Africa answers her critics
For decades Africa has been the problem continent, and the Horn it’s struggling epicentre. Ravaged by leaders unanimously opting for autocratic rule, looted and fractured by base sectarian warfare and economically stifled by unyielding climate change and abusive agriculture mechanisation; Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea have monopolised global tragedy for as long as the world has been watching.
The question of aid and of helping hands has therefore always clung to the coattails of African reportage; What can be done to help? How can it reach the starving and the helpless? Is systemic corruption reason enough to abandon the affected? And, most importantly of all, who can donate, how much and when?
They are question always offered sporadically and rarely answered conclusively. Like the slow, dull progression of famine, from commencement to devastating fruition, aid has tended to trickle through gradually, leaving huge areas without help for frightening periods of time. It plagued Ethiopia in 1994, devastated the Rwandan genocide and crippled Darfur.
However this week, in the oak-panelled African Union Headquarters just west of Addis’ sprawling centre, the 21st century leaders of a 21st century Africa vowed to begin a new program of ‘sensitisation’ across it’s continent. A program designed to provide an African answer to the murderous drought in the Horn, with or without the global community.
Speaking on Monday to representatives of the 54 AU member states, associated diplomats and members of the press, Jean Ping, the Union’s chairman, outlined his brain-child, “One Africa – One Voice Against Hunger.”
“We have to drum up support, as well as to draw attention to the plight of our brothers and sisters in the Horn of Africa,” pleaded Ping. And their plight is growing more severe by the day: the famine, which has now affected the lives of 12. 5 million people, has so far caused severe malnourishment in over 500,000 children, forced 800,000 into refugee camps and internally displaced 1.4 million Somalis, Kenyans and Ethiopians.
“Out of some$2.4 billion needed for the Horn of Africa, more than $1billion has so far been committed, but a further $1.4 billion is still needed,” Ping continued.
“I therefore wish to make this clarion call to all Africans – to speak out in concert, with one voice, by providing both cash and in-kind support for urgent life-saving assistance to our brothers and sisters.”
The Union’s chairman, former President of the UN’s General Assembly, was not alone in his pledge. Jerry Rawlings, past President of Ghana and the African Union’s High Representative for Somalia, also spoke:
“This [conference] is a key step towards rediscovering the unique bond that used to bind the people of this continent together – the act of sharing […] The current famine, terrible as it is, is an opportunity for the continent to come together as one voice supporting the horn.”
But, in light of recent news, he was keen to also recognize the continued shortcomings of the AU’s membership. “The rest of the world may be supporting the horn of Africa, but they would have done a lot more had we not failed as a continent to come to the aid of the people of Darfur when it mattered the most,” he said.
“Africa cannot afford to fail this time. We need to vindicate ourselves. We carry a few too many indictments […] Let us all therefore join hands in spreading the message across the continent, let us dip our hands in to our pockets and more importantly, when we attend the pledging conference let us not make empty pledges.”
His disappointment with the ‘blind-eye’ approach preferred by most African countries until now is well timed. The AU’s snap conference, and Rawlings measured condemnation of Africa’s financial-negligence, came, perhaps deliberately, after a week of mounting pressure from western NGO’s frustrated by the lack of aid.
Michael O’Brien-Onyeka, Oxfam’s regional campaigns policy manager for East and Central Africa, summed up the general mood. For his agency, it was “disappointing” that African states claimed a need “African solutions for African problems” with regard to Libya, but have hitherto failed to respond to droughts and famines.
“It’s a general malaise on the continent, the culture that humanitarian responses should be left to Western countries,” he said. “You don’t have to be a first-world country to respond to your brothers’ needs. This could have been a good opportunity for African countries to practice what they preach.”
Irungu Houghton, Oxfam’s Africa policy advisor, added that donations from African governments had been inadequate, with only South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, and Sudan making contributions thus far.
However, in the last week more and more African countries have promised to contribute to the horn, representing a potential change of the tides. The poverty-stricken and political-suppressed people of Algeria, for example, have pledged USD10 million. Whilst Kenyans, many of which are themselves feeling the pressure of desertification, have donated USD200,000 by SMS. Meanwhile, Uganda and Burundi said they would deploy more peacekeepers and soldiers to the highly contentious Somali region, in an attempt to protect against recent reports of aid being stolen by militant Al-Shabab members.
But African-supplied aid still lags way behind the rest of the world. According to a list of donations published by the UN, America has been the single largest contributor thus far and, after announcing an additional USD17 million on Wednesday, their total nation-wide assistance sits around USD580 million, far ahead the rest of the field.
Whereas the donations of most other western countries pale in comparison, the UK is keeping up. Jean Ping reported that David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, promised an additional GBP45 million this week, on top of the GBP155 million it has already spent on relief efforts.
In the majority of cases though, aid has been a long time coming from the west, as well as Africa. Largely because the kind of outpouring of private donations seen in some recent disasters, like those in the wake of the Haitian earthquake and even the Japanese tsunami earlier this year, have been almost entirely absent in the horn.
“This is a humanitarian crisis that the scale is unprecedented in terms of the number of families affected,” Una Osili, director of research at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, explained. “But if you look at the trajectory, it’s unfolded over time, gradually.”
Meaning the global response has been rather more sluggish than one might expect, more on a par with that following the floods in Pakistan in Summer 2010, than other disasters perceived as more urgently dangerous.
And to make matter worse, Osli said: “We do see from the data that the disasters that garner a lot of response that comes quite early in the first six weeks or so and then tapers off,” she said. “So if you don’t have a big response right at first, the challenge is how to build momentum.”
Momentum though, is something the Horn, and certainly Ethiopia, is capable of building. Over the past month the Ethiopian government have confirmed two USD500 million loans, from Indian and Chinese banks respectively, to invest infrastructure, which could indirectly help generate an economic society more impervious to famine.
And after the impassioned pleas of Jean Ping, Jerry Rawlings and others at the African Union this week, there may yet be hope for east Africa’s starving millions.Tagged in: Africa, African Union, aid, charity, drought, East Africa, Eritrea, Ethiopia, famine, Kenya, Somalia
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