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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Soon, it is Christmas time again

As I sit before my laptop, attempting to tackle my finals, the sounds of Fela Kuti’s music fill my kitchen. Kuti, a Nigerian musician and political firebrand, pioneered the genre of Afrobeata captivating fusion of West African rhythms with elements of American jazz, funk and soulcelebrated worldwide. His lyrics often bristle with defiance, railing against corruption and the insidious influence of the West. In this struggle, he reminds his fellow citizens not to aspire to be mere ladies or gentlemen but to embrace their African heritage.

Yet, in the background, Christmas is swiftly approaching. Alongside the ever-present “Last Christmas” by Wham!, released in December 1984, I cannot help but recall “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid, released in November that same year. The title of the latter always perplexed me; it feels like something my teachers at polytechnic school might conjure, insisting on teaching the obvious, like the merits of a glass of milk each day. I was aware that most Africans are Christians, so the question of whether they knew about Christmas seemed strange.

The song’s assumptions that all of Africa shares the same Christmas experience bewildered me further. Not all Africans are Christian, and many don’t celebrate Christmas. Unfortunately, I couldn’t understand the lyrics then, as I had just begun learning English in September 1984. However, as my English improved, the lyrics only confounded me even more:

. . . There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing
Is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring
There are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you
And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows
No rain nor rivers flow
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all? . . .

In the grand narrative of our world, Africa boasts 54 countries and emerges as the second-largest continent, trailing only Asia in size and population. With a whopping 1.3 billion souls under its equatorial sun, Africa’s diversity knows no boundsfrom scorching deserts to snow-capped wonders like Mount Kilimanjaro.

Recently, I came across a 2021 article in African Geographic, which foretells the tragic demise of Kilimanjaro’s glacier, a victim of climate change. (1) The earth-shattering news, as well as many other developments related to climate change, led to the first Africa Climate Summit in September 2023. The summit took place in Nairobi, Kenya, where President William Samoei Ruto, the defender of the Kenyan frontier, clamored for equitable investment opportunities for African nations. Their goal? To unlock their untapped potential and combat climate change, primarily the handiwork of the industrial giants.

The summit bore fruit, with commitments reaching a staggering $23 billion from a motley crew of entities, including governments, the private sector, multilateral banks and even benevolent philanthropists. They aimed to stoke green growth and stave off the urgent climate crises, turning Africa into a renewable energy paradise.

Now, let’s talk hydropower. Countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Angola, Sudan and Congo are perched on a goldmine of untapped potential, thanks to their ownership of colossal rivers. These include the Nile, the Chambesi River, the Zambesi, the Kasai, the Kwango and the Shebelle River. Who knew these waterways could potentially change the power dynamics of the continent, or even the world? (2)

By harnessing these more reliable energy sources, Africa could bid farewell to famines like the 1984-85 disaster that struck Northern Ethiopia. Back then, the Communist Derg regime, a military junta, bankrolled their war chest with coffee exports while their country suffered from decades of deforestation and the scourge of monocultures, leading to the starvation of nearly eight million people.

Now, juxtapose this with South Africa’s bustling supermarkets in the 1980s, where an abundance of culinary delights danced before the shoppers. The shelves groaned under the weight of buns, bacon, wine and exotic delicacies. (3) You’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled into gourmet heaven while the rest of the world wrung their hands over famine.

During those tumultuous times, a three-year-old Ethiopian girl named Birhan Woldu became the face of the famine. Her image, captured without her father’s blessing by a zealous Canadian photographer, became a global icon. Governments, celebrities and common folk pitched in to feed the hungry Ethiopians. Yet, the pivotal question remains: Did the Ethiopians seek their assistance, and if they did, was this truly the most effective means of aiding them? In an interview with The Guardian in 2015, Woldu offered her perspective, stating that “[b]uilding infrastructure like schools and hospitals or factories that can hire a lot of people will make a big difference. Food aid would only make people even more dependent for all their lives . . . but if people get education and get jobs, they can transform their lives and countries.” (4)

As I contemplate these events while seated at the kitchen table, with Fela Kuti’s music playing in the background, I cannot help but confront the stark disparities woven into our world. It is a world where a diverse ensemble of celebrated British, Irish and a handful of U.S. American musicians, united under the banner of Band Aid, aimed their Eurocentric lens toward Africa at large, even though their fixation focused originally on Ethiopia alone. Like an annual tradition, they unwittingly gift-wrap a perpetually negative narrative about Africa, bestowing it upon the world with each passing Christmas.

But when December rolls around, my radio won’t play the YouTube hit “Africa for Norway”–instead it will inevitably serenade me with Wham’s unforgettable earworm “Last Christmas”–a song that, much like the Western world’s perception of Africa, never seems to change.

  1. teamAG. How the Kilimanjaro glaciers left truth in the cold. Africa Geographic, 30 June 2021,
    https://africageographic.com/stories/how-the-kilimanjaro-glaciers-left-truth-in-the-cold/, (Accessed: 17 Oct.
    2023).
  2. Africa. At a glance. International Hydropower Association. 2022, https://www.hydropower.org/regionprofiles/africa#:~:text=Africa%20had%20a%20significant%20year,provide%20affordable%20and%20dispatchab
    le%20electricity, (Accesses: 17 Oct. 2023).
  3. Go back in time: What things cost in the 80´s in South Africa. Midrand Reporter, 28 Dec. 2019,
    https://midrandreporter.co.za/204883/go-back-time-things-cost-80s-south-africa/, (Accessed: 17 Oct. 2023).
  4. Sebsibe, Mikias and Alexandra Topping. Woman who was face of Live Aid laments price of fame 30 years on.
    The guardian. 13 July 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/13/face-ethiopian-famine-live-aidbirhan-woldu-nothing-her-geldof (Accessed: 17 Oct. 2023).