Horn of Africa: What is Africa doing to remedy the disaster?

July 28, 2011 8:39 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 28 – After the UN raised the alarm bells on the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa, it didn’t take long for aid organizations to rush to the affected regions. The press writes extensively about what these organizations do, but what is the role of Africa in this? Do neighbouring countries show solidarity? And what is the overarching role of the African Union in all this?

AU: Limited resources
In a press release published two weeks ago, the African Union described being ‘deeply concerned by the drought situation in Somalia and the Horn of Africa aid its humanitarian consequences’. The AU said it would review the situation and identify additional steps. Thus far, the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has been providing medical assistance to those affected in Mogadishu.

But is the African Union able to provide a real meaningful contribution in order to help the victims of the drought? Han van Dijk, anthropologist and researcher at the African Studies Centre in The Netherlands doesn’t think so: “As far as I know, the African Union hasn’t really geared up to provide aid. They keep silent, while the United Nations takes the lead.”

The African Union doesn’t manage to yield aid, because they don’t have enough resources” says van Dijk. But the lack of money is not the only that’s getting in the way: “Their political power is very weak, which means the AU is unable to hold sway over the whole continent. There are more than 50 different countries in Africa, so it’s hard to find a consensus between those different nations.”

RNW has repeatedly tried to contact the AU and AMISOM, but they were unavailable to comment.

Taking care of their own

“Even though countries like Ethiopia and Kenya are willing to help the Somali people, The AU has limited resources to provide help and nourish millions of people.” Says van Dijk. “Furthermore, they are already tied up with their own people and problems.”

Within a few days, Kenya will open a fourth refugee camp. “Kenya has been very hospitable to Somali refugees and their own people,” says Stéphanie Savariaud, spokesperson for the UN’s World Food Programme who is currently working in Northern Kenya. “We are working together with the government to distribute foods in general and in schools.”

Al-Shebab’s obstacle
As far as we know, Al-Shebab, which controls large areas in Somalia has lifted the ban on foreign aid organizations. Last week the rebel group denied this statement and claimed some aid agencies like the United Nation’s Food Programme are still not welcome.

“The occupied regions of Somalia are the very epicenter of the crisis,” says Savariaud. She says they are doing their best to work around the obstacle Al-Shebab has caused: “Al-Shebab is not a uniform organization. It’s fragmented. Their statements change every day. Our goal is not to get involved in their game, but to reach the areas as soon as we can. For now, we provide aid wherever possible.”

‘Black life at its cheapest’
“Africa will not lift a finger to help its own.” Writes political activist Justice Malala in an opinion piece for the South African Times. “That is because black life is at its cheapest in the regard of African political leaders. Black lives are nowhere as invisible as they are to African leaders. African leaders do not see black people – especially not when they die.”

The AU strongly recommended its partner members provide support. But so far, there is no notice of aid being sent to the region by the large economies in Africa such as Nigeria and Angola. The South African government is planning to donate an amount around R1 million (over $150.000).

If we take a look at the top donors to the crisis, there appears to be a situation indeed in which African countries leave the rest of the world to take care of humanitarian aid. The United States, the European Commission and Japan sit at the top of the list. The Netherlands are ranked No. 11, donating approximately $13,6 million (€9,5 million). Another $7 million (€5 million) was donated this month by Dutch government.

“It’s an old story, but it also applies to this crisis.” concludes van Dijk. “It’s once again clear the Horn of Africa cannot depend on its neighbours, but must rely on the aid of the UN and other aid organizations.”

This article was first published by Radio Netherlands Worldwide


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