Within a space of six weeks, two powerful tropical storms have hit the south eastern coast of Africa. The first took days to pummel Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, with Mozambique bearing the greatest brunt in form of deluge, devastation and deaths. But before the hardest hit Mozambique could pick up its pieces and readjust to a post-disaster rehabilitation, another strong tropical storm came, tormenting more of Mozambique’s landmass, extending its impact further northwards.
Since March 2019 when Cyclone Idai did havoc to the affected places, Mozambique and the other two countries have been waiting for help, mostly from outside as in-country official assistance was not forthcoming, or practically inadequate. But the subsequent Cyclone Kenneth would further worsen the situation for a poverty-stricken Mozambique, part of which has its northern territory on the storm’s path. It was pitiable that Mozambique, a country that is deficient in resilience and infrastructure had to suffer such a fate, with heavy toll on resources and lives.
The infrastructural, human capital and resource deficiency that Mozambique had to deal with had significant impact on the coping capability as cases of avoidable deaths from drowning, malaria morbidity and mortality as well cholera epidemics were reported. While those that managed to avoid drowning and malaria were unable to obtain potable water, thousands were desperately in need of food. The inability of the government of Mozambique to cope with the needs of those affected became evident. It was also obvious that neighbouring countries were unable to rally robust support to enable Mozambique have a new lease of life.
Just while the rubbles and rubbish left behind by Cyclone Idai were being cleared, Cyclone Kenneth swept through Mozambique and Comoros. Hopes were raised by donor organisations and other philanthropists in the forms of promises and pledges of donations in the aftermath of Idai. But the promises were yet to translate to fulfilment when Kenneth came with fury. Humanitarian service practitioners appeared to have been disappointed in no small measure as aid agencies reportedly said they received only $88 million out of the $390 million pledged by donors.
The international community’s response, first to Cyclone Idai and now to Cyclone Kenneth, has been adjudged less than satisfactory. This lacklustre response has been attributed in part to poor media coverage of the first incident. It has been argued that the international community is not well informed about Africa as media presence has been inadequate even in ordinary normal times. Places that could not be reached when there were no disasters would be harder to reach in disaster situations.
Estimating the needs of the victims could therefore have posed a peculiar challenge to those willing to help. For instance, after the outbreak of Cyclone Kenneth, the United Nations reportedly gave $13 million to Comoros and Mozambique to assist them in the aftermath of the cyclone. The UN might perhaps have loved to give more if reports have indicated the need for more.
A combination of the “Africa Rising” narrative, wealth hidden in the sub-soil and decades of continent-wide mis-governance in various African countries had been put forward in various hypotheses seeking to explain the tepid response of donors to Idai and Kenneth. These viewpoints also appeared to be an attempt to justify the deplorable response and pin down the tardiness on “donor fatigue.” The issue was explained as a response to African leaders’ and governments’ tradition of poor management of challenging situations. Let’s set a stage for this viewpoint for a clearer perspective and relevance. Rightly or wrongly, the development community and humanitarian community speak to each other, share knowledge, experience and insights as much as they compare notes. They therefore periodically review their strategies for efficiency, effectiveness and quantifiable impacts.
Accountability and transparency are key attributes that development and humanitarian practitioners cannot afford to handle with levity. They draw their funds from sources outside their immediate communities and need to be able to justify the appropriate deployment of such funds. While many practitioners have to turn in reports to their sources of funding, some donors directly gather their feedback through their humanitarian service arms. For instance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) now publishes “The Goalkeepers,” a sort of annual report on development and humanitarian services, which debuted in 2017, and would be published every year until 2030, to track progress on 18 key Sustainable Development Goals indicators and analysing promising approaches to achieving the goals.
The argument on uninspiring response of donors to fulfil their pledges in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai has been attributed to concerns over possible mis-handling of promised funds if released without any clear definition of operational details and quality of public sector personnel to handle the deployment of the funds. There is a plethora of reports of cases of funds meant for development and humanitarian interventions that ended up not getting to the intended beneficiaries. Funds meant to help tackle extreme weather events and improve the coping capability of the vulnerable groups have been frittered away without discretion. In drought-stricken areas of Africa, a lot of funds meant to help the resource-poor farmers alleviate their predicaments and boost food security have reportedly ended up in wrong pockets, denying the populace of the multiplier effects inherent in the intended benefits. This, in a way, also made it difficult to appropriately measure impacts of interventions.
