$380 million for Somali famine relief masks poor response from poor continent

By Simon Allison 26 August 2011

The African response to Somalia’s famine hasn’t exactly been in the spirit of ubuntu. Responding to overwhelming need, Africa’s leaders procrastinated, prevaricated and made excuses, their short arms kept firmly in those deep pockets. Thursday’s AU pledging conference was no different, and it took the African Development Bank to rescue Africa’s reputation. By SIMON ALLISON.

The African Union pledging conference, designed to give African countries a chance to raise a bit of money for Somalia, had already been delayed for nearly three weeks for logistical reasons, to give all concerned a little time to get their acts together and find some money, somewhere. And it worked; Thursday’s conference could point to an impressive headline figure of $380 million raised. “This is what we pledged today, it is new money and exclusively African,” said AU chairman Jean Ping.

But the number is slightly disingenous when you realise that the bulk of it – a whopping $300 million – comes via the African Development Bank and is intended for long-term development rather than short term famine relief, and some was from previous donations, leaving only $46 million raised on the day. Of this, $21 million came from Algeria, Angola and Egypt. Africa’s 51 other countries, therefore, only managed to pledge $25 million between them.

But can African countries really be blamed for a poor response? Some should do better, for sure, especially the stronger economies. The South African government pledged $1.3 million – the same as South Sudan. Nigeria committed just $2 million, and they’ve got no excuse as they’re just about to stuff $1 billion into a sovereign wealth fund. But most African countries really are poor, and themselves are recipients of significant foreign aid money. It seems slightly obscene for countries like Tanzania, which receives nearly 10% of its budget from aid money, to turn around and send that money somewhere else. The double administration costs involved in this alone make it economically unsound. And there’s the pragmatic argument: if it looks like Tanzania can afford to give money to Somalia, then donors might think it doesn’t need any more aid money itself.

African solutions to African problems? If I were Somalia, I’d take an international solution and the cash that comes with it. DM




Read More:

  • African Union pledges nearly $380 million to help famine-hit families in the Horn of Africa in the Washington Post;
  • African Union summit struggles to raise funds to combat Horn of Africa crisis in the Guardian.

Photo: REUTERS

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