Kenyans Find Unity in Helping Those in Drought

Ordinary citizens — majority of whom live on less than a $2 a day — have contributed more than $1.3 million to aid efforts in a little over a week.

Posted: 08/08/2011 04:22 PM EDT
Filed Under Somalia, Kenya

Kenyan Police constable Hashim Mohammed Elmogo donated his entire July salary towards drought and famine relief. (Photo: AP Photo/Khalil Senosi)

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Hashim Mohammed Elmogo spontaneously decided to donate his entire July salary of $376 to help those suffering from hunger after seeing a scrolling headline on television about a young child trying to nurse from his dead mother.

 

"I am very touched by the images of starving children and emaciated women," says the 36-year-old police constable. "We need to do all we can to ease the situation and save our fellow Kenyans."

 

Friends who heard of his generosity have since pledged to support him financially through the month of August.

 

Three years ago, postelection violence led Kenya to the brink of civil war and left the country divided along tribal lines more than ever before.

 

Now in a show of unity, ordinary Kenyans — majority of whom live on less than a $2 a day — have contributed more than $1.3 million in a little over a week. Corporate donations to the "Kenyans for Kenya" drive brought in another $4 million for the relief effort.

 

While famine in neighboring Somalia has killed tens of thousands, there have been hunger-related deaths in Kenya as well. At least five people have died in Turkana, the hardest hit area located in northern Kenyan near the border with Ethiopia.

 

Joseph Kimeu, 31, a driver for a non-governmental organization, donated $1 to the fundraising effort.

 

"The way I see those kids they are like my kids," he says. "If my kids are eating and I see another kid starving I feel like it's not good for a human being. Especially if you are a Kenyan, I feel it is still my family. They are my family too and that's why I gave."

 

Critics accuse the Kenyan government of being slow to respond. Kenya's well-paid legislators — who include government ministers — are preoccupied fighting a move by Kenya's tax authority ordering them to pay back taxes for their hefty allowances.

 

Currently 2.4 million people are receiving food aid in Kenya. The U.N.'s World Food Program is feeding 1.6 million and the government of Kenya another 800,000. But the U.N. says the number of those needing food assistance is expected to rise to about 3.2 million by mid-August.

 

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua in a statement said the Kenyan government has allocated $11.3 million (10.5 billion shillings) to aid the people affected by drought. The distribution of the resources has been slow due to logistical problems, he said.

 

Ikal Angelei, a program officer with Friends of Lake Turkana, said fundraising done by Kenyans is a commendable but says the government needs to implement long-term solutions to help the Turkana people withstand the recurrent droughts in the region.

 

Angelei said it shows bad management by government when people in parts of Kenya are going hungry while there are other parts of the country that have such bountiful harvests that food is rotting in the farms.

 

"My only problem is when people are not starving, food security is no longer an issue and no one sees the need to discuss the root causes and the structures needed to tackle the issues," Angelei said. "So really it is a great effort but unfortunately may be repeated again in a year if we don't tackle the underlying issues."

 

In another troubling sign, eight women in Turkana were killed by Merille tribesmen from Ethiopia on Friday because of conflicts over pasture and water, Angelei said.

 

Kenyans fought along tribal lines following disputed presidential election late 2007 which international observers said was flawed.

 

More than 1,000 people died when tribal alliances supporting President Mwai Kibaki and those of opposition candidate Raila Odinga engaged in reprisal attacks after Kibaki was announced winner. Peace was restored after former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan brokered a political agreement in which Odinga became prime minister and Kibaki retained the presidency.

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