US response: short term solutions

  •  one month after the Live Aid concert when the head of the US Agency for International Development said the situation in Ethiopia had “greatly improved”.
  • A year later, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and Refugee Policy said the famine in Ethiopia had ended – but these were misleading statements.
  • Even though US aid relief had improved the situation in Ethiopia in the short term, it had done nothing to address the underlying political aspects of the famine.
  • Instead, the US and the NGO’s active in the area, including the Red Cross, turned a blind eye to the horrors of Mengistu’s resettlement politics
  • As the US’s priority was not to save lives in the long run but to send money to gain political influence in the region.
  • The structural problems thus remained.

Normative spreading through US influence in Ethiopia

  • The short-sighted solution to Ethiopia’s structural problems were born out of the US’s geopolitical objectives in Ethiopia. Ethiopia was a “key nation” for the US – as described by Chester Crocker, the assistant secretary of state for African Affairs at the time – because the Ethiopian government had officially adopted communism in 1984
  • So, in line with the US’s containment politics at the time, the US had to intervene to prevent communism from spreading and the Soviet Union gaining more influence in the rest of the Third World.
  • This is also eminent in the 1985 CIA report on the situation in Ethiopia, which concluded the US should continue support for the sitting president Mengistu, turning a blind eye to Mengistu’s horrific crimes, because it was in their own interest to support him to gain Western influence in Ethiopia.
  • Thus, US’s aid relief can be understood as symptomatic of a colonial normative spreading of Western values (democracy) as they were interested in having them under their sphere of influence, rather than actually solving their structural problems.

Famine of 1948

  • The famine that broke out in 1984 was no exception. Four factors contributed to its outbreak:
  • First factor, a two-year drought across the Sahel sub-region.
  • Second factor, a civil war that had forced citizens to flee their homes
  • Third factor, a forced agricultural collectivization policy implemented by Ethiopia’s president Mengistu that forced every farmer in the country to accept artificially low prices for grains and coffee.
  • Finally, a growing population of 2.9% a year at the time.
  • What this evidently suggests is that without local and international political barriers, the famine could have been largely prevented.
  • However, the foreign policy of the biggest humanitarian aid sponsor in Ethiopia – the US – was oblivious to these complexities. Rather, the US focused on short term solutions and merely wanted to “help” in order to push through their own political agendas.

Celebrity Geopolitics and Live Aid

Live Aid reunited the top Rock and Pop artists of the time which is indubitably what gave the event such an outreach. Celebrity geopolitics are very useful in examining this phenomenon.

Celebrity geopolitics treats of the impact that the involvement of celebrities in geopolitical issues can have. It triggers the population’s interest on a specific issue and reaches a broader audience  when such issues are vehiculed by celebrities themselves without the bias of competent politicians. Indeed, celebrities that take action for geopolitical issues tend to raise awareness to these questions in an unprecedented manner. Dittmer and Grey argue that this is key especially since it allows such issues to be discussed and understood outside of the political or academic sphere. Celebrities tend to create a feeling of proximity that everyday people don’t necessarily find with politicians, notably because of the complexity of the political discourse compared to how easy it is for celebrities to communicate with their fans through tools such as shows, magazines and above all social media.

In the case of Live Aid, the large audience of both shows as well as the home viewers allowed a broader awareness of the situation in Ethiopia and the money raised by the concerts and donations show the reach of celebrities compared to political/media discourse that never had the same result, even though the issues in Ethiopia were discussed in the political sphere and experienced media coverage.

On the other hand, the use of celebrities that were actually mainly celebrities in the Western world is symptomatic of the western-centred view of humanitarian aid: it is understood that money can be raised in the West because this is the most developed part of the world and thus where the population actually has the ability to aid. But that also means that it creates a one-sided channel of humanitarian aid where the flow is from the West towards Africa. As a result, it is Western money raised by Western organisms that goes towards Africa.

The channels of normative spreading.

Colonialism and the division of the world between the West and the Rest has been the common representation in geopolitics from the Discovery of Americas and, arguably, still continues today even though it has encountered some changes. The traditional representation of established countries and their colonies is visible in a number if manifestation such as, but not limited to, colonial exhibitions, the work of missionaries or development and humanitarian aid.

There are a number of scholars who have investigated such channels of normative spreading.

