African musicians look to launch new 'Band Aid' to fight East Africa famine

Sara Mitaru, a Kenyan singer-songwriter, is rallying artists across the continent to raise money for the East Africa famine – and to put pressure on African governments to chip in as well.

By , Correspondent

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    Somali children from southern Somalia, receive cooked food in Mogadishu, Somalia, Monday, Aug 15.
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Some of Africa's best-known musicians are working together to fight famine and pressure their governments, accused of standing by while millions on the continent face starvation, to pitch in.

Africans Act 4 Africa, launched today, aims to put pressure on African governments to fund relief for a crisis on their own turf. The group’s organizers hope to raise awareness through social media and media coverage, prompting leaders to step up to help the 12 million Kenyans, Somalis, and Ethiopians urgently needing food aid.

Sara Mitaru, the organizer and a well-known Kenyan singer-songwriter, called, texted, Tweeted, and Facebooked her network of fellow musicians in countries as far apart as South Africa and Nigeria, calling for their participation.

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Kenyan acts Nameless, Juliani, and Sauti Sol are being joined by P-Square and Asa from Nigeria and Tanzanian poet Maya Wegeris on the line-up. Youssou N’Dour from Senegal has indicated to organizers that he is interested in being involved.

“The response has been overwhelming, like nothing I have seen in Africa for the last ten years,” she said. “Everyone’s response has been the same, they want to be involved. We all agree that it is completely and utterly wrong for people here to be dying, when we have the power to change that.”

The United Nations says more than $1.3 billion is still needed for its $2.4 billion appeal for the Horn of Africa.

Africa’s own governments barely feature on the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs' table of donors, led by the United States with more than $545 million in committed funds.

South Africa, Africa’s richest nation, has given $150,000 and promised another $850,000. Sudan has sent $2.5 million, Namibia $500,000, and Botswana a little less. Kenya and Ethiopia, affected by the drought, are using their own money internally. But from the remaining 48 countries in Africa, there has been nothing.

“That is simply unacceptable,” said Ms. Mitaru.

A fundraising conference hosted by the African Union is planned for Aug. 25. Aid agencies hope African political leaders will give generously and agree to a timetable of long-term investments to prevent future droughts from turning as disastrous as the current one.

Irungu Houghton, Pan-Africa Director for Oxfam, one of a dozen organizations involved with Africans Act 4 Africa, said that the response so far had been “wholly inadequate.”

“That’s why this campaign is so important,” he said. “It’s a powerful way of showing our leaders that there are issues which are not domestic, but which still require their action. ...This is a pan-African crisis and the government of Nigeria [which has yet to contribute to famine relief], for example, should help even though the people affected are not the ones voting for you as a Nigerian politician.”

The campaign – which has a Facebook group page, a YouTube video, and is on Twitter at @africansact – follows Kenyans4Kenya, which has raised via a text message hotline more than $2 million from individual donations, averaging $3 each, since it launched less than three weeks ago. Kenyan firms have pledged another $4 million to the pot.

Africans Act 4 Africa aims to spread this clear grassroots desire to help across the continent. Participants are discussing the possibility of scripting and scoring a single to be released to raise funds for the drought, much in the way that Band Aid 27 years ago gathered Western musicians to fight Ethiopia’s famine of 1984-85.

“We have seen those benefit concerts before, and we’re all saying to ourselves, we fill concerts, we have our fans, why do we not do this ourselves, for the people on our continent who are dying?” Ms. Mitaru said.

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