Monday, March 20, 2017 at 8:17 AM

Groundhog-Day Famine Crisis in Africa

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

You might notice that this blog does not feature any revenue-generating ads. That’s because, when I launched it 12 years ago, I wanted to make plain my primary interest in contributing to informed public debate on an eclectic array of topics. This has distinguished it over the years from the blogs of far too many others – who have made plain their primary interest in attracting cash-milking “visits.”

Today’s commentary throws this into sharp relief. After all, while I am commenting on the grave matter of famine in Africa, virtually everyone else is commenting on the patent farce of President Trump falsely accusing former President Obama of wiretapping his phone. And I’m not even including Facebookers, Twitterers, and Instagrammers — whose vacuous, snarky, and narcissistic contributions do nothing but dumb down, coarsen, and debase public debate.

Which means that, by reading this, you’re akin to one choosing health food over junk food. And, just as eating health food is better for your body, reading this is better for your mind … and soul.

That willfully self-righteous rant aside,

The world faces the largest humanitarian crisis since the United Nations was founded in 1945 with more than 20 million people in four countries at risk of starvation and famine, the UN humanitarian chief has said.

Stephen O’Brien told the UN Security Council on Friday that ‘without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death’ and ‘many more will suffer and die from disease.’

He urged an immediate injection of funds for Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeast Nigeria plus safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid ‘to avert a catastrophe.’

(Al Jazeera, March 11, 2017)

No doubt this crisis warrants our attention, concern, and support. Never mind the Orwellian spin Trump’s new budget director, Mick Mulvaney, offered during a White House press conference last week. Specifically, a foreign reporter asked if he was concerned that 20 million of “the most vulnerable people on Earth will suffer” from cuts to the United Nations and US foreign aid. Mulvaney replied, rather indignantly, that

We’re absolutely reducing funding to the UN and to the various foreign aid programs [which] should come as a surprise to no one who watched the campaign.

(Fox Business, March 16, 2017)

He then rationalized that refusing to fund things like daily meals for poor Americans and emergency relief for starving Africans is an “act of compassion” towards American taxpayers, insisting that funding such programs would not be using their dollars “in a proper function.”

Mind you, I cannot read or listen to reports about famine in Africa without being seized with cynicism and feelings of fecklessness.

I was disillusioned enough by global fundraising campaigns – from Live Aid in 1985 to Make Poverty History in 2005 and the Global Citizen Festival in 2016. They were supposed to end famine in Africa, remember?

But the broken promises of political leaders only compounded my disillusionment. US President Bill Clinton (in 1998) and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (in 1999) led the chorus of those who vowed “never again” would the world standby as tribal conflicts give way to Ethiopian-like famines or Rwandan-like genocides. Except that nothing exposed their hollow vows quite like this headline from the April 4, 2004, edition of the Washington Post:

How did ‘never again’ become just words?

This brings me to the “groundhog” in my title. For it alludes not only to all of the failed efforts to end famine and genocide in Africa, but also to all of my commentaries lamenting those notorious failures.

In fact, one of the very first commentaries I wrote on this blog is titled “Despite Live8 and G8, Relief Looms like a Cruel Mirage to Millions of Africans Dying of Starvation!” July 21, 2005. It is replete with the cynicism and feelings of fecklessness I had already developed from my ancillary involvement in humanitarian efforts to provide sustainable relief.

South Sudan is particularly noteworthy in this dubious respect. It owes the national independence it gained in 2011, in large measure, to global protests against ethnic cleansing and genocidal atrocities, which Arab militias had been perpetrating against blacks in the Darfur region of Sudan.

I added my two cents to those protests with commentaries like

  • “Help! Ethnic Cleansing and Forced Starvation Persists in Africa,” December 1, 2005;
  • “Save Darfur Rally: Full of Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing!” May 2, 2006;
  • “Alas, the ICC Charging President Bashir of Sudan with Genocide Means Nothing!” July 15, 2008.

Sure enough, within three years of South Sudan gaining its independence, I was writing commentaries like

  • “South Sudan Descending into the Heart of Darkness,” December 30, 2013;
  • “Millions in South Sudan Eating Leaves and Grass … Like Cows,” October 29, 2015;
  • “South Sudan: Another Genocide Developing in Africa,” December 19, 2016.

No surprise then that South Sudan is one of the countries the UN is claiming today needs “an immediate injection of funds … to avert a catastrophe.”

Incidentally, I was heartened that 60 Minutes, the most influential newsmagazine on television, finally ran a segment on this unfolding crisis last night. Because this amounted to having a fog horn join the whistles the rest of us have been blowing for years to sound the alarm.

Above all, though, the sad, frustrating and abiding truth is that this crisis has more to do with the folly of “man’s inhumanity to man” than the wrath of Mother Nature. In fact, tribal conflict has been the root cause of nearly every humanitarian crisis that has plagued Africa since the end of colonization 50 years ago. Such conflicts invariably hamper irrigation, tilling and crop-rotation efforts to stave off famine.

Not to mention the African leaders who misappropriate funds for humanitarian relief to buy arms for those tribal conflicts – a perversion I refer to as alms for arms. Of course, even more galling is the unconscionable way they misappropriate funds to finance their opulent lifestyles.