Edward Said, says that Orientalism is about the West’s discourse about the rest of the world (Orient). ‘European culture was able to manage and even produce the Orient politically, sociologically, militarily, ideologically, scientifically and imaginatively…’ (Said, 1979 p.3). Highly influential for colonial geopolitics and history of empires. Broader than military and diplomacy→ culture.

Samuel Huntington, Clash of Civilizations. He foresaw that the wars to come were to be fought between civilizations (cultural and religious identities). A cultural war: “The West and the rest”. Threats and dangers identified according to particular interests → the West has interests in the Rest.

Antonio Gramsci and his theory of hegemony: cultural hegemony applies between the West and the rest in the same way than between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat/ its normalizes a view of the world to maintain said hegemony.

James Derrick Sidaway, on popular representation of a land that leads to an overall view of a part of the world. Africa is brittle and desertic which has become synonym of hunger and poverty.

When money comes with strings attached -> spreading of normative values through humanitarian aid

Was live aid meant to bring development aid to Africa or was it just another case of covered up spreading of western normative values ?

Not a new phenomenon: colonial history is the history of spreading values through soft power. Crusades, Christian missionaries in the New World, war in Viêt-Nam, those are all examples of western values projected towards the West following the vision that these values should prevail. This is a pattern in World History and is thus an indicator of the direction of development in the world: from West to East.

For instance, the world-system theory illustrates this with the model of centre, semi-periphery and periphery: this sharing of the world has relevance in economics, politics, culture, etc. It is particularly relevant when it comes to humanitarian and development aid as, typically, aid follows the wealth gaps, coming from richer countries towards poorer ones. As a result, aid and notably money raised bears the vision of its senders, and usually comes with strings attached.

What does that mean? It means that, when money is raised in the West, whether it is through charities and individual donors or through international organisations which use countries’ contributions (IMF, World Bank), it is up to the West what this money is used for. Typically, this means that it is used as a spreading for normative values.

I will post later on the channels of such spreading

The situation in Ethiopia before and during Live Aid

According to the CIA report Ethiopia: Political and Security Impact of the Drought, published in 1985, the famine crisis under Mengistu mirrored the downfall of the former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974. Mengistu was aware of this and tried to retain his power by giving the military and their family members all kinds of benefits including food in return for support at the expense of the rest of the population. Eighty percent of the population affected by the famine lived in the north of Ethiopia, however, relief efforts to the north were sabotaged by Mengistu’s government and rebels. At the same time, concentration on relief efforts to the north distracted attention from other (though to a lesser extent) affected areas in the south. Subsequently, the famine crisis worsened.

In terms of Ethiopia’s foreign affairs policy, president Mengistu regarded the US as his biggest enemy as he believed that the US supported the rebels. He also continued to place limits on Western donor access. Despite this, however, the US still succeeded to reach an agreement with the Ethiopian Government to let the RRC handle the aid relief directly. Other key players in Ethiopian aid relief included the FAO’s World Food Program, the Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children Federation, Lutheran World Federation, Church World Services, World Vision and Oxfam.

Furthermore, in the CIA’s view, Mengistu would survive the famine crisis if both the West and the Soviet Union would continue to support Ethiopia, the first with humanitarian aid and the latter with military and security aid. Mengistu also heavily relied on his own army and security services in order to stay in power.

The necessity to look at the money raised in Live Aid.

  Live Aid concert raised more than $125 million to go to aid.

  The donations from Live Aid were not utilized for good like they advertised to the public. Live Aid officials were aware of the atrocities being committed by the dictator and his regime but donated the money anyways. Thus, this shows that Live Aid committed fraud because they took donations from the general population after knowing that the money would not be given to the people in Ethiopia but instead their dictator.

