August 8, 2011
Mobilizing the Somalian Diaspora to Save Lives in the Horn of Africa


As one who helps fund in very modest ways global development and humanitarian assistance, I am privy to appeals from all corners on behalf of people in desperate situations.  Never before have I heard as much desperation in the voices of my colleagues, as I do today from those trying to raise awareness about the shocking and escalating crisis in the Horn of Africa.


“The worst humanitarian emergency in the world today continues to escalate, as the regional food security crisis in the Horn of Africa spreads to more areas,” writes CARE, described as the leading humanitarian assistance organization in the Dabaar refugee camp to which 1,300 new famine refugees are streaming daily.  Read CARE’s compelling situation report or watch the video on the famine in the Horn of Africa here — and give.

2011-08-03 – Horn of Africa emergency update with highlights


The scale of this crisis is unimaginable — and that is precisely the problem.  Peter Singer, in his conscience-prodding book, The Life You Can Save, explains that psychological studies show that the larger the numbers of suffering persons, the more helpless we feel to save them.  If confronted with one drowning child, we will dive in the water in a heartbeat.  In the face of hundreds of thousands of starving children, we become paralyzed — or worse, apathetic.


The challenge for fundraisers and activists inspiring compassion for strangers is to reduce a whole-scale catastrophe to what Prof. Adil Najam (formerly of Boston University’s Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future), coined “The Power of One.”  The Power of One victim’s story can inspire the Power of One person’s response. 


Such an emotional approach is for many of us who understand the complex causes of mass crises far too sentimental and artificial.  A more impactful and authentic approach would be to shine a spotlight on and mobilize the Somalian, Ethiopian and Kenyan refugees who have immigrated to America.  Put them on the radio; interview them on TV!   They have the clearest line to the unfolding tragedy, and the most intense motivation to track the crisis and raise money to halt the starvation and massacres of their relatives.  Tap their extraordinary resourcefulness and their undying commitment, and give them a philanthropic and political voice in the long-term strategies to build peace and rebuild livelihoods in the Horn of Africa.


I am heartened to learn that Patrick Meier, creator of the Ushahidi Crisis Mapping software, is mobilizing the Somalian immigrant community in Minnesota, of which there are 25,000 members, to call relatives and track the spread of the famine and the location of NGOs in the field.  I watched the Ushahidi team in action 24/7 in a basement room of Tufts University near Boston after the Haitian earthquake.  By relaying text messages from stranded victims in Haiti to over 1,000 Haitian American translators — and then back to command central at Tufts —  the Ushahidi team pinpointed on a real-time map the locations of victims and rescuers.  By accessing the map in cyberspace, NGOs saved lives.  Thank you, Patrick Meier, for engaging the Somalian American Diaspora to save lives in the Horn of Africa


For more about Patrick Meier and efforts to enroll the Somalian Diaspora in tracking the famine see:


For a succinct summary of CARE‘s mammoth efforts to stem the famine in the Horn of Africa see