Africa, Politics

SA’s stuttering response to Somali famine – Government responds

By Khadija Patel 8 August 2011

After being lambasted for its woeful response to the famine gripping parts of Somalia, South Africa has dangled a plump R4 million carrot out for relief efforts in the embattled Horn of Africa. Exactly how are those millions to be spent? And should it fall to South Africa to play “Rescue Ranger”? By KHADIJA PATEL.

With every day the news from Somalia seems to get worse. More famine zones have been declared in Somalia. People have been killed in a desperate clamour for food. More people have died from a want of food. With every image of a scrawny Somali child and its hapless mother, the call for humanitarian assistance grows louder.

Yet as the call for aid grows, the confusion over who spearheads the relief campaign continues to draw on ignominiously. Should the West, busy as it is with negotiating bail-outs and debt ceilings still be expected to play the superhero saving Africa from itself? Or perhaps it is now high time Africans, embattled and deeply divided though they are, to rush to the rescue of their brethren. It’s all good and well that Africans demand the French, British, Turks, Yanks and Chinese all get the hell out of the way, but the full comport of African solutions to African problems may not yet have been realised.

After being harshly criticised for its sluggish response to the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa, South Africa’s department of international relations and co-operation (Dirco) responded last week with a  pledge of  R4 million towards relief efforts. While Dirco’s pledge allayed some frustrations with South Africa’s apparent nonchalance, others continue to be dissatisfied with South Africa’s pledge. The UN claims a shortfall of more than $1 billion and South Africa pledges R4 million? That’s all? If the country peeps over its borders, even Namibia has pledged $500,000.

The frustration with South Africa’s response to the famine can be easily understood. As the continent’s economic powerhouse, showing off a high-speed train and mulling over another chance to throw money down the drain of another overly expensive sports tournament, South Africa is expected to assert its economic superiority on the continent. It is expected to roll up its sleeves and show some backbone. It takes some willpower to resist pointing to the US, “Your treasury is so poor, Apple’s got more money than you.” It takes an even keener sense of decorum to resist strutting around the continent announcing, “We’re so rich we spend R100 million on a kissing fest”, but this is not a juvenile contest. Somalia is not some playground. People, real people, are dying.

So what exactly is set to happen with Dirco’s promised R4 million? If you expect a grand, hand-over ceremony where an oversized cheque made out to the sum of R4 million is presented to some  Somali representative, you’ll be waiting a long time. Turns out, Dirco doesn’t quite work like that. Although various government agencies have scavenged their bank accounts and promised funds amounting to R4 million, Dirco’s Clayson Monyela has explained there will be no cash exchanging hands. “We are not giving money to Somalia,” Monyela is at pains to explain.  In addition to the pledge, Monyela has also announced further partnerships with humanitarian aid agency Gift of the Givers and the International Marketing Council’s “Play Your Part” campaign, in the hope of spurring ordinary South Africans to send some of their hard-earned cash Somalia’s way.  It is an ingenious ploy from the strategists at Dirco – piggy backing on the South African private sector aid agency with the most visible presence in the relief effort.

The ingenuity of Dirco’s strategy is further revealed in its disclosure of how exactly the plump R4 million will be spent. Dirco is leaving it up to aid agencies like Gift of the Givers and Islamic Relief as well as others they are still looking for to actually collect the money to buy the food and medical supplies, and then, and only then, will Dirco fork out the money for these aid agencies to make the trip to the afflicted region. Dirco will either pay fuel costs for flights to Somalia or procure transport for goods ready to be despatched to Mogadishu. Importantly, however, transport is only one way in which Dirco will be spending the R4 million. The balance, murky though the amount is right now, will actually be spent on food items needed in Somalia.

Monyela is quick to defend the pledge. He stresses the R4 million is an initial pledge and assures us that further funds will be made available in due course. We reckon flight operators to Somalia must be rubbing their hands together in glee.

As abysmal as South Africa’s grand Somalia famine relief plan is, it must be remembered the UN last week implored the air transport sector to provide free and discounted cargo space to bring emergency food supplies into the region. “Commercial air transport costs as much as the value of the food,” Marixie Mercado, Unicef’s spokeswoman in Geneva, told a news conference. South Africa’s plan then, seems to be an inspired one. DM

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Read more:

SA contributes R4m to relieve plight of Somalia in The Citizen.

Photo: Newly arrived Somali refugee women receive relief food at a the World Food Programme distribution centre at the Ifo refugee camp in Dadaab, near the Kenya-Somalia border, August 1, 2011. The whole of drought- and conflict-wracked southern Somalia is heading into famine as the Horn of Africa food crisis deepens, the United Nations said. In a report for countries sending aid, the U.N.’s umbrella humanitarian agency OCHA said the “crisis in southern Somalia is expected to continue to worsen through 2011, with all areas of the south slipping into famine”. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya.



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