Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
“I don’t like Mondays”, and most people don’t like hypocrites. Last week, the raggedy Irish man affirmed his place on the podium of sanctimonious champions. In a fit of pique, Sir Bob Geldof returned his Dublin Freedom medal. This announcement was another remarkable performance of virtue signalling.
Geldof asserts he no longer wants to be a recipient of the award, as it was an honour he shared with Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi. The Nobel Peace Laureate has come under criticism after a brutal military crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim's resulted in over 600,000 refugees. Suu Kyi has held her silence on this matter. By doing so, she has earned her a reputation as "one of the great ethnic cleansers", according to Geldof. He even went so far as to call her “a handmaiden to genocide.”
Now, granted, Suu Kyi hasn’t covered herself with glory nor has she moved with any urgency to address the terrible Rohingya crisis. But gestures by Sir Bob are nothing more than demands for attention. The world was already well-aware of the unfolding events in Myanmar, through international news coverage. It’s evident that Sir Bob saw an opportunity to get some exposure, so in he jumps in … “look at me, I’m angry and giving back a petty trophy.”
The same Sir Bob who pops up on TV and radio telling us how we should give money to that and this cause. Since his Live-Aid event in the 1980s, Sir Bob has spent his time polishing a reputation as the patron saint of the hungry and starving. And yet, he’s not so keen to discuss his financial affairs. He gets especially touchy about his dodgy tax arrangements and does not take kindly to questioning. In 2014, a Sky TV reporter suggested that charity wouldn’t be necessary if folks like Sir Bob paid their taxes. With his usual eloquence, Sir Bob responded “Bollocks.”
Sir Bob needs reminding that his celebrity world and charities, depend on a workforce trained by a state education system, and kept healthy by state healthcare. They depend on state-funded infrastructure such as roads and transport, a bailed-out financial community and the apparatus of law and order that protects him and his property. By not paying his fair share of taxes, the workforce is required to pay more for Sir Bob’s charmed existence. No matter how you cut it, tax avoidance is theft, regardless of what any self-appointed social warrior has to say.
A 2006 report suggested that Geldof could avoid as much a £1.4 million in taxes on his properties because of his non-Dom status. There is nothing illegal in this. However, it sits somewhat incongruous against his public platform of encouraging aid.
It’s doubly ironic that Geldof makes this move while proudly retaining his Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. If Suu Kyi’s actions or lack of them are a concern, then what about the shameful record of British imperialism across the globe. Geldof delighted in receiving an honorific from the Brits with the words ‘British Empire’ prominent. Setting aside the farce of a medal named after an empire that ceased to exist decades ago, Sir Bob has conveniently sidestepped a lot of the history.
That includes the industrial-scale exploitation of natural resources, the slave trade, the massacres, the concentration camps, the destruction of nations and national treasures. Sir Bob is apparently comfortable to be associated with that stuff.
After his Dublin stunt, people can legitimately ask why he cherry picks these positions. Some hint that his prime concern is publicity; both for the events in Myanmar and himself. Although, that doesn’t hold up given the press coverage already on the issue. Geldof can rightly claim that he brought the famine in Ethiopia to our attention. Myanmar needed no such initiative.
And while we are on the subject of Ethiopia, Sir Bob has never given a full explanation regarding the money collected during Live-Aid. There are many experts familiar with the events of 1984 in Ethiopia, who assert the money was diverted to purchase weapons. Either Geldof was naive or negligent in his dealings with the Ethiopian government.
Well recognised international groups such a Medicins Sans Frontieres pleaded with Geldof to hold off handing over any money until the proper infrastructure was in place. This approach would ensure the money reached the people who needed aid. This advice and the pleading got ignored. The cash flowed into the country, and then some went out again to buy weapons. Unpalatable as it is, Live Aid in its initial rush to help, probably made things worse.
Some commentators note that in 1984 Geldof was penniless. By the early 1990s, he appeared on the Times rich list. Idle speculation that Geldof profited personally from Live-Aid seems untrue. He did, however, have some successful commercial ventures including developing a successful TV show. I don’t subscribe to the idea that Geldof skimmed cash off Live-Aid for his pocket. That doesn’t change the fact that the money raised caused adverse consequences. Aid expert David Rieff argued that guilt-stricken donations helped fund a brutal resettlement programme that may have killed up to 100,000.
In his first iteration, its evident that Geldof was motivated by a genuine desire to help. He stepped forward, got things moving, although he didn’t understand the quagmire of Ethiopia would derail his laudable intentions. Fact: getting a nation out of starvation and functioning is no simple task. Indeed, one single concert isn't going to help especially when the money disappears in the wrong direction.
Sir Bob hit on a winning formula, that he’s since milked with relentless zeal. He created a new prototype for celebrities to gain attention through charitable activities as a whole industry of sub-Aids flourished under Sir Bob’s supervision.
A word of guidance. Geldof would be more credible if he dropped his ‘non-domicile for tax purposes’ and started chipping in to keep the country running. Then the UK might have more cash to hand out to properly targeted aid efforts. After all, Sir Bob’s ventures have had questionable benefits at best, and negative outcomes at worst. It’s enough to make that silicon chip inside your head overload.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.