Horn of Africa: story of a tragedy predicted?

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By Hervé Cheuzeville and translated from French by Bahati Ntama

 Originally published by Echo D’Afrique  ( Read it here)

The situation in the Horn of Africa is tragic. However, truth must be told about it. Even though this situation has been worsened by an exceptional drought, it especially has been caused by humans. As long as these manmade causes are not addressed, there will always be recurring famine in this part of Africa, and answers to such emergencies will always be difficult to find.

What are these causes? First, the chaos in Somalia has been going on since 1991! The most affected regions of this country are controlled by an armed group called Al-Shabaab, affiliated with Al Qaeda. Which serious humanitarian organization would risk the lives of its employees by sending them in such areas?  Some are setting up operations by telecommunication, from Kenya, giving instructions to their Somali staff by telephone. For its part, World Food Program (WFP) plans to airdrop food. Will such plans really be effective?  Will not they, at least in part, benefit the troublemakers, the Al-Shabaabs?

We often forget to mention that there is a part of Somalia which has remained distant from the war affecting the country for twenty years: it is the Republic of Somaliland, which declared its independence in 1991. But this independence, unlike the most recent of South Sudan, was not recognized by the international community. There is no doubt that this international isolation complicates the efforts of local authorities to develop the country and thus avoid the risk of famine. France would take pride in proposing to the European Union, without further delay, to recognize the Republic of Somaliland (why recognize Kosovo and South Sudan and not do the same for Somaliland?)

Second cause of this tragedy is the huge military spending by Ethiopia and Eritrea, who, after having engaged in an absurd but very bloody border war from 1998-2000, continue to equip their oversized armies in anticipation of the next war. Ethiopia is also not completely foreign to the Somalia tragedy, because it intervened there militarily, worsening the chaos. As for Eritrea, for hatred of its enemies, Ethiopians, it did not hesitate to support Al-Shabaabs Somali fighting the Ethiopian intervention. Worse, Eritrea maintains in its armed forces for an unlimited period, most of its strongest citizens who could be more usefully engaged in agriculture and economic development.

The third cause of the ongoing tragedy, just as manmade as the previous ones, is the ridiculous farm policies of some governments in the region. This is how; the Ethiopian government did not hesitate to rob farmers in the south, who were previously self-sufficient, seizing their ancestral farmland and transferring it to large foreign companies. The NGO Survival, which advocates for indigenous peoples around the world, revealed yesterday that “large areas of fertile land in the Omo Valley in south-western Ethiopia, were transferred to Malaysian, Italian and Korean companies, or are directly managed by the state for agriculture for exports, while the 90 000 indigenous people living in the region depend heavily on their land for livelihood.”

Survival even adds that “the government plans to expand to 245,000 hectares of land mainly destined for growing sugar cane.” Sugar cane cannot be eaten, unlike sorghum or millet that were traditionally cultivated by these people and who managed, in good and bad seasons to feed them.

The fourth cause, rarely denounced, yet at the source of many famines, as we have seen it recently in Niger, is corruption and speculation. Large retailers, combined with corrupt ministers and officials, taking advantage of announced drought by storing grain purchased from small farmers, thus raise artificially prices of food of basic need.

In the Horn of Africa, these are the four sources of the manmade tragedy which led to this unprecedented crisis.  All the efforts of WFP and NGOs such as Action Against Hunger, Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam will not prevent a tragedy of great magnitude. To do this, it would have been necessary to address the causes, long before the beginning of this humanitarian disaster. But that would have required great political courage on the part of the governments concerned, international organizations and superpowers. This was not the case, unfortunately.

(Hervé Cheuzeville is the author of three books on African issues : « Kadogo, Enfants des guerres d’Afrique centrale » , l’Harmattan, 2003; « Chroniques africaines de guerres et d’espérance » , Editions Persée, 2006; « Chroniques d’un ailleurs pas si lointain – Réflexions d’un humanitaire engagé » , Editions Persée, 2010)

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