African governments and institutions committed nearly $350 million for famine relief yesterday at the African Union’s first-ever pledging conference. Coming together under the banner “One Africa – One Voice Against Hunger,” panelists and participants called for African solidary and united action to respond to the Horn’s worst drought in 60 years.
The collective effort demonstrated by the AU is a solid first step that should be applauded. The African Development Bank accounted for the vast majority of the pledge, committing $300 million for programs over a five-year period. Notable individual contributions were made by Algeria (pledging $10 million), South Africa ($10 million), Egypt ($5 million), Angola ($5 million) and the Democratic Republic of Congo ($5 million). Another nine countries made $1-3 million pledges (including Africa’s newest country of South Sudan), and a handful more made smaller cash and in-kind donations.
Though the AU is facing criticism for the size of its commitment, the precedent set at yesterday’s summit is an important one that should be applauded. As the BBC’s Martin Plaut points out, the AU was never designed to be a fundraising organization and the conference “charts a new course” for the institution.
Acknowledging that the AU is often criticized for its “slow and inadequate” responses to emergencies, AU Commissioner Jean Ping urged participants to take note of other important contributions made by African states, such Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti’s hosting of Somali refugees and troops sent to Mogadishu by Uganda and Burundi.
UN Deputy Secretary General Asha Rose Miguro also applauded African efforts, noting that “above all, this crisis is being tackled by local people and institutions.” She warned that a future generation is hanging in the balance, and commended the AU for taking its “rightful place at the forefront of the response.”
Similar to pledges made by traditional donors, clarity is needed around many yesterday’s commitments. This is especially true for South Africa (whose $10 million pledge included private donations) and countries that contributed to the $350 million commitment from the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) last week (including Algeria, Egypt and Gabon). AU Vice-Commissioner Erastus Mwencha said the AU was working with outside institutions to track commitments and monitor their delivery.
In the months ahead, it is also critical that Africans lead the campaign to develop long-term solutions to prevent future crises. Many of yesterday’s presenters reiterated that experts were predicting the drought months ahead of time; Prime Minister Meles Zenawi dedicated most of his remarks to outlining the measures taken to prepare for the drought in Ethiopia, which he said kept the country from slipping into famine.
Since yesterday’s summit was designed to respond to the crisis, the lack of concrete commitments towards long-term food security was not surprising. There was also no mention of the pledges by many African governments to allocate 10% of their national budgets towards agricultural development (known as the Maputo targets).
When delegates meet in Kenya next month to discuss long-term solutions to drought and famine, these targets should be on the forefront of the agenda. Doing so would demonstrate that African governments are not only stepping up to respond to the current emergency, but are also committed to providing the leadership necessary to prevent these crises in the future.