Monitor archives:
Copyrighted material

African Aid Often Depends On What Language Is Spoken

by Thalif Deen

Bush Quietly Drops 2002 Budget Pledge To Poorest Nations

(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- Jan Egeland, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, says he is livid that the international donor community has brushed aside his appeal for $16.2 million in emergency food assistance to Niger -- as they have other urgent UN appeals for Africa.

And he perceives a strong bias -- this time based on language -- is to blame in how donors decide who gets what.

Egeland told reporters this week that overt discrimination percolates down to whether a country is French, Portuguese, or English-speaking.

He said that both French and Portuguese-speaking countries "are systematically lower on our funding tables than many of the English-speaking countries."

"We urgently appealed for help to Niger (a French-speaking country). But we still have zero commitments," he added.

"It shouldn't be like that because we should give according to needs. But that is not happening now," he added.

Of the 12 million people in Niger, about 3.6 million are caught in what the United Nations has termed an "acute food security crisis."

What little there was of food last year was consumed by an invasion of locusts and that was followed by one of the most severe droughts, resulting in no food production in the country.

Still, the international donor community has been painfully slow in responding to the ongoing crisis in Niger, Egeland said.

But African activists and humanitarian organizations said they are not surprised over the lack of donor commitment to those of the world's poorer nations that happen to lie in Africa -- whether based on language or race.

"The larger problem is that the global North looks at Africa as a basket case which will have no resolution," Bill Fletcher, president of the Washington-based TransAfrica Forum, told IPS.

But, Fletcher said, this makes the work of the African Union (AU), which represents the interests of all 54 countries on that continent, so much more important.

"The AU needs to develop operational ties with other regional blocs, such as the one that appears to be developing in Latin America at the initiative of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez," Fletcher said.

The AU must also build strong connections with the African diaspora so that African migrants, expatriates, and descendants throughout the world can become a more energized force in support of African self-determined development. "We in the diaspora must advance the demands for debt cancellation and reparations," Fletcher said by way of example.

Egeland singled out Niger as "the number-one forgotten and neglected emergency in the world."

But the larger problem is that "if you're in Africa, you are systematically discriminated against with regard to our attention and our generosity and what we give," said Egeland, who also is the UN's emergency relief coordinator.

Blasting Western donors for neglecting some of the world's "forgotten emergencies" in Africa, he said "it's a tremendous dilemma that 90 percent of the attention is focused on 10 percent of the affected disasters and wars in the world."

Caroline Green of the aid charity Oxfam International said she agrees with Egeland's criticism of donors and added that the lack of donor commitment to emergency needs applies even in English-speaking countries.

Green, who returned recently from a tour of sub-Saharan Africa, said that millions of innocent civilians are trapped in incredibly difficult circumstances in Northern Uganda, Niger, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and many other countries. They are in desperate need of protection, or in some cases, the most basic of supplies including clean water and food.

"Yet the majority of rich donor countries continue to fund on the basis of news headlines, not need," she told IPS.

"Last week in Northern Uganda, I met children who have lived in camps for years, walking miles each night to sleep in safety in the streets of the nearby town, and going back to their makeshift homes each morning to attend classes with over 300 other children," she said.

These children represent the tip of an iceberg. Nearly two million people across Northern Uganda have been forced from their homes in the war between the Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel group known to recruit child soldiers, and the government of Uganda that has lasted nearly 20 years, Africa's longest running armed conflict.

Green said that people are unable to return to their homes and farms, and are reliant on food aid.

"Yet donor countries have given just 34 percent of the 54 million dollars the United Nations appealed for in November. Nations are shutting their eyes to what is going on in Northern Uganda, preferring to focus on high profile crises that are guaranteed public and media attention," Green said.

The situation is equally bad both in Niger and Mali, where the 2004 invasion of desert locusts and lack of rainfall have plunged nomadic herders and farming families into crisis.

New assessments in Mali and Niger this month have shown greatly increased rates of child malnutrition and a devastating loss of livestock. However, the international donor community has largely ignored the now rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation, Green said.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is expected to chair the summit in July of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized powers plus Russia, has pledged to spearhead a campaign to raise more funds to help African nations.

But Fletcher of TransAfrica Forum said he remains skeptical. "I expect no breakthrough at the G-8 because they have no material interest in the improvement of Africa," he said.

"If Tony Blair is seriously interested in Africa, then he must do much more," Fletcher added. "He must press Europe on development assistance; insist on debt cancellation; support demilitarization in Africa; and increase support to the African Union, particularly so that it can resolve the crisis in Darfur," the war-ravaged Sudanese region.

Oxfam's Green sees a "a huge breakthrough with this week's landmark European Union (EU) agreement on overseas aid."

She said that this deal, announced early this week, could really save lives and inject up to 40 billion dollars extra in the fight against poverty.

"However, other donor countries including Japan, Canada and the United States are lagging behind in honouring the commitment they made over 30 years ago to increase aid to 0.7 percent of their national income. They must now step up to the plate and join their G-8 counterparts in truly committing the funds needed to end poverty in Africa," she added.

Green also said that the focus by G-8 leaders on their July summit as the "Africa summit" has raised international awareness of the need to urgently commit to reducing poverty through increased and targeted funding of basic education, health systems, and reducing HIV/AIDS and other diseases. This includes easily preventable diarrhoea, which kills millions every year.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor May 27, 2005 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.