Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Must beggars be insulted? St. Bob went marching in

By Elizabeth Ohene

If Bob Geldof, also known as St. Bob, had been a successful singer and his group, the Boomtown Rats, had been well-known, he would have had some practice in dealing with adulation. One would therefore have to sympathise with Mr. Geldof that he proclaims himself impatient with crowds.

It is a long way from being the lead singer and guitarist of the Boomtown Rats to being the celebrity for which school children and Heads of State line up in temperatures of 110°F.

Some singers or songwriters or guitarists or entertainers have learnt to cope with it. In fact, many of them spend hundreds of thousands of pounds to engage security people to protect them from crowds. There are many of them who have to employ heavy disguises to be able to step out if the whole street is not to come to a standstill with the crush of autograph hunters.

There are some other singers whose songs are so popular worldwide that when they board a plane in Chicago and land in Timbuktu to find a crowd singing their song, they understand and they learn to cope and appreciate the crowds.

Obviously, if Mr Geldof, also known as Saint Bob, had been a successful singer and his group the Boomtown Rats had been well-known, he would have had some practice in dealing with adulation, one would therefore have to sympathise with Mr Geldof that he proclaims himself impatient with crowds.

After all, a year ago, he would have walked along any street in his native Ireland and not one head would have turned his way and that most probably have been how he would have ended up: a failed pop singer whose name will pop up in a quiz about trivial pursuits or obscure facts. "What was the name of the leader of the group in the eighties who had one minor successful song?...".

But fate, and unprecedented hunger in Africa, have combined to save him from an anonymous fate and it becomes clearer by the day that the metamorphosis from a third rate rock band leader to a global celebrity is proving very difficult indeed for Mr Geldof to handle.

Everybody praised him for his initiative in getting all the top British performers and singers to record the "Do they know it's Christmas?" song. That Band Aid effort hit a very responsive chord in the British public, raised £8 million and set a chain reaction around the world.

Everybody had seen the terrible pictures from Ethiopia and felt moved; at least he had done something positive about it and got the rest of us to put our money where our tears were by buying that record. There was a line in the lyrics of that song: "...thank God it is THEM and not US" which, if one felt uncharitable, one could conclude, reflected the true sentiments of Geldof, however, as the saying goes, you don't look a gift horse in the mouth, so we all hummed along and bought the record.

But £8 million is a lot of money by any standards and Mr Geldof had become a star! The American spin-off in particular was generally acclaimed as the most spectacular coup; anybody who can get, they said, all those stars under one roof must be extraordinary.

We applauded. Then the Live-Aid, and all the superlatives ran out, half the world, including the foggy oldies who could hardly understand the music, stayed up the night and pledged their pound notes.

Now, suddenly Mr. Geldof has become not only a singer and a fund-raiser (he narrowly missed the Nobel Peace Prize this year, but will be hard to beat next year) he has decided he will have the final and only say on how the money should be spent. He has no time for the traditional aid projects or aid workers and their wishy-washy ways. And even more important, he now has a few ideas, many ideas in fact, on how African governments should be run in the process, he lectured and hectored the Ethiopians - if he would give them some of his millions, they will have to 'get their act together' and do they know they are shooting themselves in the feet.

On his recent tour of Africa, the all- knowing, no nonsense Geldof has been much in evidence. He has decided to spread his bounty around a bit more and not limit it to Ethiopia and Sudan. He is feeling generous, you know. He therefore chartered a plane and complete with television film crews, newspapermen and all, he toured the Sahel region. One has heard of people having to sing for their dinner and on this tour it was very much in evidence.

For the one million pounds that he has decided to spend on Burkina Faso, how many children, singers, dancers, half the entire government were trooped out to stand in the blazing sun to await his arrival, sing for him, dance for him, and what do they get for their troubles? Four- letter words, uncompleted sentences, a lecture on government and how food aid should be spent.

He even took the opportunity to formally outdoor his own contribution to the vocabulary of the English language - the Prince Charles Syndrome - PCS for short- and he hates it, detests it. For Mr. Geldof has become royalty; why else would a whole country be arraigned at an airport to meet him. According to him, he hates protocol, interminable meetings and all the other things that everybody claims to hate - he wants to DO things, not sit in meaningless and purposeless meetings and most of all, he can't stand humbug; would they cut out the crap? He is not Prince Charles you know, all talk and no action, and he certainly has no time for quaintly dressed, jumping, ranting Africans!

He is not Prince Charles, you know, and since he has the money to give, he can talk to anybody any way he likes.

Here is a sample to Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso - Is it true that the food aid goes to corrupt officials? And are you the one that tortures your opponents, and what is all this boring, loud music, cut out the crap and let me get to work if your country is to benefit from my generosity; Why is that old man hungry?

Under normal circumstances, Mr. Bob Geldof, even with a billion pounds or even with the entire federal budget of the United States of America to give away, will not dare speak to any leader in that manner with many expletives deleted! But he did, and Thomas Sankara could not order him out. Such is the state of Africa, of the self-imposed leaders and they have no confidence. For, Mr. Sankara could only go on the defensive - the Amnesty reports are untrue, based as they were on the words of one disgruntled journalist, and anyway, if somebody is planning to oust me from power and I catch him, what do you want me to do?

This writer is no admirer of Thomas Sankara and has gone on record to condemn his usurpation of power, his meaningless rhetoric, the brutality that has characterised his regime, but he is the leader of Burkina Faso, however temporary, and he certainly ought not to be spoken to in that way.

It is difficult to imagine what the attitude of Mr. Geldof would have been if he were travelling as a famous musician who wanted to get the inhabitants of Mali to buy his records or attend his concerts.

It has never been easy accepting charity but it is now obvious that whatever little dignity that remained along with the poverty of the African it is being trampled upon.

The poor but proud image was possibly destroyed in the desperate struggle for grain and in the eyes of the emaciated bodies that stared out from the television screens.

The tragedy is that the majority of African leaders are themselves so pathetic and unrepresentative of their people and employ the type of language used by Mr. Geldof that they are unable to insist on a bit of respect.

Newspaper reports say that Mr. Geldof is planning to concentrate from next year on being a Boomtown Rat. Some of us can't wait for that day.

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