THIRTY-two years ago this month, Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie released the famous charity song We Are the World. Despite the raging Cold War, this song demonstrated the unimaginable compassion with which the international community responded to the Ethiopian famine, writes Dr David Monyae.
Dr David Monyae, the Co-Director of the University Of Johannesburg (UJ) Confucius Institute (UJCI), penned an opinion piece entitled “Too Late to Save Africa with Charity Songs“, published on the Sunday Times, 26 March 2017.
Although the famine left a million dead, millions more were rescued from starvation. This was possible because the international community, led by the US, financially and logistically empowered the UN agencies in charge of humanitarian situations. It was indeed the golden era of humanism, which is no more.
Africa is entering yet another catastrophic famine caused by worsening climate change and senseless civil wars. Neither the AU nor the UN appears ready to respond to this pending humanitarian disaster.
Stephen O`Brien, the UN under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, warned the world that the largest humanitarian crisis since 1945 is upon us. He emphasised that 20 mil- lion lives are at risk from famine threatening the Horn of Africa and parts of the Middle East.
`Without collective and co- ordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death and many more will suffer and die from diseases,` he said.
This drought in Africa comes at a time when the bond binding humanity through the UN is weakening. The administration of US President Donald Trump has made it clear it intends al- most halving its $10-billion (about R125-billion) UN contribution, which constitutes 22% of the entire UN annual budget and 28% of its peacekeeping budget.
Africa does not feature prominently in Trump`s foreign policy agenda and priorities. The EU, once the champion of liberal democracy, human rights and provider of foreign assistance, appears uninterested in assisting Africa in its darkest hour. Instead, Africans fleeing the drought and trying to reach Europe are dying in large numbers in the Mediterranean while Brussels looks away.
The bulk of countries severely affected are African, namely South Sudan, Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia and Eritrea. Although drought remains a major source of famine, bad governance appears to be the common de- nominator in these countries.
The situation has drastically changed in Ethiopia, the original face of drought and poverty in the 1980s. What is it that Ethiopia has done to reduce the impact of drought that its neighbours are failing to do? What- ever one can say about the un- democratic nature of the cur- rent government, it has brought stability to this country since taking power from the Derg regime.
Ethiopia was the second poorest country in the world in 2000; now it`s one of the fastest- What has Ethiopia done to reduce effect of drought that its neighbours failed to do? growing economies in Africa. Unlike most African countries, Ethiopia does not follow blindly orthodox economic policies from the World Bank and IMF. It relies heavily on domestic re- sources to build highways and railways, and provide electricity. Although the country battles with corruption, it has developed a strong agriculture sector and is shifting its focus to light industry.
Life expectancy has improved from 45 years in the early `90s to 64 years. The country has improved the percentage of its population enrolled in education from a mere 3% in 1991 to 30%.
Addis Ababa, home to the AU headquarters, is undergoing transformation, with efficient means of transport. The nation- al carrier, Ethiopian Airways, is the largest and most profitable on the continent, with flights to more African destinations than SAA and Kenya Airways.
Contrary to what is reported, Ethiopia is the largest refugee host on the continent, with al- most 800 000 refugees present in 2016 from Yemen, Sudan, South Sudan, Djibouti, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ethiopia has joined the China- led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and plays a critical role as an anchor for peace and security in the Horn of Africa.
The lesson from Ethiopia is that good governance matters. Regardless of the enormous challenges Ethiopia faces, it has managed to halt the effects of drought and poverty. This is not the case with the countries producing the most refugees: Eritrea, South Sudan and Somalia.
Zeray Hailemariam, writing in the Ethiopian Herald this week, said: `There is no actual from 45 years in the early `90s to 64 years. The country has improved the percentage of its population enrolled in education from a mere 3% in 1991 to 30%. Addis Ababa, home to the AU headquarters, is undergoing transformation, with efficient means of transport. The nation- al carrier, Ethiopian Airways, is the largest and most profitable on the continent, with flights to more African destinations than SAA and Kenya Airways.
`The people of Eritrea have generally been exposed to crimes against humanity by the military, security and other wings of the regime. The in- definite national service, forced conscription, lack of employment opportunities and access to education, lack of freedom to work, speak, absence of liberty and other form of oppression frustrated the mass.`
South Sudan, the youngest African state, which celebrated its independence in 2011, continues to cause suffering to its citizens. The war of choice started in 2014 by its political leaders is being allowed to continue. Somalia, on the other hand, regardless of efforts by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development to revive the state, remains fragile and a hotbed of terrorists in East Africa.
What is to be done to limit the pending catastrophic famine in Africa? The AU should call an extraordinary summit to devise ways of raising sufficient re- sources to assist affected people. The days of waiting for the international community to assist in Africa`s problems are over.
The African Standby Force should be fully resourced to intervene actively in South Sudan and the DRC.
The continent cannot depend on charity songs to raise resources to handle these humanitarian crises. In the era of Trump and Brexit, Africa should and must build its own capacity to deal with such crises using its own resources. As Ali Mazrui stated in the late `60s: `Africa must keep its own peace`.
Monyae is a political analyst and co-director at the University of Johannesburg Confucius Institute.
*The views expressed in the article is that of the author/s and does not necessary reflect that of the University of Johannesburg