We are told that Communism works on paper, but that is only because paper cannot be forced into reeducation camps or denounced as a counter-revolutionary. Paper also has no farms, and therefore cannot be made to collectivize them. People are not so lucky.
Ethiopians are people. They might have been the first people. Oldest homo sapiens bones have been found in East Africa–Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia–and that makes sense. No winter there. Had to have been a few generations before we figured out how to clothe ourselves, and it’s awful tough to be bare-skinned in a place with winter. You can only do that once. But it was sunny and the land was provisioned with game, and the ground was fertile–in the western part of the country, anyway–and so people stayed in Ethiopia.
Here it is:
For many thousands of years, no one wrote anything down or built anything sturdy enough to be studied by experts from Cambridge, but about a millennia before Christ, an empire known as the D’mt rose in Northern Ethiopia and what is today called Eritrea. The D’mt forged iron tools, and carved irrigation canals, and killed enough of their neighbors to warrant inscription on several obelisks.
The Aksumites followed, or may have conquered the D’mt–I already told you that no one wrote anything down, didn’t I?–and became one of the world’s great powers you’ve never heard of. Y’see that itty bit of white keeping the red from touching the blue? That’s Eritrea and Djibouti, and they did not exist during the Aksum Empire, so the Aksumites had access to the Port of Adulis, and the Port of Adulis was a very good port, indeed. Wide and deep and sheltered from the Red Sea’s waves, and the land attendant was flat and hard-packed, and there were fresh lakes nearby to water the horses and stevedores. Adulis was also easily-accessible from the continent’s interior, and almost perfectly halfway along the route from Rome to India. It was a very good port.
Folks never just trade goods along trade routes, though. A lot of fucking goes on, so genes get spread and so do diseases. Animals are introduced into new habitats, either purposefully (horses, camels) or by accident (rats, cats). Ideas, too, especially religious ones. The Christ arrived quickly, and the Aksumites converted in the 4th Century. First schism, too. Council of Chalcedon tossed all of Africa out of the Catholic Church, and the Africans became the Coptics.
(You don’t need to worry about the Council of Chalcedon. I cannot swear that it will not be important during this apologetic of a rockyroll concert from 1985, but it most likely shouldn’t be. I don’t think it’ll come up during the discussion of, say, Hall & Oates’ set.)
In 960, a queen named Gudit rode into Addis Ababa and kicked the living shit out of the Aksumites, who had already been savaged by (naturally-occurring) climate change, economic upheavals, and the theft of Adulis by the Rashidun Caliphate. This dynasty was called the Zagwe, and they carved churches out of mountains.
It’s not tough to do that. You just remove all the rock that isn’t church. Simple.
Zagwe rule lasted until 1270 by some folks calling themselves the Solomonic Dynasty. Claimed they were direct descendants of the Aksumites, and therefore of King Solomon himself. This was almost certainly not true, but they’d chop your head off if you said differently, so nobody did.
The next seven centuries saw the customary bullshit from the usual bastards. War with the neighbors, peace with the neighbors; eras of intellectualism, interludes of dumbfuckery; cultural exchange, isolation. Sometimes the king cared about the people, and sometimes the king liked jewels and lopping off heads. Just like any other place.
CUT TO: 1974.
His Imperial Majesty, the King of Kings of Ethiopia, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God, His Most Puissant Majesty and Distinguished Highness Haile Salassie, Ras Tafari, had had better years. 1941 was a peach. After five years in exile, His Majesty led troops across the border and kicked the Italians out of Addis Ababa. (The British helped.) 1924, ah. What a time he had in ’24. He was not yet Emperor, just Crown Prince, and he was sent from the palace to meet the world. Jerusalem, Alexandria, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Stockholm, London, Geneva, and Athens. Met with kings and queens, and captains of industry. When he was in England, he traded two lions for an Abyssinian crown some explorer had stolen. That was fun. Good year, 1924.
