Drought Is No Excuse

We often causally equate drought with famine. Yet reality is more complex and more frustrating. Famine in the horn of Africa is largely fuelled by geopolitical interests in the region in collusion with inept local leaders out to control markets and natural resources.

Starving children, women and men are victims of manmade sabotage executed through a collusion of national and international elites’ politics of exclusion. Drought ought not to be an excuse; countries such as those in the Middle East that receive average annual rainfall of 110mm have clear strategies to keep their populations fed. The Horn of Africa is exposed to extremes of regions that receive average of 100mm to 2,200mm annual rainfall. Negative effects of drought on food supply come at the very end of the forces that drive humanity to starvation.

Governments in the Horn of Africa lack development oriented elite. The bureaucracies and political elite in this region are populated with rent-seekers who manage states through reinforcing ethnic balkanization. Rent-seeking behavior compromises the ability for a country to come up with sound public policy. An estimated 80% of the region’s population relies on agriculture to generate revenue. Instead of focusing on how to increase their productivity; outward oriented policies that enable bureaucrats and politicians scheme off benefits are developed. It’s easier for those highly connected in government to make more money importing food when a disaster is declared than to have individual citizens produce more to ensure food security.

Politicians sabotage food productivity in the region through divisive ethnicity and clan politics. Ethnicity is used as a bargaining chip in the quest for competitive democracy to discourage free movement of ethnic communities within national borders (restricting movement of labor and knowledge). The restriction hampers delivery of accurate market signals to farmers which in turn breeds peasantry. Local populations are not able to freely engage the market demands for foods and land. Populations are forced to focus on political elites as their messianic heroes/heroines which in turn promote the culture of entitlement and compromises productivity. The culture of entitlement feeds into bureaucracies that then churn out policies with an eye on how to make quick money.

Against this backdrop is the international quest to meet wealthy nations’ food needs, which according to Dr. Kofi Annan has exposed close to a billion people to hunger globally. Increased protectionism, unilateral export bans, land grabs and exclusive deals that meet food needs of the rich and not the poor is to blame for food crisis. The food security situation in Africa is complicated further by “land grabs.” In 2009 alone, Hedge funds and other speculators acquired an estimated 60 million hectares of land – an area size of France. Some African leaders are reported to trade land for bottles of whisky!

According to the Council on Foreign Relations; the global food system has been hit by food price volatility that complicates efforts to make poor countries food secure. Food price unpredictability is caused by (a) high energy prices and quest for biofuels; (b) diverting grain stocks to meet demand for meat; © the growth of middle class population; (d) speculation due to hedge funds entry into the agriculture sector; (e) weather and climate change and (f) trade policy against food exports.

Famine in the horn of Africa is largely fuelled by geopolitical interests in the region in collusion with inept local leaders out to control markets and natural resources. One step towards a lasting solution to famine in the Horn of Africa is to encourage Africans to take charge of the famine narrative.

Read more in this debate: Thomas Pogge.

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