody does get a narrative out there from the world of international development it’s a big deal for the sector. A lot of the negativity surrounding Sachs isn’t about just about measurement, it’s about disappointment that this rare chance was wasted.

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