But 1974 was no good. In fact, it was very bad. His Majesty had been majestic since 1930 (with a little time spent in exile) and it was not the Queen Elizabeth II sort of reign where he didn’t have to do anything but wear ridiculous outfits and not look bored when talking to commoners. No, his job was more like the first Elizabeth’s: complete control, but the rich fuckers and priests to deal with. He had a court, which naturally fomented intrigue. The Ras Tafari did what he could. Tried introducing a progressive tax system, kept the white man out of Ethiopia’s business, formed the predecessor of today’s African Union. Yeah, there were a handful of massacres, but the continent has seen far worse.
Hell, he didn’t even loot the treasury!
This brings us to famine. (This post is about Live Aid and feeding the world, remember?) Occasionally, they happen. No fault of ours. Nobody pressed the wrong button, no one forgot to submit the invoice, none of that: freak occurrence of nature. Winds shift. Weather goes sideways. Land turns silty, or the water gets brackish. Rains not at all or too damn much. Once in a while, all the food disappears from a location. It did so in Wollo and Tigray provinces–this is up in the Northeast–in 1972. Harvest after harvest failed, and anywhere from 40,000 to 200,000 people died.
And His Imperial Majesty, the King of Kings of Ethiopia, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God, His Most Puissant Majesty and Distinguished Highness Haile Salassie, Ras Tafari…well, he didn’t do much about it. Reports say he was unaware. Reports say he knew damn well. Russian disinformation campaigns spread rumors and sowed strife. (Nothing changes, everything lasts.) Riots broke out in February, and then a general strike in March, and His Majesty was placed under house arrest in June.
(Go buy The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat by Ryszard Kapuscinski. It’s a novel made of facts, and it’s glorious. You can get a used copy for a couple bucks, and it’s short. Trust me on this one.)
Selassie’s overthrow leads, naturally, to several years of power-jockeying. Lots of secret murders and public executions. The customary bullshit by the usual bastards, leading to the obligatory endpoint: most vicious asshole gets to be in charge. His name was Mengistu. He was a Marxist. Not the type of Marxist that teaches for SUNY New Paltz, the type that charges your family for the bullet they execute you with. He was the “kill all his former associates immediately upon gaining power” kind of Marxist. And you’ll never guess what he did to the farms.
So: it’s 1983 and everything’s gone to hell. Economy is in shambles, dissidents hanging from lamp poles, vast populations were being “resettled” from place to place. Depending on your perspective, there are either four civil wars going on, or one civil war with four fronts. It’s complete pandemonium and WHAMMO the rains don’t show up. Luckily for Mengistu and the Derg–that was the name of his regime–the famine was worst in the provinces containing the hills with all the damn rebels. Starve ’em out! Sure, there’s millions of civilians up there, but fuck ’em. And if Doctors Without Borders wants to bitch about it, then fuck them, too. (The Derg expelled DWB in ’85.)
Whitey got word. Whitey can smell a dying African kid from two continents away. The charitable became involved. Look at his belly! LOOK AT THE LITTLE FUCKER’S BIG BELLY! they’d wail at you, brandishing those goddamned pictures. Legs like drinking straws and bulging eyeballs. Maybe there was a vulture in the shot. Maybe a fly crawls all over his face, but he hasn’t the energy to flick it away. And always those bellies. Shortest distance between yourself and Whitey’s wallet is via that dying African kid’s belly.
And then you feel good about yourself.
BUT–and this is gonna make you laugh–it turns out that the evil fuck who was at least half-responsible for the famine was stealing all the money meant for the victims. AND–and this bit will make you laugh even harder–using the money to fund military attacks against the victims. Any food sent was left to rot, or given to the army. I told you that you would laugh.
This was not a secret. Bob Geldof was informed of these facts on numerous occasions, and he always had something cheeky and self-righteous to say. That was his shtick.
This is Bob Geldof:
Well, that was him in 1985. He was in the Boomtown Rats. They were one of those bands like Stone Roses or Status Quo or Slade that were enormous in the UK but never quite translated into American. You think I Don’t Like Mondays was a hit, but it only hit #73 on the Billboard chart. With a bullet.
