The holidays are approaching. Everyone is creating their naughty and nice lists. Next Friday, the day after we celebrate Thanksgiving, Americans will hit the malls and big box retailers to buy iPods and clothes, DVDs and stuffed animals, for loved ones and the Secret Santa exchanges and our children. Some see it as a secular holiday, others celebrate the holiday in a religious context.
We are a lucky people. By the accident of our birth in this great nation, hope of a better future is always on the horizon – even in the darkest circumstances.
Twenty-four years ago Bob Geldof and Midge Ure drafted Bono, Sting, and other music industry luminaries to come together as “Band-Aid” to raise awareness of the famine in Ethiopia. I was twelve. At the time, I had already spent many a Halloween with my little orange box from UNICEF - collecting the change of my neighbors and watching my mother roll it up, then turn it in to my teachers. I knew there were children without food, without water, without homes, without families to love and protect them.
I remember the first time I heard Geldof and Ure’s creation for the artists that combined forces to be Band-Aid. It was just after Thanksgiving - my family and I were in the car, on our way to a school holiday program, when it first rang through the airwaves: “Do they know it’s Christmas?” I remember telling my mom to turn it up, we listened to the last half just sitting in the parking lot. Our beautiful school, in the suburbs of Atlanta, was so clean, so perfect so fortunate were all of us. Hearing that song fixed in my heart what the UNICEF box meant.
That as a human being – I had a responsibility to make the world around me a bit better place than it was when I arrived. The famine that inspired a news report, that moved Bob Geldof to write the song year in Ethiopia has passed… but since then, Africa has seen more tragedy. Genocide in Rwanda. Uganda’s child soldiers, the unknown children. Blood diamond mines, across the continent where women and children are beaten, tortured, enslaved and mutilated. Widespread preventable diseases like malaria kills thousands and thousands of children every year. Somalia faces a crisis, again – famine is creeping in and Islamists threaten to end what little life there is to sustain. Kenya has been ripped by violence. More than a million people have died at the hands of Islamist butchers, the Janjaweed – who use Rape and Genocide in the name of Allah.
In 1984, I was the same age my daughter is now. We do the same things I did with my mother. The little orange boxes on Halloween from UNICEF. And more: raising awareness and pointing kids to ONE. Encouraging folks to wear RED clothes from The GAP and buy RED products, like the awesome U2 filled iPod. Consuming info from DebtAidsTradeAfrica, Save Darfur, and especially The IRC.
I belive in the full funding of PEPFAR. Truthfully, it is far cheaper – and has a long term upside – compared to another Bailout for the Big 3 Automakers. I believe in the full funding of the Millennium Development Goals. Earlier this year, the Pentagon launched AfriCom – and looking at the increased activity of pirates off the coast of Somalia, and remembering my friends who served in The Mog – and others who served in Rwanda… I wonder if our generation, Gen X, will get the opportunity to set right the mistakes and catastrophic failures recognized by some who came before us. Not many.
Most dismissed “Do they know it’s Christmas?” as a self-indulgent, ego-satisfying step of some in the music industry. The truth is, I remember those voices. When the single hit the stores, it charted at Number One. It sold eight million copies world wide. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did not want to waive the VAT (tax) because why should the government give up it’s share? Public outrage grew so quickly, Lady Thatcher acquiesced. And every cent of the three million copies sold in the UK went to famine relief in Ethiopia. Many of us in Generation X were affected. We remember the end of Apartheid too. We also know that many of the problems in Africa have worsened. The people neglected. We are old enough now to take up that charge anew. And we are, thanks to the leadership of folks like George W. Bush, whose legacy in Africa is unparalleled. And Bono, Geldof, and few others.
Geldof went on to organize Live Aid – which harnessed I remember as well. July 1985 – they raised roughly the equivalent of $245 million for famine relief. They held a similar event Live Aid 20, in 2005. There are so many avenues to help – there can be no more excuses. No more waiting out the clock. If we believe, as a people, that we should be our brother’s keeper – then we don’t have a moment to waste. The government can’t fix this. Real men and real women – in government, in public life, and all of us that are private citizens, must reject the Starvation of Hope for Africa and her people.
We must all work toward liberating Africa from its image, and reality, as the forgotten continent.