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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Haiti Reveals a Generous Side of Africa

For many years, the African continent has held the title of being the hub where international aid is directed. Torn by internal conflicts and sometimes being utterly punished by Mother Nature, who has at times brought disastrous drought and famine, most African countries continue to rely on financial and in-kind aid from their “bigger brothers” from the West.

This is a scenario that is still being manifested even today, especially in the war-torn Horn of African nation of Somalia, where plane after plane being navigated by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) continue to drop metric tons of food on each flight.

However, the destructive earthquake that hit the Caribbean republic of Haiti, the nation’s worst ever in 200 years, seems to be changing the general belief that only Western nations, which are more endowed in all economic fronts than their African equivalents, can offer help if a disaster of Haiti’s magnitude were to strike any nation.

In the wake of the disaster, African governments and their people are also coming together with the world and have stepped up their gears in the rush to provide international assistance to the quake-ravaged nation, which unfortunately  enough also bears the burden of being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

According to various reports, Nigerians are part of a 121-strong police contingent serving with the UN police mission in Haiti assiduously working to rescue people trapped in the rubble following the devastating 7.0-magnitude quake that also had dozens of aftershocks.

Rwanda, which benefited a lot from international assistance during the 1994 genocide, is reported to have contributed US$100,000, according to Rwanda's New Times newspaper, while the Liberian government is reported to have contributed $50,000.

While questions abound on where Haitians will go after the quake reduced almost everything to debris when it hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, the Senegalese government has promised to offer free parcels of land to Haitians willing to relocate to the country. The West African nation remains one of the most stable democracies in Africa and has had a long history of participating in international missions like peacekeeping.

The nation's President, Abdoulaye Wade, through his spokesperson, Mamadou Bemba Ndiaye is quoted to have said, ""The president is offering voluntary repatriation to any Haitian that wants to return to their origin...If it's just a few individuals, then we will likely offer them housing or small pieces of land. If they come en masse we are ready to give them a region."

Talk of feeling sufficiently philanthropic.

But many Senegalese nationals live outside Africa. Some permanently, most, temporarily. The fact that some of them may have been struggling to find life in Haiti cannot be ruled out. In matters football only, Patrick Vieira, Bacary Sagna, Patrice Latyr Evra, Lassana Diarra, Aly Cissoko and Batefimbi "Baby Drogba" Gomis are just some of the exports who departed their home nation of Senegal in their quest to taste life outside their motherland. They all ended up in France, where they joined another well-renowned Senegalese, a kitchen expert, Chef Rougui Dia.

So, whether out of pure heart, or perhaps knowing that the list of Senegalese in Haiti may be more than the list of Senegalese footballers in France, President Wade's generosity is so far unmatched.

In Kenya, the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) and The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has urged Kenyans to contribute towards a fund that will assist victims of the quake. KRCS secretary general Abbas Gullet said Kenyans had also benefited from international aid during major catastrophes in the East African nation, and as a result, they should help assist the survivors. Safaricom, the leading mobile network operator in Kenya has also set up an Mpesa (money transfer) account where donors can send money for Haiti.

Meanwhile, the South African government, albeit busy with preparations for the upcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup in June, “has announced a three-phase assistance package: deployment of doctors to a search and rescue team led by Rescue South Africa, a non-profit company; deployment of forensic pathologists to help identify bodies; provision of unspecified humanitarian aid in partnership with South African NGOs.” South Africa’s aid organization, Gift of The Givers, has also dispatched relief efforts totaling to about R10 million according to Times Live.

Whether other African countries will be tickled by the gesture extended by their counterparts to help Haiti remains to be seen. However, it is a bold step in the right direction and it further dispels the common belief that Africa is all about gloom and doom and more of a receiving continent than a giving one.

And That's the Steifmastertake!!