A high profile case in Nigeria made the headlines recently. In 2016, an influential top-notch government official who ranked close to the President was accused of diverting an equivalent of $750,000 meant for procurement of relief materials for the internally displaced persons (IDP). The fund, meant for the procurement of food and non-food items, medical equipment and project vehicles for the IDP in the crisis-ridden northeast of the country, was reportedly diverted into the award of contract for the removal of wild grass along a river channel, which did not fall into the IDP’s immediate needs. The recalcitrance and remorseless disposition of the culpable top official drew widespread criticisms and pressure that forced the hands of the government to relieve him of his position. The issue, though treated as local, undoubtedly sent shockwaves across the development and humanitarian community globally.
Africa is believed to be rich and only needs to unlock the hidden riches. The continent’s huge deposit of minerals and their mismanagement are considered a part of the complex web of causation for Africa’s present prevailing poverty. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in 2009, reportedly had an estimated $24 trillion in untapped mineral deposits, including the world’s largest reserves of coltan and significant quantities of the world’s cobalt.
It is reckoned that uranium still provides 72 per cent of Niger’s national export proceeds, while South Africa’s total mineral reserves remain some of the world’s most valuable, with an estimated worth of R20.3-trillion ($2.5 trillion). Overall, the country is estimated to have the world’s fifth-largest mining sector in terms of GDP value. Can we begin to examine other countries rich in gold, diamond, copper, bauxite, etc. in terms of their worth? The historic official profligacy of successive governments in Nigeria since the years of oil discovery without commensurate development is a study in how development opportunities have been missed again and again.
Optimism about the much hyped Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Africa needs to be with caution. The steady growth of FDI flows to the continent during most of the past two decades has mostly been concentrated in extractive sectors, especially oil. Next is the fact that the services sector, led by the telecommunications industry, has also become a dominant FDI recipient. This, however, should not be allowed to confuse Africans as the telecom industry is concentrated in terms of ownership and wealth holding. The jobs openings for most, through telecom, are not as robust and secure downstream within the sector. The employment creation benefits could therefore not be comparable to the manufacturing sector, having established latter’s value chain and the associated multiplier effects for the stakeholders. The FDI narrative could therefore be misleading for those who would have considered helping some African countries overcome their development and humanitarian challenges which have been compounded by poverty.
Thoughts that the years of aid assistance to Africa have not spawned the kind and level of development earlier anticipated could have led some funding agencies to begin to rethink the rationale and justification for continued support for Africa. A major dilemma faced by the donor community is how to prioritise and spread thinly their resources in the face of increasing number of cases simultaneously requiring humanitarian support. A global humanitarian assistance report affirmed that, in 2017, conflicts and disasters around the world left an estimated 201 million people in need of the ‘last resort’ of international humanitarian assistance in order to cope and survive. Some of the cases include conflicts in Syria, Yemen and South Sudan, droughts and food insecurity in the Horn of Africa. Lately, droughts in Honduras in South America, swelling population of farmers with bad harvests in India and a host of other vulnerable population elsewhere, directly dependent on nature for their livelihoods are adding to the litany of challenges that call for humanitarian action.
According to the global humanitarian assistance report of 2018, of the 10 largest recipients of international humanitarian assistance in 2016, only two were in Africa, namely South Sudan and Ethiopia. And, in terms of sizes of funds, they got 6.7 per cent and 4.5 per cent respectively of the total humanitarian support in that year. Generally, funding has been directed towards protracted and recurrent crises, not necessarily toward high impact low frequency disasters. It is thus logical to expect that, with events happening all across the globe, Africa should look inward more for humanitarian assistance, particularly in cases like cyclones Idai and Kenneth.
The amount of funds ultimately disbursed would be a reflection of the donors’ priorities. Notre Dame Cathedral in France went up in flames weeks after Cyclone Idai in Africa. For instance, after the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral conflagrations in April 2019, donors have pledged nearly 900 million euros for its reconstruction and renovation. Among those that pledged was Total, a French petroleum corporation with operations in vast areas of Africa, pledging to donate 100 million euros. Although no specific amount was mentioned, Tim Cook, CEO of tech giant Apple, wrote on his twitter page that “Apple will be donating to the rebuilding efforts to help restore Notre-Dame’s precious heritage for future generations.”
Clear and unmistakable signals are thus in the horizon for African countries to see. The African Union, various multilateral funding agencies, chiefly the African Development Bank, and others have daunting tasks to fill the funding vacuum as we are seeing a slow-down in international humanitarian financing, inadequate long-term development funding, and little progress in supporting localisation. National governments need to live up to their responsibilities by reducing frictions, eliminating corruption, avoiding tendencies to crises and innovatively managing existing resources. Countries need to commit to assisting others in crises and the continental social, political and economic institutions need to rise up to the continent’s rescue. Cyclones Idai and Kenneth have provided bases for us to think more, act more and save the continent from avoidable crises.
It is not too late to begin remedial steps where problems exist and preventive moves where some are likely to rear their heads. Africa can make progress. But we must act in ways that will make this progress a sustainable reality