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25 years after Live Aid: recent African History

This summer will be the twenty fifth anniversary of Live Aid. In many western minds awareness of the problems and challenges of Africa started with Live Aid and it seems appropriate to put other memorable events in Africa into a time line referred to Live Aid.

We start with the run up to Live Aid and will add events to this timeline over the weeks to come as we work through our archives.

1950 onwards (35 years before Live Aid)

In 1950 only four African countries (Liberia, South Africa, Egypt and Ethiopia) were independent of Western colonial powers, all the rest were colonies. Libya became independent in 1951. Many countries followed suit through the next two decades, and in 1960 France granted independence to most of French West Africa. Much depended on the first president at independence in each country. In some countries the presidents who took power through well ordered transfer of power ruled peacefully and successfully for decades. Examples are Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Cote D'Ivoire (President from 1960-1993) or Julius Nyerere in Tanzania (President from 1961-1986).

Some colonial nationals did not willingly grant independence resulting in bloody wars of independence which lasted for a decade or more. In some cases, like Mozambique and Angola, eventual independence after war (both in 1975) led to bloody civil war which carried on to 1992 for Mozambique and 2002 for Angola. The civil wars were partly a result of militarisation from the wars for independence (so that the incoming president had a military base) and partly driven by wealth (especially in the case of Angola which has rich diamond and oil resources). The people, and especially children, paid a heavy price for the greed of others.

Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) declared its independence from the UK unilaterally in 1965 but it was not until 1979 that a white minority government gave way to democratic constitution ending the 16 year bush war.

Burundi which gained independence in 1962 from Belgium, and as elsewhere tribal and ethnic divisions immediately surfaced when the colonial powers receded. In 1963 Hutus killed around 12,000 Tutsi tribe members in Burundi and several hundred thousand more fled across the border into Rwanda. Between 1966 and 1976 inter-tribal violence continued involving government forces on both sides and several hundred thousand people were killed by violence in that period.

1971 (14 years before Live Aid)


the first prime minister of Uganda, Milton Obote, falls in a military coup led by Idi Amin.

Cote d'Ivoire: Invited by a retiring Priest, SOS Children take over a Roman Catholic orphanage in Abobo Gare, Abidjan (the main bus station) in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire and transform it from an orphanage to providing family-based care in an SOS Children's Village, the first in the continent of Africa.

1973 (12 years before Live Aid)

Rwanda: the first president of Rwanda since independence (Gregoire Kayibanda from 1962 to 1973) was ousted in a coup d'etat by Juvenal Habyarimana who introduced one party rule and remained in power for two decades until the Rwandan genocide. At first rising commodity prices brought some prosperity but there was rapid decline into poverty.

1974 (11 years before Live Aid)

Ethiopia: Around 200,000 people die in Northern Ethiopia as a result of famine. Emperor Haile Selassie is toppled by a communist military Junta (the Derg).

Ethiopia: SOS Children start constructing a Children's Village in Makalle, the capital of Tigray in Northern Ethiopia which was where most children had been left orphaned by the famine. As well as family based care for orphans, the Village has a small model farm to promote self-sufficiency and teach farming methods, a medical centre, a primary and secondary school and a large "Family Strengthening Program" to keep local vulnerable families together.

1976 (9 years before Live Aid)

Burundi: A bloodless coup d'etat installed Colonel Bagaza as president which led to a period of relative calm albeit with little political or religious freedom. Eight years later Bagaza's position as president was legitimised by election before he was ousted in a coup.

1977 (8 years before Live Aid)

Rwanda: The situation of widespread poverty in Rwanda had destroyed any community capacity for orphans. Seeing children in such need drove SOS Children to enter Rwanda and set up family based care for orphans in an SOS Children's Village as well as a medical centre and a primary and secondary school.

Somalia: Somalia invades Ethiopia and attempts to seize the Ogaden region, but fails.

1978 (7 years before Live Aid)

Ethiopia. Thousands of government opponents die in a "Red Terror" campaign by the Derg; collectivisation of farming begins; Tigrayan People's Liberation Front launches war for regional autonomy.

