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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Moment for Mozambique

Gregorio Ling'ande, Mozambique's ambassador to Moscow, has waited for more than three months for someone in Russia to acknowledge the grave damage caused by the cyclones and floods that left nearly 700 dead and more than 1 million homeless in his impoverished country in February.

"We did not anticipate a tragedy on such a large scale," Ling'ande said in a recent interview. "Many people have not recovered from the effects of the floods. We are working to overcome [the natural disaster], but we need a lot more help."

But Ling'ande's wait will soon come to an end. A group of foreign investment companies, diplomats, Russian businessmen and a handful of African sympathizers have, albeit belatedly, heeded his country's call for aid. Spearheaded by the efforts of Afghanistan's ambassador to Moscow, Abdul Assefi, this group has come together to organize a charity ball to raise funds to help reverse Mozambique's severe economic hardship.

"It is important that everyone does what he can to help alleviate the effects of the catastrophe [in Mozambique]. We were all moved when we heard the news," said Assefi, whose own country was devastated by a natural disaster when a 1998 earthquake killed 6,000. "This is a time of great need. People's hopes are shattered and their capacities weakened. They [Mozambicans] are doing their best to meet the challenging tasks they face, but they need substantial assistance."

The international community and aid organizations were quick to respond after torrential rains devastated homes and one-tenth of Mozambique's cultivated land in February. Many countries have earmarked funds for reconstruction - especially for essential projects that could take years to rebuild.

But while a worldwide relief drive was conducted by international organizations and Western countries, some wondered whether Russia would join in. At the very least, Mozambique hoped the Kremlin would forgive or reschedule the country's $2.35 billion debt it acquired during the Soviet era.

But Russia has thus far refrained from committing itself.

"We know that that country is undergoing a serious crisis,"

a Foreign Ministry spokesman said, adding that Russia does intend to develop a humanitarian aid package for Mozambique. "But we need time to address all these important issues."

Russia's slow response to assist Mozambique has been criticized within some circles of the African diplomatic community.

"We are aware of Russia's own domestic problems. Everyone is working under a tremendous strain," said one senior African diplomat. "But we are disappointed. This is an obvious sign that Russia has long ago set its priorities."

Indeed, Russia's slow response to the tragedy in Mozambique has left a sour taste in the mouths of many Africans living in Russia. Omar Turey, a human rights activist from Gambia, says that Africa is now a forgotten continent for post-Communist Russia, which is more interested in strengthening ties with the United States and Southeast Asia.

"Why do people take so long to act when others are on the verge of dying?" said Turey. "We could have saved more lives if we had had support from the beginning."

But in the place of an official response from Russia, an unofficial reply to Maputo's pleas for help has come from a local group including everyone from Afghanistan's Assefi and the Arab League to Planet Hollywood and the Russian-American Dental Center.This eclectic assortment of do-gooders organized the charity ball to aid Mozambique's flood victims.

The fundraiser, to be held June 16 at Planet Hollywood, will feature everything from indigenous African dances to a "Miss Africa" fashion show. First-class air tickets - donated by U.S. Ambassador James Collins and by British Airways - will also be auctioned.

According to Planet Hollywood's Steve Young, who heads the committee coordinating the event, the response so far has been very positive.

"People are willing to participate and wanted to donate what they could. We had been thinking about this for a long time, but we wanted to develop the right strategy," said Young, adding that a cultural evening was just the ticket to attract the interests of Moscow's multicultural community.

"We know for sure that the government and people [of Mozambique] will make good use of any aid they'll receive," Young said. "And when our modest efforts in Moscow are felt back in Maputo, then we'll be satisfied."

The charity ball will take place at Planet Hollywood on June 16. For information and tickets, contact the Mozambican Embassy (284-4007) or the Afghan Embassy (928-7278).