According to the UN, nearly half of Somalia’s population is standing in the line of the enemy: famine.
30,000 of them are likely to be dead by the end of September. The situation is gut-wrenching. Pictures of drought-stricken and dead animals; the severely malnourished children with visible outlines of their ribs pushing against flesh-less skin, peering through sunken eyes; very long queues of emaciated people, squatting, waiting for the arrival of food aid now dominate our living rooms.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Islamic Relief, who are deeply engaged on the ground, are calling for more funding. From the superpowers to the small nations, the call for aid is being made, including from Uganda where a famine lounges in the backyard and inflation is on the rise.
Although journalist Sam Kiley was right in 2009 when he wrote: “Do starving Africans a favour; don’t feed them” in The Times of London, many who agreed with him cannot carry the same thoughts this time. There isn’t really much time for a debate over aid for now. There are lives to save.
However, this famine has given us the prime opportunity to examine some of the unnecessarily benign practices of the world in Africa. Perhaps this might help contextualise why Africa is still diseased and prone to calamities. Why does the world treat the situation in the Horn of Africa as one that arrived yesterday?
Broadly, crises in Africa are treated as existing without a historical context. And the response: aid. Perhaps the West prefers sending aid to Africa, instead of giving chance to home grown opportunities. The current situation in Somalia has been blamed on the expanding drought that has ostensibly been aggravated by the threat of the militant Al-Shabaab.
But as Abdi Ismail Samatar, a professor of geography at the University of Minnesota tells us, droughts have not caused famine in the Horn of Africa, but politics have. Samatar notes that the 1970 drought in Somalia never resulted in mass starvation because the Somali government moved quickly to help its people.
There was a government in place then. When the same drought showed up again in 1992, “nearly 300,000 people starved to death because of sectarian politics. The epicentre of that famine was in Bay, one of the country’s most productive agricultural regions, and starvation was induced by warlords who used food as a weapon against farmers and pastoralists, ” the professor notes.
Surely then, famine is one consequence of the larger disaster in the Horn of Africa, not a cause and not the disaster itself. The Al-Shabaab militants too, are a consequence of the Somalia plague — failed politics. In fact, if we were to caricature them, as the western media frames them, “rabid sadists, extremists”, then they were the first famine to attack Somalia.
And if the world cared about the Somalis, as it is trying to prove, then it would be addressing the roots of the crisis. On July 11, The Nation published a story that made public the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) sites in Mogadishu. Many of these include underground prisons that detain and interrogate suspects outside the legal process — a key feature undergirding the Guantanamo experience.
Although, there are positives about the CIA presence in Mogadishu, like the reported training of Somali agents, this mission has several repugnant components. The story notes, “The CIA is reluctant to deal directly with Somali political leaders, who are regarded by US officials as corrupt and untrustworthy.
Instead, the US has Somali intelligence agents on its payroll.” One may ask: whose intelligence will these agents gather at the end of the day? Does this mean the US has intentions of starting a separate government in Somalia, away from the TFG?
This is the misguided but enthusiastic extension of the war on terror. And, of course, the US is reading from the script that has warlords as the central characters. This script was used in 2006 to fight the Union of Islamic Courts, which in spite of being known for ruthlessness, many Somalis believed was a stabilising force.
Looking at its peaceful neighbours, Kenya in the South, and Djibouti in the north, who are making a killing from their seaports, stable Somalia has enormous potential for growth by virtue of its access to the sea. There certainly would be no famine, the drought notwithstanding.
The author is a student of international politics.