A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
The myth that aid is something the rest of the world provides to Africa prevails.
I’ve been doing lots of interviews about the food crisis in recent weeks, and it’s been clear that for many people in Europe and North America there is still an enduring image of white western aid workers flying in to save starving African children. The myth that aid is something the rest of the world provides to Africa prevails. The reality here of course is very different.
Oxfam has hundreds of staff responding to the crisis, and very few are white and western. Nearly all Oxfam workers in Dadaab refugee camp – the focus of the world’s attention over the past few weeks – are Kenyans, Ugandans and Tanzanians. We couldn’t do any work at all in Somalia, one of the most dangerous places in the world for us to operate, without the amazing efforts of brave Somali organisations and aid workers. In Wajir in northeastern Kenya, our local partners are the ones maintaining the boreholes and keeping the water flowing.
Citizens too have responded with an outpouring of support and generosity. The “Kenyans for Kenya” campaign has quickly raised large amounts of money. In South Africa people have sent donations via SMS, and an inspiring 11-year-old boy from Ghana has captured headlines this week.
Unfortunately the response from African governments has been much slower than the public – “woefully slow and inadequate,” in the words of Oxfam’s Pan Africa Director Irungu Houghton. A new campaign, “Africans Act 4 Africa,” is bringing activists and celebrities together from across the continent to put pressure on African governments to step up to the challenge. Some of Kenya’s best-known musicians have already pledged support with video messages. Famine simply should not be happening in Africa in the 21st century, and governments need to make sure that this is never allowed to happen again.