Black American stars on sidelines of Somalia famine fight

You have several children who are near death from starvation and your last morsel of food is barely enough to feed one. Which child gets the food?

This dilemma is what hundreds and thousands of women in the Horn of Africa grapple with almost daily. Since the United Nations declared a famine in certain areas in Somalia in July, crisis has now spread. In Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, millions face severe malnutrition or starvation, according to the United Nations.

Officials warn that 750,000 people could die by December. It’s the worst drought condition to hit the region in 60 years.

Singer and activist Bono continues to bring hunger and poverty to the forefront with ONE, his anti-poverty advocacy group. The organization reported that 30,000 children in Somalia have died of famine in 3 months.


ONE’s, latest campaign, Hunger No More, features a minute-long PSA entitled: The F Word: Famine is the Real Obscenity. Celebrities and political leaders, including Jessica Alba, George Clooney, Annie Lennox, Mike Huckabee, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Colin Farrell appear in the advertisement.

Not a single African-American celebrity participated.

Africans in the diaspora, including international fashion model Liya Kebede, actor Idris Elba and rapper K’naan made appearances in the clip, which is appropriate considering that Kebede and K’naan are both from the Horn of Africa and Elba is of West African descent.

Ethiopian-native, Liya Kebede, has become an advocate for better health access for women and children around the world. K’naan close to his home, Somalia, delivering political messages of hope and pride with his hip hop-influenced music.

Would it be too far-fetched to imagine a coalition of African-American celebrities united as a voice for the women and children in the Horn of Africa who are too weakened by malnutrition to speak in a loud voice?

In the spirit of the civil rights movement and the struggle for racial and economic equality, African-Americans have been on the frontlines of change and justice in this country. TheGrio’s Living Forward highlights some of the good that African-Americans have endeavored to be a part of.
But there’s a global need at hand and in this teachable moment, African-American notables have an opportunity to stand in support of those struggling to survive in the famine.

Fortunately, certain individuals have been more visible than others when it comes to supporting global humanitarian needs, specifically Jay-Z and Beyoncé.

The iconic pair aligned with Save the Children’s, I’m Gonna Be Your Friend, campaign along with Kanye West, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and others. The initiative has spread via Twitter and other social media to encourage followers to make a donation for the famine relief.

“We can’t underestimate the scale of the crisis,” said Mark Bowden, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Somalia. “Southern Somalia is the epicenter of the famine area in the Horn of Africa. It’s the source of most of the refugees, and we need to refocus our efforts.”

The region has had its fair share of turmoil. Years of drought, political turbulence, and foreign aid restrictions have left the region vulnerable. Somalia, one of the world’s poorest countries, has not had a functioning government since 1991 and the Islamic-radical group, Shabab, has a steady grip on much of the country’s rural areas, mostly in the south. The group has even been accused of withholding relief supplies and blocking people from fleeing the country.

The Transitional Federal Government is trying to manage the distribution of emergency relief supplies, but locals have to travel to the capital of Mogadishu.

Just west of Mogadishu, women and children wait in lines for food, water and medical attention at Dabaab refugee camp in Kenya. Most of them have traveled for days, weeks and even months to reach the camp, which is often described as the largest of its kind in the world.

Now, the Horn of Africa is full of camps struggling to help the thousands of refugees pouring in.

While cases of cholera and acute diarrhea are down, as reported by the World Health Organization according to the Huffington Post, seasonal rains could spread diseases among what is already a severely weakened population.

Unfortunately, this region has been hit by drought and famine before. In 1984, the famine and drought in Ethiopia literally wiped out an estimated one million people. Images of dying children were all but too familiar, strewn on magazines and newspapers around the world.

That’s when Bono, Phil Collins, Sting and other came together as “Band Aid” and recorded the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” to support famine relief in Ethiopia.

And who can forget “We are the World”? It was a powerful moment when the likes of Harry Belafonte, Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and Tina Turner used their voices and a simple melody for Ethiopia, once again, in 1985. The record raised more than $30 million for the nonprofit organization USA for Africa.

In recent years, similar projects have brought international conflict and sufferings to our attention. Wyclef Jean, Lionel Richie and Quincy joins produced We are the World 25 for Haiti, a 2010 remake of the original to benefit recovery from the deadly Jan. 12 earthquake.

But more can be done. Bono should not be the only artist leading a mainstream campaign for relief in drought-stricken eastern Africa.

The United States has announced $127 million in additional funding to fight food and insecurity in Ethiopia. USAID director, Raj Shah, made the announcement Tuesday during a visit to Ethiopia where he met with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to discuss how to move forward with relief efforts.

Several aid organization with relief operations in the Horn of Africa are accepting donations. These organizations include UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, World Vision&, CARE, International Committee of the Red Cross and Islamic Relief USA.