Africa Mobilizes Assistance for Haiti
Continent expresses sympathy and solidarity with the earthquake victims
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Various organizations and governments throughout Africa are working to provide relief to the people of Haiti in the aftermath of the January 12 earthquake and subsequent aftershocks. In South Africa, which is leading the way, churches, mass organizations and the government are encouraging the people to immediately come to the aid of Haiti.
The general thrust in aid efforts stem from the common history of an African heritage and the shared legacy of slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism. Some well-known figures in the Haitian relief efforts include former Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Graca Machel. The ANC led government in South Africa has a considerable history of supporting Haiti and its ousted head of state Jean-Bertrand Artistide.
South Africa was one of the major states to recognize the 200th anniversary of Haitian independence in 2004. President Aritistide was granted asylum there and has spoken out about returning to assist in the relief efforts.
The South African-based Gift of the Givers rescue team helped to clear out a damaged hospital in Port-au-Prince which had 600 bodies buried underneath the rubble. The hospital is being repaired in order to resume efforts to provide medical treatment to the thousands of people in need of immediate care.
Dr. Imtiaz Sooliman, the chair of Gift of the Givers, said that “Six of our team members will be deployed here (at the hospital) and will be joined by a seven-member Mexican team. The other four members are going to a Cathedral to start suturing and treating the huge influx of patients arriving there.” (Independent Online, South Africa, January 25)
A partial list of pledges from African governments include South Africa, which has offered $135,000 along with other material assistance, Chad is donating $500,000, the Democratic Republic of Congo has pledged $2.5 million and Sierra Leone has offered $100,000.
These aid efforts are called the “Africa for Haiti Campaign”, which over the next six months will
collect funds and materials to assist the Caribbean nation where some 3 million people have been impacted by the 7.0 earthquake. This project will draw upon the existing resources of governments and non-governmental organizations.
According to the Daily Maverick newspaper, “The campaign will spend the next six months raising cash primarily from ordinary Africans all over the continent. Then it will send representatives to Haiti, which should be knee-deep in the business of rebuilding by that point.” (Daily Maverick, January 25, 2010)
The aid deliveries to Haiti have two main purposes: “one to show the face and voice of African solidarity and second, to fact-find and identify which are the community organizations and NGOs we can work with so we can channel our support to them, and leave them to be the major implementers of the programs that we will agree upon together,” says Graca Machel. (Daily Maverick, January 25)
The Nelson Mandela Foundation hosted a press conference on January 22 and pledged its support to the relief efforts. The Foundation says that the Africa for Haiti Campaign “will identify, in partnership with Haitian civil society organizations, initiatives in which it can assist. It also hopes to provide Africans from all walks of life an opportunity to demonstrate their collective solidarity and support for the people of Haiti thereby uniting Africans in compassion and giving.” (Episcopal Life Online, January 22)
In a statement made by former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, he says that “We were supported wonderfully by the international community when we struggled against the vicious policy of apartheid. Today the people of Haiti, struck twice by the earthquake, are in a worse predicament than we were. As South Africans, we especially want to do our bit to alleviate the immense suffering of our sisters and brothers in Haiti. I welcome the initiative by Graca Machel and others. It deserves our wholehearted and very generous support.” (Episcopal Life Online, January 22)
This approach to aid delivery will be based upon the experiences of Africa, which as an undeveloped region, has had many negative interactions with western-based charitable agencies that do not understand and respect the culture and social situation of the people.
In utilizing a people-based, grassroots approach to Haitian relief, “the African initiative may be more welcome than, say, the far richer offers of help that will come in from the U.S. The assembled group use words like ‘solidarity’ and ‘dignity’ a lot. They want to focus on building long-term relationships.” (Daily Maverick, January 25)
Senegal Offers Land for Repatriation
President Abdoulaye Wade of the West African nation of Senegal has recently offered to re-settle displaced Haitians on the continent. Wade says that his proposal will be submitted to the African Union very soon for its approval and assistance.
Wade says that the history of enslavement of Africans in Haiti entitled the descendants a right to return to the continent of their ancestors. “All we are saying is that the Haitians didn’t take themselves over there. They are there because of slavery, five centuries of slavery.” (Reuters TV, January 25)
The 83-year-old leader says that “We have to offer them the chance to come to Africa, that is my idea. They have as much a right to Africa as I have. You can’t tell me it’s not possible. It’s all possible if the Haitians seek it.” (Reuters, January 25)
The president went on to urge that other African states naturalize any person from Haiti who sought a new nationality. In addition, he is encouraging mass adoption programs for orphans who can be transported to various regions of the continent.
Following this same trend of solidarity with Haiti, the African Union Commission Chair, Jean Ping, revealed on January 25 that the continental organization was setting up an account with the African Development Bank (AfDB) to solicit contributions for ongoing efforts to assist the people of Haiti.
In an African Press Agency report issued on January 25, it states that “The AU Commission intends, through this initiative, to collect in absolute transparency all financial contributions of member states wishing to express their active solidarity towards Haiti which is considered by the AU as the sixth region of Africa.” Ping described the earthquake as a major disaster and urged African groups and Africans in the Diaspora to move forward with a massive support campaign for Haiti.
Lessons for East Africa
Scientists and policymakers are also studying the situation in Haiti in order to prepare for future disasters on the African continent. Chris Hartnady, who formerly worked as an associate professor in the Department of Geologicial Sciences at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, said recently that “Large areas of the African Continent are in an unstable, tectonically active state and, especially in the mountain regions, substantial danger is posed to growing populations.” (The East African, January 25)
During a period of two decades, between 1980 and 2002, Africa was hit by over 50 earthquakes that resulted in more than 23,000 deaths and injuries. The East African Rift System has some of the most densely populated areas on the continent such as the Virunga Mountains located between Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A workshop held in 2004 in Nairobi, Kenya predicted that if an earthquake occurred with a similar magnitude as the one which took place in 1910 in Rukwa (7.4, Africa’s most severe in the 20th Century), the impact would be devastating. The quake could potentially damage large areas on the East African coastline including Mombasa, Kenya, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Beira, Mozambique.
In an article published in the East African on January 25, the publication emphasized the need for disaster preparedness. The article says that “In the case of earthquakes, disaster-preparedness need not cost the earth. One important prerequisite is to tap into and expand the local knowledge base. According to the report from the 2004 meeting in Nairobi, while particular seismic events cannot be predicted, the general level of seismicity across broad areas can be forecast for up to hundreds of years in the future.” (East African, January 25)
The efforts of people in Africa and other oppressed regions of the world are important in the struggle to rebuild Haiti in a fashion that will benefit the working and poor people of the country. An upcoming “donors conference” in Canada will bring together representatives of imperialist states whose aim is to lead the reconstruction efforts in the interests of global capitalism.
Gerald Caplan, the author “The Betrayal of Africa,” says that this same imperialist approach towards Haiti will only benefit the western industrialized states and not the Haitian people. The author says that “What is important to note about most donor countries, including Canada, is that they have always extracted far more from the poor recipient countries than they’ve contributed. Poor countries, in reality, have been net donors to us rich folks.” (Globe and Mail, January 22)
Distributed By: THE PAN-AFRICAN RESEARCH AND DOCUMENTATION PROJECT–
Related Web Sites