One night in 1984, Bob was watching teevee. This is what he saw:
Honest to gosh. Everyone tells the same story. BBC aired that film; next day, Bob rings them up and says Didja see the telly last night? The t’ing about Ethiopia? We should do something, we should.
And they did.
Because it turns out, Enthusiasts, that Bob Geldof’s true talent was not singing, nor songwriting, nor even going on chat shows and being rude–and he was excellent at all of these pursuits–but in guilting white people into doing shit. LOOK AT HIS FOOKIN’ BELLY, YA EEJIT! Bob would call your house at all hours of the day and yell shit like that at you. It was easier just to appear on the charity single than to say “no” to him, and so Bob assembled what he called Band-Aid.
Cameras were in attendance:
Several disassociated thoughts on the nonsense you just watched:
- In discussing the song in which Ethiopians are asked by Brits whether they were aware of Christmas’ existence, it is counter-productive to bring up the fact that Ethiopia was Christianized centuries before Britain was.
- The English were still sacrificing one another and having sex with magic trees when Ethiopians first learned about Christmas.
- But you know how it is: you bring that shit up, and they call you an SJW.
- Phil Collins is wearing the Phil Collinsiest sweater in existence.
- Boy George confused the hell out of me as a kid.
- DTKIC is an immeasurably better song than We Are The World; America takes the L there.
- We won the Revolutionary War, 1812 was pretty much a tie, and they took this one.
- How did you get there, Kool?
- What about you, The Gang?
- You are from New Jersey, Kool & The Gang.
- Get the hell away from Spandau Ballet, K&TG.
- They mean you mischief.
- Christ, Bono’s an asshole.
- Don’t believe me?
- Look at him.
- What’s in your giant hat, Bono?
- Is it The Edge?
- Is that where you keep him between tours?
- But check out how casual female pop stars were allowed to be in 1984.
- That’s Bananarama.
- They look so comfortable.
- Could kick around the flat and watch some telly, could record a #1 record, who knows?
- Maybe not the one on the right.
- Actually, if she’s not a lesbian, then that outfit is problematic.
- STOP APPROPRIATING LESBIAN CULTURE, BANANARAMA!
- When you woke up this morning, you didn’t think you were gonna read that sentence, did you?
- And, since this was 1984 and music still required musicians: Phil Collins played the drums, Andy and John Taylor (no relation) from Duran Duran played guitar and bass (respectively) and Midge Ure–who had co-written the tune– played the keyboard parts.
The song, aided by the star-studded video, rocketed to the top of the charts. Sold three million in the UK, and another two abroad. Raised $24 million. Only thing left to do was, well, feed the world.
Gotta make a deal with the devil, that’s what Bob Geldof said when anyone questioned him. He knew. That the villains ruling Ethiopia were capturing the aid flowing in and using it to harm the very people it was intended to help was known. Everyone who wasn’t a Derg or a Soviet said the same thing, and they said it in public and loudly. Huey fucking Lewis knew what was happening. He begged off from Live Aid. Where’s all this money going to? Who’s it going to? Huey Lewis asked that shit, and you know the old saying: You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but if you can’t even fool Huey Lewis, then you need a new grift.
Mengistu used some of the money from the Band-Aid single in his resettlement campaigns. They’re hungry up north? Well, ship ’em all down south. That’s where the food is. Simple idea, really.
That Sam Kinison had a neanderthalish take on the situation is a shock to all.
There were none of the U-hauls that Sam suggested in Ethiopia. The goon squad came to your house and pulled you outside and threw you on a truck. If the truck was full, they’d just shoot you. Cattle cars and cargo planes packed tight enough to crush passengers to death. Lot of children got stolen; sold later, probably. Obviously, there were organized rape gangs. In this sort of situation, it’s almost impossible to avoid having organized rape gangs. One out of six died.
Gotta make a deal with the devil. Let’s put on the show right here.
To be continued….