Global Development Institute Blog

By Róisín Read

Since Bob Geldof announced he was re-recording ‘Do they know it’s Christmas’ the media has seized upon the opportunity to report on every minutiae of celebrity involvement. From whether the BBC would excuse Rita Ora from The Voice (they did), to Adele’s non-involvement (she made a donation to Oxfam instead), to Damon Albarn questioning western ideas of charity, to Fuse ODG’s discomfort with the negative portrayal of Africa, the media has seize upon each new titbit, eager to stir up a storm.

I  am not intending to add to the multitude of voices challenging Band Aid for its portrayal of Africa, musical quality, or even the tax records of those involvement (though I share many of these concerns). My concern here is more mundane: how will the money be spent? Or more accurately why no one seems concerned by the lack of information about how the money will be spent.

At first I just tried to ignore Band Aid, but that proved impossible. Every time I turned on the news, listened to the radio or looked at a news website, I encountered articles and features aplenty telling me that Band Aid was raising money to fight Ebola in West Africa. The first couple of times I heard or read this I let it go, but with Bob Geldof’s interview on the Today programme that changed. I waited, listening for that all important question: how would the money be spent? It never came and my #bandaidrage began to simmer.

That morning, I endeavoured to find out. After an hour of searching, the best information available was from the terms and conditions section of the Band Aid 30 website (slogan: ‘Buy the song. Stop the virus’) telling me that ‘All proceeds from the Band Aid 30 competition will be donated to the intervention and prevention of the spread of Ebola’, and on the donations page more helpful information that ‘This year the Band Aid Trust will administer funds from #BandAid30 towards efforts to fight the spread of Ebola and to care for its victims’.  Leaving aside the confused reference to proceeds being part of a ‘competition’, I am still in the dark about how the money raised will actually be spent.

The Band Aid Trust’s mandate is apparently the ‘relief of hunger and poverty in Ethiopia and the neighbourhood thereof’. Only a very generous interpretation of this mandate would allow for the fighting of Ebola in West Africa to be included. Furthermore, from the information on the website, there is no commitment that the money will be spent in or even on West Africa.

So, why aren’t the media and the Band Aid buying public asking how the money will be spent? I’ve only encountered two such instances, Laura Seay on The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog and Nigerian musician Breeze interviewed on Radio 4’s The World Tonight. The DEC Ebola Crisis Appeal makes clear which organisations it will pass the donated funds onto, people can look into those organisations and make an informed decision about whether they want to contribute to those activities. With Band Aid, they do not have this option. We don’t even have an idea of the timeframe in which the funds will be spent.

This is blind giving at its very worst. Band Aid has replaced the act of giving to an organisation in support of a cause with a transaction. We have been told in no uncertain terms by Geldof, that it doesn’t matter whether we like the song, we should just buy it anyway. It seems it doesn’t matter if we don’t know how the money will be spent either. The problem with this is that it suggests the act of giving is what matters, when actually it is the outcome that counts.

I think Breeze summed it up pretty well on Radio 4’s The World Tonight:

Breeze: ‘We don’t actually know if the funds that are going to be raised, are going to actually go to the right places. Are they going to get to the organisations that are on the ground, that are actually doing all the hard work in the countries?’

Ritula Shah: ‘We have to hope that that’s the intention’

Breeze: ‘Well, this is it. We have to hope and that’s part of the problem, there’s no transparency’.

My #bandaidrage isn’t just at Bob Geldof and the Band Aid Trust. It’s at the media and the public who seem unconcerned about a huge fundraising exercise with no concrete information about how the money will be spent. As a fundraising initiative #BandAid30 has proved very successful. We have to hope that its spending of that money will be successful too.

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