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Africa asks itself: Where is the aid money?

African nations pledged five months ago to do more to help each other when famine and disaster strike. But so far, they haven't come up with the promised cash.

By Correspondent / February 1, 2012



Nairobi, Kenya

Five months ago, in a grand auditorium and beneath a cinema-sized screen scrolling images of starving children, Africa’s leaders gathered to promise an end to a growing food crisis.

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Aid appeals were being revised upwards weekly, highlighting just how severe the situation had gotten: By the time of that meeting, the first ever famine fund-raising conference by Africa for Africa, the amount needed to keep 12 million people from dying for a lack of food was nearing $1.5 billion.

What aid agencies call “traditional donors” – among them the US, Europe, Japan, Australia, The World Bank – were, belatedly, pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the United Nations’ appeal account. By the close of the meeting, at the African Union (AU) headquarters in Ethiopia in August, more than $350 million had been pledged from the governments of a third of the continent’s countries and the African Development Bank. Until then Africa’s own contribution to keep its starving citizens alive had been paltry.

Jerry Rawlings, Ghana’s former president and the AU’s envoy to famine-hit Somalia, had talked of giving a “convincing response to the rest of the world that we're not incapable of supporting our own when the need arises.”

Yet according to figures obtained by the Monitor this week and confirmed by the United Nations, less than 15 percent of the promised money has turned up, from only seven countries.

The delays have caused outrage and frustration among activists who hoped that, finally, Africa’s leaders would take more responsibility for the continent's welfare instead of waiting for others to come in to clean up messes on their doorsteps.

Where's the aid money?

Anne Mitaru, coordinator of the grassroots continental campaign Africans Act 4 Africa, says it was a “great lapse on the part of our leaders.”

“I don’t want to say they don’t care, I want to give them the benefit of the doubt,” she says.

“But we have to say that the seriousness of how they are responding does reflect on their grasp of the gravity of the situation, and it’s not giving a good indication that they have an urgent commitment to respond.”

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