In the broad international mobilization to help the stricken people of Haiti, Africa is not lagging behind. Government officials, religious leaders, students, artists and many other Africans responded to the news of the devastating earthquake of 12 January with an immediate outpouring of support and solidarity.
By end-March, some 24 countries in Africa had either donated or pledged more than $51 mn for Haitian relief efforts, according to available reports. That was just a tiny fraction of the total of $3.5 bn given or promised worldwide, but notable nonetheless for the continent with the world’s highest poverty rates.
In some countries, critics wondered whether the funds could not be better used at home. Life is certainly hard in Africa, acknowledged Cameroonian music star Manu Dibango. But, he added, “Everyone can do something for the Haitian people, in the name of human dignity. Westerners often do something for Africans. Why not Africans for Africans?”
‘The first black republic’
Historically, Africans have had a particular affinity for Haiti, a country populated almost entirely by descendants of African slaves.
There is a certain pride in Haiti’s history. As a coalition of political parties in Burkina Faso pointed out in a solidarity message, Haiti was “the first black republic in the world,” a reference to the revolution that drove out the slave owners and ended French colonial rule in 1802 — more than a century and a half before most of Africa won its own freedom.
There are also more direct connections. Numerous African countries have citizens in Haiti, including with the peacekeepers of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and with other international organizations. Some were among the 200,000 believed to have lost their lives.
Among the biggest governmental contributors in Africa are: Morocco, which pledged some $34 mn in humanitarian assistance; Ghana, with a vow of $3 mn in emergency relief; the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which has promised $2.5 mn; and Equatorial Guinea, with a pledge of $2 mn.
Two days after the disaster the South African government pledged an initial R1 mn ($135,000). But South African companies and charities quickly vowed to mount a bigger effort. South African Minister of International Relations Maite Nkoana-Mashabane believes that public contributions will eventually exceed the target of R30 mn ($4 mn) set for the national campaign.
In other African countries as well, civil society groups have not left the initiative to their governments alone. Kenya’s local Red Cross is coordinating the collection of money, food and other donations from the public. Church groups from the DRC to Burkina Faso are mobilizing contributions from parishioners. An all-star “Ghana Loves Haiti” benefit concert was held in Accra. Namibia’s Chamber of Commerce, youth groups and local musicians also mounted a text-messaging campaign and benefit concert.
In Senegal, health care and social work unions are collecting medicines and new clothes to send to Haiti, and teachers’ unions held a “week of solidarity.” Musicians from Senegal and other countries organized an “Afrik for Haiti” benefit concert in Dakar and are raising more funds from sales of a group single. The Comité d’initiative Sénégal-Haïti, set up by Senegalese and Caribbean residents living in Senegal, argues for a longer-term perspective that looks beyond emergency relief to rebuilding, including by funding scholarships for Haitian students.
A collective of university professors from Benin, Ghana, Guadeloupe, Guinea, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan and the US are planning to fill a ship with goods from various countries along the West African coast and sail it to Haiti. The aim, said Senegalese academic Malick Ndiaye, is to “deliver a message from mother Africa to her sons and daughters across the Atlantic.”