Of course something was to happen for the 3oth anniversary of Band Aid, and the recent Ebola epidemic provided an opportunity too good to miss for self-obsessed Geldof and company! I will not engage here with the wider critique of the Band Aid approach to ‘Africa’, and have in fact done so in a blog long before the Band Aid 30 announcement and recording.
I want to instead focus on a seemingly unrelated issue: an End of Mission Press Release from a review mission to Mozambique by the IMF on 5 November 2014. In the report, Mozambique’s performance is being described a robust, and ‘regarding economic policies for the rest of 2014 and 2015, the staff team and the authorities agreed on the need to maintain revenue efforts and slow the growth of public spending, including the wage bill’. While the latter objective is to be achieved ‘in a manner that protects social spending such as basic health and education, and social assistance programmes’, the devil is in the detail. In fact, the biggest parts of the government’s wage bill are health and education, in particular in relation to the salaries of nurses and teachers. This has led to major teacher shortages in spite of the fact that a record number of teachers graduate from the Pedagogic University since it has expanded to various locations all over Mozambique. But those graduates are not being employed due to financial constraints or rather the financial straight jacket the government finds itself in, and schools in many areas now work in a three-shift system instead of two, meaning four hours of teaching only for affected children.
Even more surprising is the IMF view when considered in the light of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, even if this link is not obvious at first sight. The rapid spread of Ebola has largely been blamed on the poor state of the public health systems there. And, as Jo Hanlon in a recent Mozambique news report writes: ‘After its civil war ended in 2002, Sierra Leone was blocked by the IMF and international financial institutions from expanding its health service and was forced to introduce health charges which excluded the poor. There seems to be a growing recognition that African countries need to spend more on health – but it has not yet reached the IMF. There are few international health rankings, but the Legatum Institute attempts an International Prosperity Index. Mozambique ranks 120 out of 142 counties. But for health, it ranks 137. Of two of the Ebola countries, Liberia actually ranks higher in health than Mozambique at 133, and Sierra Leone at the bottom at 142’.
It remains an open question whether any IMF staff member has since clicked to ‘Buy the song. Stop the virus’, and more to the point, as stated in another recent blog, it is far from clear what Band Aid 30 donations will be spent on, a fact that does not seem to concern any of those who have already made it the fastest selling song of 2014 according to the Official Charts Company, a few days after its release on 16 November .
So what can one do to help the fight against Ebola if one happens to be a famous musician or artist? One answer has been given by a group of high-profile musicians from West-Africa, who gathered long before Geldof jumped into the limelight yet again and released a song of their own on 27 October. Their song actually has Ebola in the title and advocates for simple measures to keep the disease at bay, including to see the doctor with any symptoms – in English, French as well as a number of local languages. All its proceeds go to MSF, the medical-humanitarian organisation at the frontline in the fight against Ebola – making it relatively certain the money raised will actually flow into concrete health measures, not some dubious cause.
If you want to fight Ebola, STOP Band Aid 30 – but support the artists behind Africa Stop Ebola instead!