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Development aid

Rusty Radiator Award 2015


The Rusty Radiator Awards for 2015 have been announced, in time for Christmas.  These awards have been going for a few years. Not heard about them? From their website: “The Rusty Radiator Award goes to the fundraising video with the worst use of stereotypes. This kind of portrayal is not only unfair to the persons portrayed in the campaign, but also hinders long-term development and the fight against poverty.”

The “winner” this year is Band Aid 30. Apparently this was based on votes. The jury’s report: “Band Aid 30 contributed to the spread of misinformation and stereotypes of Africa as a country filled with misery and diseases. The Ebola outbreak occurred in three countries in West Africa. We resent the idea of a bunch of celebrities joining forces together, giving the impression that they are saving Africa from Ebola. Furthermore, they just make it so much more about themselves! Highly offensive and awful in every way possible. Celebrities cannot stop Ebola.”

Really? In principle I agree that stereotypes about poverty should be avoided. While the aid business has been somewhat prone to them, they do not help the cause of better development knowledge, including more and better aid. But is this particular award justified? The scene at the beginning of the Band Aid 30 clip a poor emaciated Ebola victim in her blood-soaked bed being carried away by health workers in their protective suits is shocking, especially when followed by a slew of cameras taking shots of the celebrity singers arriving for the recording of the clip. Not exactly good taste. But this is not one of those videos of well-healed celebrity musicians handing out food to poor African children, which irk me too (as in the clip for another Rust Radiator award winner). Nor did I get the impression that the Band Aid celebrities were claiming that they were saving Africa from Ebola. They might fairly be accused of bad taste, but I don’t see how they are promoting stereotypes that hinder long-term development and the fight against poverty.

There is a counter-argument. The Ebola crisis awakened many in the rich world to the appalling state of the health systems in West Africa (as in much of the world) AND that this longstanding development problem had spillover effects globally. This needs to be better known, and the Band Aid clip will help. The world is poorly equipped for handling pandemics, and some shock treatments like this may well help mobilize collective action to address the root causes. Showing such a scene at the beginning of the celebrity’s song is a little off-putting, but I think the Rusty Radiator Award is exaggerated in this case, and there is a counter-argument on positive benefits. Excess sensitivity does not help either dear Radiator folk.

In marked contrast, the winner of the Golden Radiator Award is Zalissa’s Choice from Burkina Faso. (From the website: “The Golden Radiator Award goes to the fundraising video using creativity and creating engagement. This kind of charity campaign is stepping outside of the common way with using stereotypes.”) Zalissa’s Choice is an uplifting choice for this award! I recommend it.

Martin Ravallion


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