Ethiopia appeals for humanitarian aid every year and has been doing so for over twenty years, but down my street and on my way to work are Syrians in Ethiopia appealing for aid. To Syrians, Ethiopia is a place of refuge, and Ethiopians are welcoming and compassionate to Syrians in their border, although, they do not announce it to the world.
For Ethiopians it is important to assist people in need with dignity without announcing to the world. My cab driver Sisay literarily breaks down in tears and he slows down to contribute to the them from his meagre resources.
Ethiopia appeals for humanitarian aid every year and has been doing so for almost twenty-one years, yet Ethiopia is hosting close to a million refugees and has been doing so for a decade, while the United States Texas has declared publicly that the state would be turning refugees away.
Ethiopia is finding solutions for its Internally displaced peoples’ (IDP) crisis by exploring options for returning and resettling internally displaced people. The United States calls its internally displaced people `homeless peoples’, criminalizes them and makes it unlawful to be homeless.
Humanitarian aid? Now who is aiding who?
The aid-giver and aid-receiver are not about needs and the ability to give, it is about national identities, it is about responding to and feeding national stereotypes.
Giving aid or receiving aid makes a statement: it is vested on, and in stereotypes of potentials and possibilities, stereotypes of lack of ability and capacity. It is not about what a nation has or does not have to give.
The United States is currently facing a food crisis driven by crisis in the farming community across the country, but the US is not calling for food assistance. Agricultural challenges in the US yields a national solution of a bail out of farmers to sustain and protect their livelihoods. Agricultural challenges in Africa would yield a national solution of food aid most likely from the United States.
Despite its farming crisis worth over US$500 billion the US is still the highest donor to food aid programmes across Africa, and it is the world’s highest donor and world’s highest debtor concurrently.
The US has built its identity as a donor and upholds that identify not because it has much to give but because it has to give to feed an identity, and to uphold a status. The US has to borrow to be generous because it has an image to uphold.
The assumption is that the United States has the capacity to owe more than any other parts of the world. It doesn’t matter if it takes the US 20 years to address its food crisis the assumption and perception that the country has the capacity is all that is required.
What entrenches Africa into aid dependency is not our challenges, but our belief, fed by history of exploitation, our obsession with external solutions to our challenges, even when those solutions have not worked for half a century, or do not even come.
Africa does not have more crises than other parts of the world. Africa’s capacity to address its crises is not less than any other parts of the world. The fact that the West donates to Africa’s aid appeals does not mean the west has more to give and Africa lacks. It is all about feeding national status, identities and stereotypes.
Australia has been ravaged by raging fires for weeks that has left many dead and tens of thousands displaced - Australia has not been able to contain this disaster and our hearts go out to the families of those who have lost their lives. This is a true disaster, but the country has not declared an appeal. To the contrary, Australia has asked the world to refrain from sending aid as it disrupts the national plan of action to address the fire crisis.
Like Australia, many other countries have publicly rejected external assistance especially when these assistance or aid come with public announcement, because they know that the giver and receiver of aid makes a statement about national characteristics, identity and pride.