THE UN estimates that 12m people across the Horn of Africa may still be at risk of starvation. Over 30,000 old people and children may already have died. The Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya hosts 400,000 Somalis and could receive another 100,000 by the end of the year. In response the continent’s overseeing body, the African Union (AU), recently held a pledging conference.
The idea was for African heads of state to come to the AU headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, and make a bold 21st-century statement of African brotherhood. After several postponements, the conference took place on August 25th—but only 20 representatives of the AU’s 54 countries turned up, plus a handful of heads of state, notably those of Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Equatorial Guinea, whose president holds the AU’s annual chair.
Together they pledged just $50m; the UN says another $1.1 billion is urgently needed. It is not clear when this offering will be deposited with the AU for distribution to humanitarian agencies. Jean Ping, a Gabonese former foreign minister who runs the AU’s permanent commission, talked up the conference by adding in $300m in funds reshuffled from the African Development Bank. He noted that AU employees had given two days’ salary towards famine relief.
By contrast, the Turkish public alone has raised $200m in the past month. And Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, visited Mogadishu, Somalia’s wrecked and dangerous capital, along with members of his family and cabinet, to show—in his words—“common humanity”. South Africa’s government, by contrast, pledged just $1m.
The AU’s main contribution to Somalia has been a military force, drawn mainly from Uganda and Burundi, which has prevented an extreme Islamist group known as the Shabab from taking over the capital. This force also protected Mr Erdogan during his visit.
Whereas the AU and its richest members showed little interest in tackling the famine, it has been left to ordinary Africans to campaign on social networks and by texting money via mobile phones. An organisation called Africans Act 4 Africa says that Kenyans alone have texted $2m. Some African businesses have been generous too, pledging a lot more than South Africa’s government. And smaller fry have also made their mark. Abdirashid Duale, the owner of Dahabshiil, a money-transfer company based in Somaliland, has given $100,000. “Just the beginning,” he says.