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African Nations Contribute What They Can to Haitian Relief

BY Jason Kane  February 24, 2010 at 4:30 PM EDT

Haitians pinning up wallpaper in Port-au-Prince. Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

African governments were moved by Haiti’s desperate plight, but they also wanted to show that the continent is no longer a perennial international aid recipient, analysts explained.

“Part of the motivating ethos behind this campaign is that Africa is often pigeonholed by others — and even by Africans — as a place that is always in need of assistance. As if Africa doesn’t have its own resources and ideas and successes and achievements to offer for the benefit of others in the world,” said Barry Smith, senior director of the Southern Africa office for the development group The Synergos Institute.

“So this,” he said, “is about reversing that mindset.”

Increasingly known as a “poor-helps-poor” or “south-south” campaign, many of the African nations sending money to Haiti would be on a short list of governments most associated with plight and conflict.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, offered $2.5 million to the Haitian relief efforts, even though Amnesty International and other advocacy groups report that teachers, civil servants and health professionals sometimes strike to protest unpaid wages.

“It’s a contradiction to see a country which is facing serious financial problems giving away $2.5 million but at the same time, it’s a purely diplomatic reaction, the Congolese government wants to appear like any other government,”political scientist Ntanda Nkere of the University of Kinshasa told the BBC.

But DRC Information Minister Lambert Mende told the BBC, “Congo isn’t bankrupt; our own problems should not prevent us from helping a brother country.”

Liberia also pledged $50,000. Rwanda and Sierra Leone both put up $100,000, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Each has struggled financially in the past two decades in the wake of war anweed genocide.

Senegal’s president, Abdoulaye Wade, called Haitians “sons and daughters of Africa” and offered them the possibility of land and “repatriation” in his country.

And some nations offered to send police officers to the streets of Haiti to help restore calm.

“They themselves hardly provide these services properly for their own people, but they find a need to be part of this,” said Ernest Aryeetey, director of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. “I think it’s a clear message that has been long in coming and it sort of reflects the new Africa — that even the poor should be able to support others.”

A week after the disaster, Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu stated that the situation in Port-au-Prince was worse than the “predicament” that South Africa faced during apartheid.

Graca Machel, Nelson Mandela’s wife, organized a campaign called “Africa for Haiti” intended to encourage all African nations to contribute to the Haiti relief effort. She enlisted about a dozen African nonprofits to handle the logistics.

“We are not a movement which can make a big impact in an emergency situation,” Machel told reporters at the campaign’s launch. “We are a movement which can and has a huge potential to make a difference in post-emergency situation, which means in reconstruction and development.”

The Africa for Haiti organizers plan to campaign for six months and set a target of raising $20 million, according to Bhekinkosi Moyo, the program director for the nonprofit TrustAfrica, based in Dakar, Senegal.

The organizers said they hope funds will be generated through text message drives, Web sites, radio announcements and grocery store collection boxes. They are also banking on collecting contributions at charity events coinciding with large-scale gatherings like the World Cup, which is slated to take place in June in South Africa.

A delegation of Africa for Haiti officials plans to travel to the Western Hemisphere in the spring to talk with aid workers and determine which projects to fund, Moyo said.

The role also will afford African aid workers a chance to share their expertise in the field of reconstruction and development, according to Smith.

“Part of the solution to what may ail us in terms of traditional forms of development assistance may be this missing link of south-to-south support — people whose lived experiences and circumstances actually are more similar than the typical north-south channel of aid and assistance,” he said.

“We understand where they are coming from,” agreed Watson Hamunakwadi, a program support officer for the National Welfare Forum in South Africa. “We know the challenges that lie ahead in terms of reconstruction, community development under the circumstances, rebuilding schools, and rebuilding communities — in the functional aspect of communities as a path for socialization and individual development.”

Meanwhile, campaign organizers are trying to determine the best way to expand the movement beyond power centers such as Johannesburg and Dakar. If they can convince subsistence farmers in rural Zambia to contribute alongside the business community in Cape Town, they will consider it an achievement even if funding totals are small, according to Neville Gabriel, executive director of the Southern Africa Trust, based in Midrand, South Africa.

“We don’t think that the campaign is going to raise huge amounts of money,” he said. “Whatever is raised through generosity — be it a poor person, be it a rich person — is appreciated. It is the same expression of solidarity.”