May 8th is the international Red Cross Day. It coincides with the birthday of the late Henry Dunant. He was the founder of the Red Cross Movement, as well as the YMCA, and the inaugural recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
All over the world, societies will be marking the day with all manner of celebrations, social activities, community service activities and so on. In my home town the local sub branch is set to have a procession through the town, coupled with a first aid drill to keep the local 1st Responders alert.
Many African nations will have societies that were formed as direct successors to the societies of the former colonial masters. Kenya is no different.
The Kenya Red Cross was formally installed as a national society in 1965, taking over operations form the Kenya Branch of the British Red Cross.
Incidentally that makes this year’s celebration the Kenya Red Cross Society’s golden jubilee. But I digress.
On the whole disaster and human tragedy have been a major hallmark of African history in the 20th and 21st centuries.
For the most part the bulk of humanitarian activity continues to be done through the IFRC, and ICRC, owing to a relative lack of capacity where crises are most severe. One example is the American Red Cross’ leading role in containing the Ebola crisis in Liberia.
One relatively rare exception being the leading role that the Kenya red Cross played in the electoral crisis of 2008, and subsequent major disasters since then.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be a volunteer in my local Red Cross Sub Branch, and have seen how much it can be a struggle to mobilize resources from a community that is pressed to divert anything from the immediate struggle of getting through the day. Not to mention the low regard that local governments place on disaster management and preparedness.
Even considering these challenges, it is somewhat disappointing (for me) given the passion that the Society’s founder had for his cause, that a continent like ours does not have a more robust Red Cross presence, that is driven (paraphrasing Dunant here) by leading figures of African society.
Perhaps there are stories of vibrant, domestically supported African Red Cross societies not getting the coverage that they should for whatever reason. Perhaps it is unreasonable for me to expect too much from Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in places where even the most basic functions of state are bare functional.
Nevertheless I do reckon more can be done with the reources already available.