African leaders delay aid talks as 30,000 children die of starvation
Africa's leaders have postponed for more than two weeks a conference to raise funds for famine victims, despite a first official estimate showing that almost 30,000 young children had died in Somalia alone since the start of the crisis.
The African Union's (AU) "pledging conference" to raise money for the 12 million people desperately needing food in the Horn of Africa had been scheduled for next Tuesday.
It was intended to address the fact that despite the rest of the world having raised more than €690m in aid, there is less than €403,000 in the AU's "special famine fund". This is despite the union's 54 countries having a combined GDP of more than €1.38trillion.
But the AU announced yesterday that the meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa was being put back until August 25. A senior official claimed that the continent's leaders felt next week was "too short notice to do something meaningful" in terms of pledging significant donations, and so postponed the meeting for a fortnight.
The announcement came as the US said hunger had killed almost 30,000 children under the age of five in southern Somalia alone in the past three months.
On Wednesday, the United Nations declared three new regions in Somalia famine zones, bringing the total number to five. The UN says 3.2 million Somalis out of a population of about 7.5 million are in need of immediate life-saving assistance.
The crisis is said to be the worst in the Horn of Africa for a generation and the worst in Somalia itself for 60 years. Erastus Mwencha, the deputy chairman of the AU Commission, said its fundraising meeting had to be delayed to allow the continent's leaders "to mobilise".
"There is no point of us rushing into a conference only to come up again regretting," he said.
"We need some time for planning, and I think that request is well-founded."
Mr Mwencha spoke from a five-star hotel on Kenya's coast, where dozens of senior political and aid figures from across Africa had gathered for a "governance, leadership and management" convention.
Kalonzo Musyoka, Kenya's vice-president; Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria's former president; and Thabo Mbeki, South Africa's ex-leader; were among the delegates attending workshops at the €748-a-ticket conference. Famine and drought were not on the agenda.
Aeneas Chuma, the UN's humanitarian co-ordinator for Kenya, who attended the Mombasa convention, said high-level continental meetings were necessary "to improve co-ordination".
"It is not correct to say African countries are not responding. They are," he said.
Botswana had sent a military aircraft loaded with supplies to Dadaab, the refugee camp for Somalis in north-eastern Kenya. Sudan had sent money, and Kenya and Ethiopia were working hard to deal with the crisis in their countries.
Despite delays at governmental level, individual Africans had been giving generously to private sector appeals, said Irungu Houghton, Oxfam's pan-Africa director.
An appeal by a South African mobile telephone network raised more in text-message donations in three days than the country's government had given in three weeks. "Kenyans for Kenya", launched a week ago, has raised more than €860,000 from members of the public.
What Africa's governments had offered was "woefully short and inadequate" considering that this was "a defining moment for Africa's ability to help itself", said Mr Houghton.
"This is a much bigger crisis than Ethiopia in 1984," he said.
"Yet we are seeing the leaders who do not fail to cry 'African solutions for African problems' when it comes to peacekeeping or conflict mediation now completely failing when it comes to a response to the biggest crisis in a generation."
The United Nations has said that the drought had already killed "tens of thousands".
But the US announcement that 29,000 children had died since May was the first time any kind of official toll had been put on the disaster. The figure was based on nutrition and mortality surveys verified by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.