Perched in a commentary box above Wembley Stadium, a frazzled Bob Geldof looks down the lens to an audience of 1.5 billion: “Don’t go to the pub tonight — please stay in and give us your money. There are people dying.”

So began the mythology of the African aid mega-concert, a phenomena that has helped bring famine onto the mainstream agenda and perpetuated an image of Africa as forever in need of foreign help.

In an interview with Citizen TV the Pan-African director of Oxfam Irungu Houghton discussed Africa’s image: “There is a stereotype of Africa as the basket case of the world, unable to feed ourselves or be charitable and supportive of each other.”

A new campaign led by 12 NGOs and a slew of African musicians is breaking this cliché by proposing a string of concerts that will take place on the continent over the next five years. Africans Act 4 Africa (AA4A) aims to not only encourage donations, but also name-and-shame governments they feel have not contributed enough to the Horn of Africa relief effort.

According to the UN, $1.4 billion is still needed to help the 12 million whose lives are threatened by the drought. Only six African governments have pledged aid. Sudan has contributed most with $2.5 million. South Africa is second with a promised $1 million, followed by Namibia, Kenya, Botswana and Ethiopia.

The African Union has pledged just $500 thousand since July.

AA4A spokesperson Anne Mitaru says African governments are leaning too heavily on international aid. “We realise that African economies are not the strongest in the world. But this is about giving what you’re able to give and being part of the effort rather than not doing anything at all,” Mitaru told Think Africa Press. “We’re not saying African governments should match countries like the US or Britain. But they need to be part of the conversation. If this were a game we need players, not linesmen.”

Mitaru’s comments come ahead of an AU pledging conference on August 25. Oxfam, one of the 12 NGOs associated with AA4A, has urged officials to aim for a donation of at least $50 million.

But with UN reports suggesting 10 children under five are dying every day, the AU has been criticised for lacking of urgency. The summit was originally intended for August 10 but was postponed when delegates complained they were not given enough  notice. AU deputy chairman Erastus Mwencha defended the delay. “There is no point of us rushing into a conference only to come up again regretting,” Mwencha told The Daily Telegraph.

AU High Representative for Somalia Jerry Rawlings has described the conference as “a key step towards rediscovering the unique bond that used to bind the people of Africa together — the act of sharing”. A statement released by the former Ghanaian president called on the private sector to join the drive: “What about corporate Africa who have benefited immensely from our rich resources?”

Several multinationals with large stakes in Africa have already obliged. Coca-Cola, which has about 1 million African employees, has donated $1.45 million. In Kenya, a Vodafone-owned telecoms company has facilitated an SMS donation scheme that has raised $4 million. The South African Department of International Relations has also launched a print and radio campaign to bolster public donations.

However, the question lingers over whether governments, not citizens, are responsible for funding the relief effort. Mitaru told the BBC many Africans are donating out frustration. “The idea of people standing up and taking action is a new thing … Before it was just a part of life to expect governments to do nothing,” she said. “The response has been overwhelming, like nothing I have seen in Africa for the last 10 years.”

AA4A has been quick to point out its goal extends further than a short-term cash injection. “The problem of drought is not something that we think can be solved in the next 365 days,” Mitaru said. “It’s not a secret that it’s not going to rain. So we need to look for long-term solutions.”

Throughout its campaign AA4A has pushed the tagline “let’s make this Africa’s last famine”. For Mitaru, achieving this slogan centres on getting African nations to make enduring commitments to existing frameworks set up by the UN. Houghton has urged for more investment in agriculture and the creation of “disaster risk reduction” schemes.

“Governments need to think about how we can create humanitarian disaster funds able to kick in when these things happen,” he told Citizen TV. “It may also be interesting to look at how citizens and the private sector can contribute to these funds?”

Houghton’s recommendations remain firmly rooted in the premise of officials helping those who are “not the ones voting”. But in all the cries for “African solutions to African problems” altruism on the continent has been historically mercurial. Evidence of selfless African solidarity was painfully absent during the Ivory Coast conflict and Sudanese civil war.

That said, Jerry Rawlings last week used a meeting in Abuja to implore African governments not to let history repeat itself. “Darfur was embarrassing,” he said. “Let us not repeat it in Somalia.”

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.


Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey