By Groum Abate
in Capital,Tuesday, 06 September 2011, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
And a little child shall lead them
African nations united for the first time to show support for their own family in need. The African Union (AU) held their first ever pledging conference at the United Nations Conference Center (UNCC) to raise 351.7 million dollars in cash and 28.88 million dollars worth of assistance hoping to eventually come up with one billion of the 2.4 billion dollars needed to address the current humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa.
They hoped to raise 50 million dollars at the conference. And even though it was attended by high ranking officials, including four African heads of state; perhaps no one lived out the theme: “One Africa One Voice against Hunger” more than Andrew Andasi, an eleven year old Ghanaian who launched a campaign for donations in his country, after seeing images of the famine and drought on television. He said he had raised 4,000 dollars to the applause of the crowd attending the event. That is double what the African nation of Lesotho pledged. Andrew called on African leaders to help those in need, especially women and children. His aim is to raise 23 million dollars.
Other nations gave more. Rich countries like Algeria and South Africa helped the most; 10 million dollars each, while Egypt contributed six million and Angola five. But it was the little boy who stole the show and put those who did not attend to shame.
Nicanor Sabula, spokesman for Africans Act 4 Africa, a coalition of civil organizations, was quoted as saying that the failure of leaders to appear at the conference as the Horn of Africa faced its greatest crisis in two decades was “disappointing and embarrassing.”
“We were expecting that the heads of states from Africa would come up and show solidarity with the people of the Horn of Africa,” Sabula said. “It starts to reinforce the perception of the AU as a club of presidents... It doesn’t send a very good message to the people of Africa. I know people will be very disappointed.”
With 12 million people in crisis, and famine declared in many parts of southern Somalia, the United Nations has appealed for 2.4 billion dollars. Despite pledges of more than 500 million dollars from the United States, 228 million dollars from the European Union and 630 million dollars from individual European countries, the target has not been met.
Countries of the Horn of Africa have been gripped with severe drought and famine, the worst in 60 years, said Jean Ping, AU Commission Chairperson in his remarks.
He stated that the situation in Somalia has been further compounded by conflict and insecurity, lack of access to affected areas, high food prices, human and livestock diseases.
According to the Chairperson, Ethiopia and Kenya have been making huge contributions by opening their doors to affected Somali people by receiving them in large number as they themselves have been affected by the drought.
Jerry Rawlings, Former President of Ghana and AU High Representative for Somalia, said African governments need to contribute at least 50 million dollars urgently to the AU Humanitarian Disaster Fund.
Rawlings said, “If we do not act urgently, they face slow, certain death by starvation.”
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi indicated that the situation in Somalia is aggravated by lack of peace and stability in many parts of the country.
Meles said the absence of governmental institutions have impeded an effective response to the drought.
“While many people across the region will need food aid, the most immediate challenge we face is in Somalia. The drought covers large areas beyond Somalia but famine is not staking the region as a whole but a large part of Somalia, particularly those areas under control of Al-Shabab terrorists. This is not only because there is inadequate food aid available to Somalia but also and primarily because there is no effective and efficient system for distributing the aid,” said Meles.
Meles also announced that Ethiopia has decided to import 300,000 tons of wheat to replenish the strategic reserve of the country and to ensure that there is adequate food in the pipeline.
Representatives from China, Japan, Germany, India, Brazil, Canada, Australia, Venezuela, Azerbaijan, United Arab Emirates, and Mexico were among the attendees of the Conference and they demonstrated their solidarity with the African people in general and the people in the horn in particular.
It’s a solidarity that, despite the challenges was expressed in the hopeful words of a little boy.
“I am feeling happy because I touched the hearts of the young and old, rich and poor,” Andrew said in his address on Thursday, thanking companies and friends in Ghana who donated to his cause.
“For me, it is the beginning of a new era of hope and future for African children, to be part of building the Africa we dream of; under the good foundation of our forefathers and you. I am proud to say that, my team is fully dedicated to this dream through the ‘Save Somali Children from Hunger Project’, and others in order to save the African children and women,” he said.