  1. The intention of the Live Aid concerts was good, and the money was meant to go to the hungry, it actually went into the hands of Ethiopia’s dictator Mengistu: Mengistu used the money donated from the Live Aid concerts to purchase sophisticated weapons from Russia that he then utilized to kill his opposition in Ethiopia. At the time Ethiopia was the third poorest country in the world, but equipped with Russia’s weapons had one of the best armies. Essentially, Live Aid’s donations to Ethiopia resulted in the slaughter of many Ethiopian citizens that opposed Mengistu’s regime and the dictatorship that he had in Ethiopia at the time. Bob Gedolf, the spokesperson for Live Aid, was reportedly warned multiple times about the war in Ethiopia and how the country did not have the proper infrastructure to deliver the money to the people. However, he did not listen. (“30 Things You Never Knew about Live Aid,” 2015)
  2. The money donated by Live Aid was essentially fraudulent because the spokesperson of Live Aid and other individuals who participated in the creation of the concert, knew that the money would not be going to humanitarian aid. Instead, they donated the money anyways to Mengistu, exacerbating the horrific issues that already existed in Ethiopia. When news first came out that Live Aid’s donations did not succeed in assisting the general population in Ethiopia, many were in disbelief and claimed the news was false. However, through research and dedication, news reporters eventually realized that Live Aid did commit fraud and knew that the money they were donating because of the infrastructure of Ethiopia, would never have gotten to the people. The percentage of the donations that went to charity in Ethiopia was essentially zero because it all went to Mengistu, who was the dictator at the time. The expectation was that Mengistu would utilize the funds to provide aid, but because he was a dictator, he did what he wanted to with the aid and purchased weapons to kill those that opposed him in Ethiopia. (““Live Aid: The Terrible Truth,” 2015)
  3. Live Aid’s original purpose was to bring developmental aid to Africa but ended up spreading Western normative values. Those that created Live Aid began it to donate funds and aid to Ethiopia to aid with their humanitarian crisis. However, when officials found out that the aid would not be going to their cause, they donated the money anyway, which is how Live Aid simply spread Western normative values. (“Remember Live Aid? Your Money Went to an Ethiopian Dictator, Not Famine Relief,” 2017)
  4. Not only did the Live Aid concerts collect donations to send to Ethiopia for aid, but they also sold tickets, merchandise, TV rights, and collected TV advertisement income. It is not clear what the percentages of the money they earned went to charity as the numbers they reported could have potentially been falsified, especially considering the situation with Mengistu and the Live Aid officials knowing that the money they donated would not be sent for humanitarian relief.
  5. People in Ethiopia were dying at the hands of their government and Live Aid gave money to the regime that was killing their citizens who opposed the government. It was proven that officials controlling the Live Aid concerts had knowledge about this and decided to donate the money to Mengistu anyways. This was likely because the ticket sales, merch, and other income other than the donations made them a lot of money. The officials were not going to come out and admit that they continued with the concerts to make money, but that is what is implied by them continuing their mission after being alerted by organizations in Ethiopia about the horrendous ways the Ethiopian government was killing their citizens. All donations from the Live Aid concert were given directly to Mengistu, where he slaughtered innocent Ethiopian civilians, children, and others. (Rieff, 2005)
  6. On the other hand, in 2005 a series of “Live 8” concerts were performed to raise more money and awareness regarding some of the serious issues in Africa like access to AIDS medication and increase the aid. Artists who started “Live 8” claimed that they received 3 billion views on the shows they held. But “Live 8” was not created to specifically raise money, but it was targeted to help spread awareness around some of the issues that Africa was facing as a whole. After “Live 8” the 18 poorest nations had their debt cancelled globally, increasing amounts of AIDS medication was distributed, and more aid was sent to struggling countries in Africa. This truly helped African compare to Live Aid.

People, when this came out, were horrified that they had donated their money to a country that was in shambles and that their government was killing the citizens. Ultimately, even though Live Aid did give donations to Ethiopia as promised, they still committed fraud because they knew that the money donated was not going to the cause that people thought it was.

New (provisional) research question

Was Live Aid effective in bringing development aid to Ethiopia or

Did Live Aid, as a Western humanitarian aid initiative, spread/reinforce normative Western values at the expense of the Ethiopians?

So, we want to explore the tension between humanitarian aid and normative power

By examining if/how the creators of Live Aid (consciously, perhaps unconsciously) profited from/exploited

  • neocolonial tensions regarding humanitarian aid and/or
  • exoticism/stereotypical portrayals of Ethiopia

And if this resulted in the spread of normative Western values at the expense of Ethiopia

Two angles: 1. from the audience’s perspective (how was it experienced) and 2. the implications (how it was created)

Find ways to connect these two angles.

Who is the agent in this project?

How much agency did the audience have?

How is agency manipulated?