As Christmas rolls around once more, the BandAid hit Do They Know It’s Christmas? has been playing on my mind. This is unfortunate in many ways. It’s a dreadful, patronising, turgid excuse for music — even Bob Geldof admits it is one of the worst songs in history. But this year — 27 years after its release — it seems particularly pertinent.
The Horn of Africa is in the midst of its worst drought in 60 years. Famine is widespread and around 4 million Somalis currently lack the basic necessities for survival.
Perhaps ironically, a group of Cape Town musicians have chosen this moment to record a belated response to BandAid’s condescending ditty, titled Yes, We Know It’s Christmas. The band’s leader has even suggested, tongue firmly in cheek, that by writing the song he may become a go-to expert in British politics and economics, just as Geldof has for Africa. It’s an appropriate rejoinder from an increasingly self-confident continent.
And yet, somehow, there remains an inescapable feeling that a little of Geldof’s unquestioning zeal is sorely lacking when it comes to the global response to the current Horn of Africa crisis.
The UN has recently announced a fundraising target of $1.5 billon to cover basic lifesaving projects in Somalia for 2012. This is 50% higher than last year, when the crisis was already well under way. They didn’t meet their target last year, and they’re unlikely to meet it this year.
In a time of well-founded global economic anxiety, and following a particularly eventful year for disasters of all kinds, the cash is understandably slow to come in. In all likelihood people will die due to a simple lack of funds.
The situation in Somalia needs more than just money, of course. Much more. Somalia has been an unqualified bedlam for 20 years, and it wasn’t exactly the most effective state before that. To make matters worse, three quarters of the people most desperately in need live in areas of southern Somalia under the control of al-Shabaab. This militant Islamic group can be reasonably compared to the Taliban in Afghanistan — including their links with al-Qaeda. Al-Shabaab has recently been, in many cases, preventing lifesaving aid from reaching the starving population — the final act of callousness from a regime that has already done much to create the conditions for famine.
Al-Shabaab has proven to be surprisingly well organised — they even have their own Twitter account, where you can keep up with the latest news from militant terror HQ. Like this recent example where they share some thoughts from a captured African Union soldier:
“Burundian PoW: We want our freedom & to meet our families; we want to return to our country. Please help us! Please help us! Please help us!”
If that’s not enough, they also share a link to video and audio files of his pleas.
In the Dadaab refugee camps on the Kenyan side of the Somali border — now home to around half-a-million refugees — things have gone from bad to worse. The kidnapping of two Spanish aid workers in October led to a temporary suspension of non-lifesaving activities by the NGOs which keep the camp running. Since then there have been a series of terrorist incidents in the region carried out by al-Shabaab sympathisers, including a pair of roadside bombs earlier this week that left two policemen dead.
At least, out of all this chaos, some potentially positive developments may be happening in the region. Somewhat surprisingly in late October Kenya unilaterally invaded southern Somalia, partly in response to the rising rate of al-Shabaab linked incidents on Kenyan soil. The Kenyan forces are now being integrated or “re-hatted” into the existing UN-mandated African Union force in Mogadishu.
While military invention isn’t going to do anyone any good in the short term — and the chances of getting blown up in downtown Nairobi have substantially increased — an unbridled optimist might say this is at least a sign that the international community is perhaps starting to treat the Somali situation with a little of the gravity it deserves. And it is the season for optimism after all.
So this year when you push the tables back after lunch please don’t put on Do They Know It’s Christmas? — it’s awful. Give The Drifters’ version of White Christmas a spin instead. But let’s not forget about the Horn of Africa either. And with that in mind I’ll leave you with the immortal, insipid words of Bob Geldoff and Midge Ure:
Here’s to you
Raise your glass for everyone
Here’s to them
Underneath that burning sun
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?