AU famine meet raises $351 million but figure questioned

ADDIS ABABA Thu Aug 25, 2011 3:40pm EDT

Former Ghanaian President and African Union High Representative for Somalia, Jerry Rawlings, attends the Africa Union summit in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa August 25, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer

Former Ghanaian President and African Union High Representative for Somalia, Jerry Rawlings, attends the Africa Union summit in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa August 25, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - A much-delayed African Union summit held to raise money to tackle famine in Somalia and drought in the Horn of Africa held Thursday raised $351 million officials said, but activists questioned the figure.

Out of the $351 million announced by Jean Ping, chairman of the AU commission, $300 million came from the African Development Bank, to be spent over a four-year period, not to be used to bridge a $1.4 billion shortfall aid groups say they need for the emergency.

About 12 million people need emergency food across the "triangle of death" region, straddling Somalia - where famine was declared in five regions - Kenya and Ethiopia.

"This is what we pledged today," said Ping. "It is new money and it is exclusively African."

Of the remaining $51 million announced, many of the donations appear to have been announced before and donations came from less than half of the AU's 54 members.

"We counted about $46 million in cash pledges," Irungu Houghton, pan Africa policy director for aid group Oxfam, told Reuters.

"Just 21 countries made pledges out of 54 and, of the $46 million, $20 million came from three states - Algeria, Angola, and Egypt."

Activists singled out Africa's economic powerhouses Nigeria and South Africa for criticism after Nigeria pledged just $2 million and South Africa's figure of $10 million was questioned.

"In the case of South Africa, they actually seem to have contributed about $1 million dollars if you actually strip it to cash value, Houghton said.

"EXPECTED BETTER"

African activists and political commentators took to social media to lambaste the fact that only four heads of state -- from Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Equatorial Guinea -- attended the summit.

Jerry Rawlings, former president of Ghana and now AU representative for Somalia, told Reuters he had "expected better."

Many aid experts, analysts and diplomats had said they expected little from an organization that has often been perceived as toothless and has seen its funding battered by the absence of its main financier, Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.

Speakers, including Ping, acknowledged the criticisms but said they needed time to prepare and that they had already donated money.

Kenya and Ethiopia won praise at the summit from leaders and activists for dealing with an influx of Somali refugees fleeing a prolonged conflict that aid experts say has worsened the impact of a bad drought and led to famine.

Analysts say African governments' repeated pleas of poverty when asked for donations, rings hollow with several economies now oil-rich and others seeing double-digit growth over the past five years.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said the situation in the refugee camps was dire and that Somalis need to be given aid in their own country despite most of the regions affected being under the control of the Islamist al Shabaab rebel group.

Meles said Ethiopia would buy 300,000 tons of wheat to replenish its food reserves.

Some ordinary Africans, frustrated by their governments' reaction to the crisis, have stepped in and set up impromptu fundraising groups across the continent.

One of those, Africans Act 4 Africa, had urged countries to donate a "proportional" share based on their economies, saying a $50 million pledge was the least that should be given but that $100 million would have shown a serious commitment.

"It's an important step in the right direction," European Union commission for humanitarian aid, Kristalina Georgieva, told Reuters.

"Africa is now taking on the problems it faces. This is the first such summit held by a young organization with little humanitarian experience and a small but dedicated team. It will improve in the future."

(Editing by Duncan Miriri and Matthew Jones)

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