CAPE TOWN — Africa's slow response to the famine in drought-hit Somalia risked sending a message of apathy to the rest of the world, a South African aid group warned Wednesday.
"I think our government's response is very slow. I think the AU (African Union) is very slow," said Imtiaz Sooliman, chairman of aid group Gift of the Givers Foundation, which returned Tuesday from the Somali capital Mogadishu.
"I think we are sending a very wrong message to the world. If Africa doesn't care about Africa, how do you expect other countries and other continents to care about this continent? We need to be more proactive. We spend too much time in meetings and discussions."
The United Nations has officially declared famine in Somalia for the first time this century, including in Mogadishu and four southern Somali regions.
"The first comment the Somalis made is finally Africa has responded to us. That's the comment that they made, wanting to know where is Africa," said Sooliman about the eight-day mission.
The AU's decision to postpone a pledging conference from Tuesday to August 25 was made while children were dying daily, he told parliament's committee on international relations.
The South African government has raised eight million rand for Somalia and has pledged half to Sooliman's group, whose recent aid delivery cost 12 million rand ($1.7 million, 1.2 million euros) including transport.
"South Africa needs to make a substantial contribution," said Sooliman, who also criticised an absence of international aid groups on the ground in Mogadishu.
"What is four million rand? It gives a very blunt message that we don't care about Africa. We need to make a strong commitment and tell the AU we need you guys to come. Africa is not poor, our thinking may be poor."
Africa could solve the problem itself and this needed to be driven strongly by the South African government and the continent's bloc, he said.
"Every day we waste, there are children dying and (if) Africans don't care about Africa, don't expect anybody else in the world to care about us," added Sooliman, whose group has worked in Libya, Haiti and Pakistan.
The AU has said the August 25 pledging conference is meant to galvanize resources, put together an emergency response, and lobby leaders in Africa and abroad on a medium- and long-term strategy to contain the crisis.
"It was an initiative of South Africa that the pledging conference was called so that Africa as a whole needs to take some action in assisting in this difficult situation in Somalia," said foreign ministry deputy director general Rapu Molekane.
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