Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Man-made Famine

There is a myth in circulation which says that hunger in Africa is a climate phenomenon. It is really a myth, nothing else. Hunger, especially on the Horn of Africa, is man-made. It is the work of politicians and elites. 

When United Nations agencies appeal for aid for Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Somalia and Uganda, then one cannot but notice that these very countries are governed by corrupt and cynical politicians who have scant regard for democracy. They ride roughshod over human rights and ignite ethnic and religious conflicts to shore up their hold on power.

Somalia? It can no longer be described as a state any more and languishes at the bottom of the global corruption indices. South Sudan? Has oil reserves, but instead of exporting crude, it displaces millions of civilians in an orgy of ethnic violence. Tiny Eritrea? Where there was once hope, there now stands the North Korea of North Africa, hermetically sealed off and governed by a clique that has its finger in the pie of traffickers smuggling people to Europe. Ethiopia is a potentially rich, but depressed country No country illustrates the link between bad governance and hunger more clearly than Ethiopia. The strategically located country on the Horn of Africa is the home of the coffee bean for a very good reason. Two rainy seasons and the Blue Nile could spell record harvests for Africa's second most populous nation. But this doesn't happen. Instead, the country has faced hunger since the 1970s and a flow of departing refugees. More recently, hundreds of demonstrators have been killed and opponents of the regime thrown into jail.

Nobody doubts that there are numerous external factors at work which are exacerbating food insecurity on the Horn of Africa. Climate change and the ensuing degradation of once fertile soil are triggering more disputes over pasture and water supplies. The exodus from rural areas by pastoralists and farmers is causing the cities to burst at the seams. The terror spread by Islamist Stone Age warriors, such as al-Shabab in Somalia, is stopping farmers from cultivating the land. But all these factors - especially in the presence of properly coordinated aid from abroad - could be brought under control, assuming power was in the hands of responsible politicians. But in Africa these days, they can be counted on the fingers of one hand

This current hunger crisis, like previous ones, will pass. The machinery of international aid, a well-established multi-billion dollar industry in the donor countries, has already sprung into action.  Temporary clinics for undernourished children have been set up and high nutrition biscuits are being handed round. But in a few years time, there will be another hunger crisis. And local people, livestock and the soil will have less and less time to recover as the cycles become shorter.

No comments: