What can Africa do on famine?

The role of African countries is extremely important.


1. What kind of role can the African countries or the African Union play in the fight against the famine and related problems, do you see some positive efforts on their side or negative or both or no effort at all?

2. Is their role important or not, and why?


Laura Seay, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Morehouse College

1. We definitely see an effort to address the situation by the African states that border Somalia and those involved in the peacekeeping mission there.

The African Union can play a major role in the response to the famine, particularly through the AMISOM peacekeeping operation that is already in place. Working in conjunction with the Somali army, AMISOM already controls the Mogadishu airport, where many food shipments arrive. It is vital that the AU continue to support this mission so that food shipments can arrive safely into the region. This is certainly a positive contribution and one that is very necessary.

Beyond the AU, other African countries also play an important role. Kenya and Ethiopia are both hosting thousands of refugees, and Kenya in particular serves as an important staging ground for administration and getting food into Somalia. The government of Kenya has been very cooperative with the international community on logistics issues, but there are some concerns about the refugee situation, particularly as it relates to overcrowding at Dadaab refugee camp. There, the Kenyan government needs assurances from other African states and the international community that it will have their full support in running the camps and in eventually helping the refugees return home when the situation improves.

2. The role of African states and the AU is extremely important – Somalia’s crisis of governance from which this famine stems will not be solved without a regional and global effort. The AU can and should do more to fundraise for the famine crisis, but even more important are its longer term efforts to bring stability and government to Somalia.

Rob Bailey, Senior Research Fellow, Energy, Environment & Resource Governance Royal Institute of International Affairs – Chatham House

1. To help with the famine, African governments and the African Union can contribute to the emergency appeal which remains more than $1bn underfunded. Unfortunately the AU pledging conference scheduled for Monday last week has been postponed. This is likely due to the fact that much of the AU’s financing comes from North African states such as Libya and Egypt, which are preoccupied with domestic matters at the current time. Those in the East Africa region can also do everything they can to facilitate the relief effort – ensuring that humanitarian agencies face minimal bureaucracy, easy access, support from officials etc. They can also pursue open trade in food – avoiding imposing export bans and restrictions which may prevent food reaching the regions where it is needed most. Tanzania has imposed export restrictions in response to the crisis for example.

Longer-term, Africa countries have to build resilience to droughts, so that their impacts are less disastrous. This means investing in agricultural development, disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation. It also means ensuring secure access to land for pastoralist communities. The African Union pledged several years ago that member countries would invest 10% of their national budgets in agriculture, but few countries have actually done so.

2. Yes the role of African countries – specifically governments – is crucial. They are ultimately responsible for ensuring the health and security of their populations.

Alex Thurston, Ph.D. Candidate in the Religion Department, Northwestern University

Any aid can make a difference in Somalia, and many African governments – including Somaliland – are trying hard to make a positive difference in southern Somalia.

Governments can make famine worse by not responding effectively, though. Famine comes about not just because of lack of rainfall and population growth, but also because of the decisions policymakers take. The biggest offender in exacerbating the current famine has probably been al Shabab, for denying the famine and for restricting aid agencies’ access to southern Somalia, but Somalia’s neighbors could also make the problem worse if they downplay the scale of the problem, fail to take care of refugees, or fail to allocate enough resources for the crisis. Kenya got serious criticism in 2009 for its response to that year’s drought, for example. Kenya – and also Ethiopia – are under pressure this year to take the problem seriously and respond appropriately.

Michael Schatzberg, Professor, African Studies Program, University of Wisconsin-Madison

It is important that your readers understand that while droughts are acts of nature, famines are acts of politics. We cannot control drought; we can control, and prevent, famine. The Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen wrote some years ago that there has never been a famine in a democracy because the electorate would demand that the government not permit a drought to turn into a famine. To the best of my knowledge, Sen was correct.

The reply to your question on what can African governments do in the fight against famine thus flows logically. They can democratize.

Bruce Berman, Professor Emeritus, Director and Principal Investigator, Ethnicity and Democratic Governance Program, Department of Political Studies, Queen’s University

To briefly answer your questions, I think that the most important contribution that the African Union is currently making to the relief of the famine in the horn of Africa is being made by its peace-keeping forces in Mogadishu, which are gradually retaking the city and providing areas of security beyond the Islamist militia in which civilians can actually receive aid.

Catherine Besteman, Professor of Anthropology, Colby College

I work with Somalis currently living in the US and in our conversations they have told me that they hope the African Union and African countries will play a larger role in assisting with the Somali famine. The US has a poor history of engagements in Somalia and for this reason they believe that the best hope for international intervention will be other African countries.

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