First came Band Aid, the charity band of Irish and British musicians who in 1984 raised funds for famine relief in Ethiopia with the multimillion sale of their song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” We bought the single. It was criminal not to help save a country “where nothing ever grows nor rain or rivers flow…”
Following the success in the UK, an American benefit single for African famine relief was born. The charity single “We Are the World” was a worldwide commercial success, instantly becoming not only the fastest-selling American pop single in history but also the biggest selling single of all time. Who did not sing along? Who did not slowly sway the arms above the heads, lighter in hand? Who did not take part in the circles of love, hold hands with strangers, and sang off tune …we are the world, we are the people…who did not feel that cozy jitter of satisfaction buying the track, knowing that the money was going to stop hunger in that far-away continent? The song went on to raise about $70 million for humanitarian aid in Africa.
Then in 1985 came Live Aid, a multi-venue rock concert watched by 400 million viewers across the globe. Throughout the 16-hour long concerts, we the viewers were constantly urged to donate money to the Live Aid cause. At the launch of Live Aid, Bob Geldof, argued: "Doing nothing for Ethiopia would mean you were complicit in murder." So when Queen opened the concert with Bohemian Rhapsody, we reached for our wallets—we didn’t want blood in our hands-- and when they played We Will Rock You, we prompted those around us to look into their pockets, and by the time we were finished singing along We Are The Champions, we’ve called everyone we knew urging them to donate. Three hundred phone lines were set up so that we could make donations using our credit cards and every twenty minutes the phone number and an address where we could send our donations to stop hunger were repeated.
Seven hours into the concert in London, the British had donated only 2 million dollars. The organizer took the microphone and dropped the F bomb on those who hadn’t donated yet as well as those who had donated too little. The abuse must have been persuasive enough, because after it, giving increased to US350 per second.
Everybody gave. The arts again were put to good use and in the spirit of music and charity; the world sang and donated in unison. But all words and no pictures can be misleading. So a video was shown in London and Philadelphia, as well as on televisions around the world, with images of starving and diseased Ethiopian children. The song "Drive" by The Cars, playing in the background. And the giving increased at a furious pace. This charity fundraiser/ concert raised approximately $285 million dollars.
Fast forward ten years. It’s the mid 90’s and nothing has changed in Ethiopia. Where did the money go?
Overall GDP (US$89 per year) is lower than it was at the beginning of the nineties.
The country ranks is 169th out of 175 in the human development league of the UNDP
Life expectancy at birth is 42 years
Infant mortality is as high as 116 per thousand compared to 6.7 per thousand in the US
47 per cent of children under five suffer from malnutrition
Ethiopia has the third largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS of any country in the world.
Only 24 per cent of Ethiopians have access to water sources
Ethiopia has been repaying its national debt to the G7 creditors, meaning us (you and me and Canada, Italy, UK, Germany, Japan and France), at a rate of US$35 million a year. This means that every penny collected through the fund-raising concerts of the 80’s that should have been used to end hunger ended up back in our pockets.
Fast forward 20 years after Live Aid, G7 creditors have stalled our annual commitment to alleviate the situation in Ethiopia and are doing nothing. Not anymore. And in the coming years, we’ll have several new causes, all noble…Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in Indonesia, and now Haiti.
And how about Haiti? How much money did the telethon Hope for Haiti raise? Reports indicate the telethon pulled in more than $57 million. And more money is likely to come in because the songs performed during the telethon are being sold through iTunes with proceeds going to the Haitian cause. And guess what is Haiti’s annual debt repayment to us? Between $50-80 million per year. You do the math.