The African Union will hold a much delayed summit on Thursday to raise money to ease the Horn of Africa’s famine after mounting criticism over the continent’s weak response to the disaster, which has already killed tens of thousands of people.
However, many aid experts, analysts and diplomats expect little from the 54-member organization that has often been perceived as toothless and has seen its funding battered by the absence of its main bankroller, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.
About 12 million people need emergency food across the “triangle of death” region, straddling Somalia, where famine was declared in parts of the country, as well as Kenya and Ethiopia.
The AU itself has pledged just $500,000 from its emergency funds to a relief effort that aid groups say is still short of an estimated $1.4 billion.
“While the governments of ‘frontline’ states like Ethiopia and Kenya have generously received and cared for refugees, at the pan-African level they cannot even get their acts together to hold the donor conference,” J. Peter Pham, an analyst with U.S. think-tank the Atlantic Council, told Reuters, referring to the delay that drew rage from African commentators.
“Perhaps it is out of embarrassment at what the tally would be when one considers that the government of South Africa, whose economy accounts for nearly one-third of the continent’s GDP, has so far pledged a pitiful total of just over $1-million (U.S.) and paid only half of that.”
Kenya and Ethiopia have had to deal with an influx of Somali refugees fleeing the worst drought in decades.
According to aid agency Oxfam only a handful of African nations have donated money so far. Egypt led with a pledge of $16.8-million, followed by Algeria’s $10-million.
Tiny Gabon has donated $2.5-million and Equatorial Guinea has found $2.8-million.
The United States, Britain, China, Brazil and Japan have led donations so far, aid groups say, while the Organization of the Islamic Conference has pledged $350-million.
The IMF said it was discussing the increase of existing loans with Kenya and Djibouti as part of the aid response.
Some ordinary Africans, frustrated by their governments’ reaction to the crisis, have stepped in and set up impromptu fundraising groups across the continent.
One of those, Africans Act 4 Africa, has urged countries to donate their “proportional” share based on their economies, saying a $50 million pledge, at least, would represent the continent’s proportional share in providing relief.
Olivia Yambi, UNICEF’s Kenya representative, said while the summit was taking place a little later than first hoped, it was still a positive sign.
“We can all say perhaps (it’s) a little bit late but the desire to contribute is there,” she said last week. “We know also the challenges that African countries themselves are struggling with.”
Analysts say African governments’ refrain of pleading poverty when asked for donations, rings hollow with several economies now oil-rich and others seeing double-digit growth over the past five years.
Mr. Pham said there was a mentality in the world’s poorest continent of “‘aid is something for wealthy Western countries to do’ rather than considering ‘what can we do for ourselves.’”
“It is changing but not quickly enough and certainly nowhere near fast enough to do many of the famine victims any good.”
With files from Yara Bayoumy