Can Africa Save Somalia Without 'Outsider' Help?
The U.S. has given much to Somalia, but short of what's needed. Citizens are filling the gaps.
It’s no secret that Somalia could use a few miracles right now. But it’s not just passively bowing down to the trifecta attack of drought, famine and disorganized violence devastating the land. Nor are regular citizens inactively waiting for government intervention to fix Somalia’s deep-seated problems. While the U.S. Congress is considering cutting emergency aid, which would harm Somalia when it needs all the help it can get, other non-governmental agencies, grassroots groups and citizens here and in Africa are stepping up to see what they can do to help the ailing nation in the Horn of Africa.
“Since [Kwame] Nkrumah’s time, Ghana has been seen as at the forefront of African humanitarian efforts,” Professor S.K. Okleme, associate professor at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, told Loop 21.
According to the United Nations, at least $2.5 billion is needed to manage the crisis. But Africans are not idling waiting for a savior. Many on the continent are working to lift Somalia out of despair.
“I don’t like the image of the beggar continent,” said Professor Wilhelmina Donkoh, the head of history and political studies at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology to Loop 21. “While there is no rain in Somalia, there is rain in other parts of Africa. If we organize and coordinate effectively and efficiently, together we should be able to feed ourselves without getting help from outsiders.”
Women and children are bearing the worst of the crisis throughout Somalia, particularly in areas like Mogadishu. Many women are raped by Kenyan and Somali men while fleeing the country. Yet amidst these horrors there have been courageous steps taken, such as boys in Kenya volunteering to stand watch during the evenings to defend their female neighbors.
While the impact of poverty on gender cannot be underestimated, Somalia's story is also one of how men and women across national lines are working together.
On August 1, Andrew Adansi-Bonnah, an 11-year old from Ghana, launched a $13 million fundraising campaign during his eight-week vacation from school. After his father donated an entire month’s salary ($500) to his son’s cause, Adansi-Bonnah broadened his donor population to local businesses in Ghana and is personally door knocking until he meets his goal.
Now keep in mind that young Adansi-Bonnah’s $13 million pledge and efforts came before Ghanaian President Atta Mills offered $500,000 at the Pledging Conference on Somalia, which was held in Ethiopia on August 25 – a conference that was poorly attended considering the urgency of Somalia’s situation.
The conference did lead to $51 million raised from African countries and $300 million contributed from the African Development Bank.
Former Ghanaian president Jerry Rawlings, who currently serves as the African Union’s special envoy to Somalia, is pushing African nations to raise at least another $250 million.
Somalia has been no slouch in the movement for its own stabilization. The grassroots network Horn Relief has been building capacity for human rights and environmental justice work in Somalia since 1991. On the healthcare front, Dr. Hawa Abdi’s Foundation, also based in Somalia, has done much to provide food, water, shelter and medical care to the thousands of displaced residents, even while natural and man-made disasters continue to rock the east African nation.
Somalis in America are also actively struggling and pitching in to help their family in their motherland. In Minnesota, where the largest group of Somalis in the U.S. reside, Rep. Keith Ellison said the federal government is guilty of a “policy of neglect” considering how it’s responded to the plight of Somalia and other African nations in need.
But instead of waiting for Congress to get its act together, Minnesota’s Somali and African Americans are putting on their own acts to raise funds and awareness. On August 27, 100 Somali-American students walked to raise awareness about their homeland’s needs while the Pan African Women’s Action Summit is holding fundraisers for famine relief efforts. Even young urban professionals are joining in, as seen in the We Are The Horn - The East Africa Project, which not only regularly updates Facebook followers with news about Somalia, but is also planning a benefit to send money to their Somali brothers and sisters.
“We have seen very swift organizing from a number of African communities,” said Semhar Araia, Oxfam International’s Horn of Africa regional policy advisor. “The We are the Horn campaign was launched within two days of the famine’s declaration and 90 people showed up -- mostly young professionals -- to learn what they could do.”
Araia, who also doubles as the founder and executive director for Diaspora African Women's Network (DAWN), says she notices a “stark contrast between the call of people and the call of governments.”
The U.S. government has given $580 million this year to Somalia, their latest payment a $17 million grant given early in August. But right now, Congress is considering cutting their emergency aid budget in 2012. This would make the work of grassroots groups and non-profits harder as they try to squeeze more money out of donors in one of the rougher economic periods of our lifetime. Stepping up to help Somalia will be a test of of the economic will and endurance of government and citizens alike. Let us know what you think about African and American famine relief efforts, and what else can be done to help.