Burundi: Relative peace provided an opportunity for SOS Children to provide conflict orphans with family based care for orphans in an SOS Children's Village as well as a medical centre and a primary and secondary school.

Uganda/Tanzania: A war between Tanzania and Uganda leads in 1979 to the overthrow of Idi Amin in Uganda

1980 Rhodesia Zimbabwe ending the 16 year Rhodesian bush war

1984 (1 year Before Live Aid)

Ethiopia. Four heavily populated Ethiopian provinces—Tigray, Gojjam, Hararghe, Tigray, and Wollo—experienced record low rainfalls in that year. The government of Ethiopia was struggling with regional uprising which was the focus of its attention. Nearly one half of the Ethiopian Gross National Product was being spent on defence. The resulting famine affected Eritrea and Ethiopia and caused at least hundreds of thousands of deaths, as well as leaving some millions of people destitute from loss of lifestock. The famine was widely televised and caused shock throughout the West.

Ethiopia. SOS Children launches an emergency relief program to help those around its well established Village in the middle of the famine area.

1985 (Live Aid year)

A Christmas song "Do they know its Christmas" was launched by a group of artists called "Band Aid" drawing attention to the plight of those starving in Ethiopia. The song sold 3.5 million copies, a record and generated a huge feeling of soldarity amongst the public with those suffering.

Following from this success, Live Aid, a rock concert split between London and Philadelphia was organised to help victims of the Ethiopian famine. Estimates of up to 400 million people watched or listened to the concert. The feeling of soldarity engendered, and enormous financial success (with nearly £150m gross funds raised), led to a popular optimism about the West's ability to solve Africa's long standing problems. Bob Geldorf became a respected opinion leader on the problems of Africa and how to solve them.

After Live Aid there was a degree of anti-climax and controversy. Anti-climax because the famine was not "a famine to end all famines" and the response was short term. Controversy because inevitably questions have been asked by the BBC and others about whether the funds raised were spent sensibly and especially whether the funds prolonged the conflict which was a cause of the famine.

Nonetheless, Live Aid showed people cared. Live Aid started a level of popular interest in international aid and development amongst parts of the population (especially the young) who had never previously been interested and it set perceptions and expectation of aid amongst a generation who are now, twenty five years later, core financial supporters of many NGOs.

Desmond Tutu is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Milton Obote, the Uganda president who had been toppled by Idi Amin in 1971, but had regained the presidency in 1980 was toppled in from power again in a bloodless Uganda coup and escaped across the border to Zambia                  

SOS Children opens a Children's Village in Mogadishu, Somalia, offering family based care to the increasing numbers of orphans there. 


1987 (2 years after Live Aid)

Mozambique: SOS Children starts building a village in Tete Mozambique to cope with children left orphaned by the civil war. During construction an emergency relief program is run to deal with the effects of famine.


1988 (3 years after Live Aid)

Somalia: SOS Children opens a hospital in Somalia treating 30,000 patients a year.

1989 (4 years after Live Aid)

DRC: SOS Children set up a Children's Village in Bukavo, DRC (formerly Zaire) where the worst of the conflict had left many children without parents.

1990 (5 years after Live Aid)

Somalia: SOS Children launches a major emergency relief operation in Somalia following the outbreak of civil war.

Rwanda:  An armed group of Tutsi refugees invades Northern Rwanda from Uganda starting the Rwanda Civil War.

1991 Western Sahara eventually gains independence ending 18 years of armed conflict

1993 (8 years after Live Aid)

Rwanda: A cease fire in the Rwandan Civil war gave temporary relief to long suffering Rwandans.

1994 (9 years after Live Aid)

Angola: Sets up a community in Lubango Angola to provide family based care to children orphaned by decades of conflict.

Rwanda: The Rwandan genocide; in six months following the murder of President Habyarimana some 800,000 people are massacred. SOS Children immediately set up an Emergency Village for children orphaned by the genocide.

1996-97 (11 years after Live Aid)

DRC: First Congo war started when rebels from Uganda and Rwanda invaded DRC (Zaire). It ended with the overthrow of President Seko and the installation of rebel leader Kabila as president.