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Few African leaders show up for famine summit

Only four of 54 member nations attend the African Union donors conference in Ethiopia, aimed at raising money to ease the crisis in the Horn of Africa.

August 25, 2011|By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times
  • Mahbub Mualem, left, of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, speaks to Somalian President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed at the donors conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Mahbub Mualem, left, of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development,… (Elias Asmare, Associated…)

Reporting from Johannesburg, South Africa — Most of Africa's heads of state failed to turn up Thursday for the first African Union donor conference in Ethiopia to raise money for the Horn of Africa famine, leaving activists disappointed with the pledges.

Of the African Union's 54 member nations, only the heads of Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea and Djibouti participated in the conference in Addis Ababa, along with the head of the transitional government in Somalia, the country hit hardest by the famine. Critics accused African leaders of failing to make good on their rhetoric about finding African solutions for African problems.

Activists said leaders had pledged about $50 million, but much of it was "in kind" assistance, with few details given on the services being offered.

The African Development Bank, meanwhile, said it would donate $300 million for long-term development in the Horn of Africa.

The African Union had come under fire for delaying the conference for several weeks because some leaders had conflicts in their schedules.

Nicanor Sabula, spokesman for Africans Act 4 Africa, a coalition of civil organizations, said 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."

With 12 million people in crisis, and famine declared in many parts of southern Somalia, the United Nations has appealed for $2.4 billion. Despite pledges of more than $500 million from the United States, $228 million from the European Union and $630 million from individual European countries, the target has not been met.

It is reportedly the region's worst drought in more than 50 years. Tens of thousands of people have died and 1.5 million have left their homes in Somalia in search of food. Five regions of Somalia have been declared famine-hit and two others are expected to be added to the list.

At the conference, Andrew Andasi, an 11-year-old Ghanaian who saw images of the famine on television and launched a radio campaign for donations, said he had raised $4,000. Andrew called on African leaders to help those in need, especially women and children.

Activists said some countries that could afford to do more have not.

"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."

Africans Act 4 Africa set the $50-million target, believing it to be modest but realistic. Appealing to the countries' representatives Thursday, Asha Rose Migiro, the U.N. deputy secretary-general, said the number of people in crisis had not peaked, and cited challenges in reaching those in need, according to Agence France-Presse news service.

"The future of an entire generation hangs in the balance," she said.

Kanayo Nwanze, head of the U.N. International Fund for Agricultural Development, said the donor meeting was an important development.

"Africa should not wait for the international community to solve its problems," Nwanze said.

robyn.dixon@latimes.com

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