What the African press is saying about the famine and food crisis in the Horn

Posted: August 12, 2011 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Junub Sudan

Africa’s leaders have been criticised for their slow response to drought warnings, but private donations win praise

MDG : AU envoy to Somalia Jerry Rawlings

Jerry Rawlings, African Union envoy to Somalia, speaks to displaced people during a July visit to camps in southern Mogadishu. Photograph: Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP

Months before the UN officially declared famine in Somalia, on 20 July, much of the eastern African press was already reporting looming drought and growing food insecurity. Now, the failure of government to respond to warning signs has become a dominant theme.

"The apathy by the government is despicable as it has been clear that there was going to be a shortage of food," writes David Kigochi in the Nairobi Star, a Kenyan daily. "Kenyans are starving not because the land is infertile, but because there is total mix up of priorities."

Kenya‘s northern counties are home to nearly half a million Somali refugees and 3.2 million Kenyans affected by the drought that has hit much of eastern Africa.

With the 2012 Kenyan elections fast approaching, the government has been severely criticised for initially downplaying the impact of the drought and for disregarding warnings from the state metereological office. According to the Nairobi Star, some have also accused politicians of interfering with the relief effort to get votes ahead of next year’s polls.

In contrast, coverage of corporate- and citizen-led efforts to raise funds for the relief effort, especially the "Kenyans for Kenya" initiative, launched by Safaricom, Kenya Commercial Bank, and the Kenyan Media Owners’ Association, has been more positive.

The campaign – which collects donations through mobile money transfers – has so far raised over 500m Kenyan shillings ($5.3m), more than the combined relief contribution of France, Ireland, Belgium and Russia ($4.7m).

A weekend editorial in Kenya’s Daily Nation said a key lesson to be learned is the "obvious trust with which Kenyans regard the corporate world".

"It is highly doubtful that if the government had made a similar appeal, the response would have been so overwhelming," said the Nairobi-based daily. "The government’s handling of funds has often been suspect even when it means that people could die from starvation or related causes."

According to UN estimates, some 12.4 million people now need urgent humanitarian assistance in the region.

Somalia, the country hardest hit by the drought, is also "the deadliest country in Africa for journalists," according to the press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders. Farah Hassan Sahal, 45, a presenter for Radio Simba, a Somali station, was shot dead last Friday outside his office.

"The narrative about Somalia is being written mainly by non-Somalis," laments Rasna Warah in the Daily Nation. "Somalis simply are not telling their side of the story, or just don’t have access to forums where their voices can be heard."

In Ethiopia, where the UN estimates that 4.8 million people need urgent humanitarian assistance, stories are more focused on the construction of the controversial Gibe III dam.

"I have been desperately running from newspaper to newspaper but I have barely seen a feature or a commentary about Ethiopia’s famine on any of the major Ethiopia’s [sic] newspapers," says Endalk, an Ethiopian blogger.

When Ethiopia’s traditional media outlets do touch on the crisis, the focus is largely on international aid flows and the impact of Somali refugees in Ethiopia.

"Receiving such [a] huge amount of refugees is costing the host nation (Ethiopia) environmentally and socially," writes Andualem Sissay, managing editor of the online New Business Ethiopia. The "invasion" of Somali refugees is contributing to rising insecurity and deforestation around the Dollo Ado refugee camp, says Sissay.

Strained relationships between neighbours in eastern Africa is a common theme.

In Uganda, the Kampala-based New Vision reports that Kenyan traders have "invaded" eastern Uganda, moving door-to-door in search of maize to buy.

Last month, the Tanzanian daily The Citizen said the East African Community was pleading with members to drop trade barriers and help food flow across borders. In June, Tanzania controversially banned the export of food stocks, particularly maize, ostensibly to avert hunger at home.

Meanwhile, reports from other countries take the region’s crisis as a warning sign.

"Namibia being a drought prone country … should take a hard look at what is happening in the Horn of Africa and draw lessons from the devastation," said Namibia’s state-owned New Era. "Today it’s Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya and who knows, tomorrow it might be us."

Aid for Africa from Africa

Namibia is one of a handful of African countries to have made a$500,000 donation and increased support for the African Union (AU) in Somalia.

Earlier this month, Botswana sent $75,000 worth of water, canned beef, and other foodstuffs to Nairobi, for distribution via the World Food Programme. Sudan has sent $1.8m in aid to Somalia, while South Africahas committed $1.1m.

In Tanzania, president Jakaya Kikwete this week announced a donation of 300 metric tons of maize to Somalia.

"We wish we could have given you more because we understand the magnitude of the problem and your needs," Kikwete reportedly said. "At present that is what we can manage since the harvesting season has just started."

In Ghana, former president Jerry Rawlings is once again making headlines. Rawlings is now the AU’s special representative for Somalia, visiting capitals across the continent to galvanise support ahead of the union’s 25 August pledging conference, which aims to raise $500m in donations under the banner of "One Africa – one voice against hunger." Also, according to the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, 15 August has been declared "Somalia Day".

For Imtiaz Sooliman, chairman of South African NGO Gift of the Givers, the slow response of African leaders sends a message of apathy to the world. "If Africa doesn’t care about Africa, how do you expect other countries and other continents to care?"

"The drought situation in East Africa should not be left to other members of the international community alone," adds the Nigerian Daily Trust. "African countries should do more."

This week, South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation launched a "Somalia Relief Campaign" in partnership with the International Marketing Council, which will place print and radio adverts requesting South Africans "play their part" by donating to the Gift of the Givers.


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