Moustapha Barry is an Australian engineer and community leader from a Senegalese background. He is passionate about making a difference in the community and cares a lot about the image of the continent of Africa and the African person in Australia, Africa and globally.
Barry recently received an email from UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugee) asking for a donation to help address famine in Somalia and Nigeria. Upon reading the email, Barry noticed that the wording of the message from UNHCRC was not appropriate and was clearly suggesting much of the continent of Africa was affected by famine rather than simply two or three countries (Somalia, Sudan and Nigeria) were parts of the population were affected.
Barry decided to take action against what he believes to be a blatant misrepresentation of the continent of Africa for the sake of filling coffers, even though the work being done by UNHCR and other similar agencies is commendable. Barry decided to write back to UNHCR and he wants to take further action to help stop the unnecessary negative representation of Africa and Africans, which has severe consequences for African communities in Africa and in the diaspora.
We are reproducing below Barry’s correspondence with the office of National Director of UNHCR, (Naomi Steer), which gives a glimpse of the situation that Barry is trying to address.
From: Barry Moustapha
To: Naomi Steer, National Director of UNHCR , Australia
Thanks for sending me the email appeal on “famine and hunger in Africa”.
I find it particularly concerning that this is an alarming appeal about famine and hunger “across” a continent as a whole where the situation is far from what you are describing.
Again the machine of negative marketing on the African continent is getting unleashed.
Unfortunately your appeal for me to donate for this “cause” will not meet with my generosity as I believe this kind of negative marketing towards Africa has already damaged the image of the continent irreparably.
This same negativity that has so adversely impacted the pride and confidence of Africans around the world for too long!
As an African-born Australian, I find it quite distressing and ignorant to see the continent of my origin being so badly massacred through messages and campaigns like these.
There are indeed concerning situations in South Soudan and some parts of Kenya or Nigeria affected by a severe drought or terrorist unrest (such as Alshabab and Boko haram). From this to make a blanket statement on the whole “African continent being on the verge of famine and hunger”, is verging to exaggeration and blatant alarmist marketing to attract people’s guilt and generosity for your organisation’s own benefit first and foremost. Enough of this. Please find better ways of raising funds for whatever reasons you need these funds for.
A handful of African countries out of the 54 making up the continent may be experiencing difficult situations. These are: South Sudan due to the civil war, parts of Nigeria and Kenya subjected to terrorist groups vandalism. But Africa as a whole is NOT facing hunger and famine.
Remember, such blanket negative campaigns do more damage to Africans and African economies. Such campaigns do not promote respect, equity, equality; they do not help promote tourism or investments into or towards African countries.
Promotion by pity and images of misery have never done good to anyone. Unless your programs have other aims and objectives.
So, please STOP YOUR DEGRADING CAMPAIGNS!
PROMOTE FAIRER TRADE AND INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES INSTEAD!
UNHCR’s Response to Barry
From: Kate (UNHCR)
To: Moustapha Barry
Subject: Thank you for your enquiry to Australia for UNHCR
Dear Mr Barry,
Thank you for your email, we appreciate your feedback.
On behalf of Naomi, please accept our apologies, our intention was not to infer all of Africa is impacted. Our choice of phrase “across Africa” is quite literal – we are facing food shortages from Mauritania on the East coast to Somalia in the far West.
As you mention, famine has been declared in South Sudan, while Somalia and parts of Nigeria also on the brink. But we also face food security threats elsewhere, due to conflict destroying agricultural sectors and an acute lack of funding for humanitarian work.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees issued a warning on this topic two weeks ago. We are seeing cuts in nutrition supplements for refugees in Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Burundi and Ethiopia. Food rations have also been cut dramatically in large refugee settlements in Cameroon, Chad, Kenya, Mauritania, Uganda and South Sudan. By up to 50% in some places.
As a partner of the UN Refugee Agency, our specific remit is raising funds to help UNHCR provide refugees with protection, fulfil their basic human rights and restore their dignity. We also help fund livelihood and training programs to help displaced people regain their self-sufficiency.
I hope this helps clarify the purpose of this particular appeal and our broader remit. Thank you again for your past support.
Kate |Donor Services|
Barry’s latest response to Kate
Thank you for your response “on behalf of” Naomi.
While you emphasised that your intention “was not to infer all of Africa is impacted” but you added that “your choice of words is quite litteral” meaning justified in your eyes, given the food shortages from “Mauritania in the East Coast (sic) to Somalia in the West (re-sic)”!
What am supposed to say in the face of such blatant ignorance of the geography of the African continent? Coming from authorities who are so zealously massacring the image of hundreds of millions in the continent and outside of it?
Let me tell you Kate, from Mauritania to Somalia there is a stretch of 6500 Km (direct bird fly or over 9 hours flight) crossing 5 countries namely Mali, Niger, Tchad, Soudan and Ethiopia. All or most of which are located on the borders of the Sahara desert in a vast area known as “Sahel” and large enough to contain the entire Western Europe! And this is just a small portion ofAfrica! Food shortages in these areas are not uncommon just like they are in rural areas affected by drought or transition periods in any country.
Have the governments of these countries declared a state of emergency in regards to these shortages? Well, I think I know what your answer will be, the usual patronising line of “oh, with corruption rife in these countries ….etc!” Even though these are countries people like yourself ignore the actual geographical position let alone the economic situation.
The argument of “food shortages” can be applied to any developing country facing seasonal transition or subjected to unrest, but to unleash a negative and falsely alarmist campaign that undermine people’s dignity in the eyes of the world is one step the UNHCR and the likes shouldn’t take lightly. You don’t seem to care or let alone understand what it feels to see these pitiful selected pictures your organisation is lambasting day and night across TV screens, newspapers and large billboards! So much so that the average African has become the epitome of the sorry, hungry, desperate face that needs rescuing.
The effect your degrading and demeaning campaigns has on our young and on our people is unspeakable in terms of moral and psychological damage. You wouldn’t know or care because you are not walking in our shoes!
Areas in Africa or elsewhere facing food shortages need better and more. These people need more articulated agricultural policies to better negotiate the transition between wet and dry seasons. These areas and people need more advocacy from your organisation for better and fairer international trade arrangements, more advocacy to stop the trade of weapons from western countries manufacturers of these weapons into these poor areas! Instead of these alarming and degrading remittance appeals, use your influence to denounce the pounding and destruction of resources in these areas and the political machinations that go with it in conjunction with powerful international conglomerates and local cronies.
Like I said in my letter, please STOP!
PROMOTE FAIRER TRADES AND INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES INSTEAD!
NB: Mauritania is in the North-West of the African continent bordering the Atlantic. Somalia is in the Eastern part, bordering the Indian Ocean.