In the past decade African countries have made tremendous progress in a variety of developmental areas. After years of seeming hopeless, they now bound among the nations with the fastest growing economies. It is quite shameful then, to witness a famine in the eastern horn on the continent in this age of abundance.
My generation has been very lucky to witness the resurgence of vitality in our countries and daily livelihood. Statistics show that the individual countries have some of the highest growth rates in the world; they are projected to remain at such a level for years to come. There has been a rise of a new middle class, bridging the vast gap between the rich elites and rural poor. On the ground, there has been an increase in the local access to basic infrastructure, healthcare and education, all of which raise the social capital present on the continent.
We have also witnessed functioning political institutions and the accompanying informal institutions of democratic transitions, free and fair elections and freedom of expression and association. The generation before never saw these steps toward liberalization. Even seemingly untouchable dictators have fallen, and there is the hope that this is only the beginning of real change of focus on domestic needs. The demands of the people are quickly becoming aligned with the policy making process of the political institutions.
But as we celebrate the arrival of luxuries such the Internet and widespread cell-phone use, we are reminded how much longer we have to go. It is so sad there are people starving and losing lives because of a famine. Although droughts cannot be prevented famines can. But it took an announcement of full-blown famine in this July before the world responded. In the wake of the thousands of lives lost, an additional 750,000 Somalis are predicted to die at the hand of this famine.
Conversely, areas like Puntland, Somaliland and the Ethiopian Highlands were able to avoid absolute devastation. Somaliland residents have even helped supply Somalia with some relief.
Kenya is yet another victim of terrible local food distribution networks. No one would assume that in a country with an agricultural economy, there could be both abundances of food in certain areas, and complete famine in others. The Dabaab refugee camp in Kenya, originally built to support 90,000, now holds 465,000 refugees.
Local politics also play a critical role in the longevity of the scarcity of food. In Somalia proper, the international politics, and the ongoing war is to be blamed for the current state of the situation. After the implosion of the Somali government in 1991, there have been no legitimate institutions to foster the distribution of goods in the area. Al-Shabab controls whatever semblance of food distribution networks remain in the area. The adamancy of the United States’ refusal to fund terrorist activity has been a huge obstacle as well in the provision of international aid to areas where they are most needed but controlled by Al-Shabab forces. Fortunately, help has poured in from global aid, the most coming from Turkey after visiting the area. Support from the international community has been immensely helpful, but will undoubtedly be needed for years to come: A famine is not a onetime event, and this one is predicted to persist until January of next year.
Truthfully, the root of this problem is the failure of current U.S. foreign policy in the region. Al-Shababcame about as a reaction to U.S, and foreign intervention in Somali politics. They exist to fight against the presence of the U.S imposed Transitional Federal Government. It is time, the United States, the African Union, the United Nations and other actors move beyond the politics and give up on the nominal government of the TFG. The main concerned should be addressing how the Somali people see themselves based on family clans and regional organization. If anything, the Somaliland region that seceded years ago has proven that there is a chance for success if the regions are engaged individually.
Michael Appau is a senior in the College and on the board of directors of the African Society.