Nonetheless, famine in Africa is still far more worthy of media coverage than the latest conspiracy in Trump’s mind. More to the point, my commentary “‘Another African Famine?! Nobody Cares!’ Then Call Me Nobody,” May 2, 2014, delineates the economic and moral dilemma this chronic crisis poses. I’ve decided I can do no better than to reprise it here, in its entirety.

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‘Another African Famine?! Nobody Cares!’ Then Call Me Nobody

More than 1 million people in South Sudan have fled their homes at a crucial time of the year: planting season. Famine, aid officials say, could be the result, and the UN’s top official for human rights said Wednesday she is appalled by the apparent lack of concern by the country’s two warring leaders that mass hunger looms.

‘If famine does take hold later in the year — and the humanitarian agencies are deeply fearful that it will — responsibility for it will lie squarely with the country’s leaders, who agreed to a cessation of hostilities in January and then failed to observe it themselves,’ said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navy Pillay, referring to South Sudan’s president and the former vice president.

(The Associated Press, April 30, 2014)

To be fair, we have floods of Biblical proportions surging through the Deep South, fires from the pits of hell raging through the West, trains carrying crude oil derailing and exploding through the Northeast, and Donald Sterling’s racist outburst still reverberating throughout the country. Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that the American media are ignoring the UN sounding this alarm about yet another famine in Africa.

Indeed, CNN does not even deem this famine important enough to interrupt its 24/7 coverage of UFOs (unidentified floating objects, that is) masquerading as debris from missing flight MH370.

Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 7.29.04 AMWhat’s more, every American can fairly ask: why should I care about starving kids in Africa when African leaders are the ones starving them, and their fellow Africans don’t seem to give a damn?

No doubt the prevalence of drought-borne famine gives the impression that Africa is fated to Mother Nature’s neglect … or wrath. But the disillusioning truth is that the administrative incompetence and nefarious devices of African men are far more responsible for chronic starvation on that Dark Continent. It’s bad enough that these genocidal maniacs couldn’t care any less about causing starvation, but they don’t even have any compunctions about impeding, or even killing, foreign aid workers trying to deliver relief.

And don’t get me started on countries like Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and others competing to become the Taliban paradise Afghanistan used to be. I mean, what are we to make of a ragtag bunch of wannabe Islamists, calling themselves Boko Haram, kidnapping over 250 “mostly Christian” girls from a school in Nigeria to sell as child brides (in border countries)? This, simply because these ignoramuses think Western education is evil and, moreover, that girls should not be educated.

And what of the Africans who traffic African migrants into Europe the way South Americans traffic illegal drugs into the United States? At the very least, this conjures up the inconvenient truth that, in far too many cases, Europeans did not enslave Africans so much as buy them from their fellow Africans as “chattel” (a.k.a. personal property).

Incidentally, it was a discussion last night on this kidnapping and other self-inflicted wounds now festering all over Africa that led a dear friend to exclaim, “And now another fucking famine?! Nobody cares!” To which I replied, “Then call me nobody.”

Starving-ChildAnyway, my Mummy used to guilt me into eating my vegetables by telling me how lucky I was compared to starving children in Africa. For some unknown reason, she seemed particularly concerned about starving children in Biafra. The cheeky little bugger that I was, though, I always told her that I’d be happy to send them my vegetables. But something stuck.

This is why I’ve been doing the equivalent of sending my vegetables to starving children in Africa – ever since the Ethiopian Famine of 1984 sprouted the care my Mummy seeded when I was a child. And over the past decade – beginning with “Despite Live8 and G8, Relief Looms Like a Cruel Mirage to Millions of Africans Dying of Starvation” on July 21, 2005 – I’ve been using this weblog to entreat others to do whatever they can to help.

As indicated above, however, even aid workers from organizations like CARE could be forgiven compassion fatigue for Africa, especially in light of sobering truths like this:

Helping Africa is a noble cause, but the campaign has become a theater of the absurd – the blind leading the clueless. The record of Western aid to Africa is one of abysmal failure. More than $500 billion in foreign aid – the equivalent of four Marshall Aid Plans – was pumped into Africa between 1960 and 1997. Instead of increasing development, aid has created dependence.

(CATO Institute, September 14, 2005)

Worse still, according to a BBC Newsnight report on August 5, 2011, even leaders of a country as dependent on aid as Ethiopia invariably use development aid as “a weapon of oppression.”

Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 1.17.17 PMIt’s clearly foolhardy for foreign governments to continue giving aid directly to African governments, only to have local leaders use that aid to line their pockets and oppress their people.

But I am truly humbled by the thousands of foreign aid workers (mostly white Americans) who, despite all of the challenges and frustrations, continue to march to the front lines. They help combat everything from chronic poverty to the vicious cycle of tribal warfare I bemoaned just days ago in “South Sudan Continues Descent into Heart of Darkness,” April 25, 2014.

Accordingly, I can never tire of doing what little I can to support them and keep the humanitarian work they do in public consciousness. And, in doing so, I hope you don’t mind my taking a page from my Mummy’s playbook by guilting you into donating (as I do) to their organizations, like UNICEF, USAID, Doctors Without Borders, UN World Food Programme, and CARE.

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Related commentaries:
Despite Live8
South Sudan continues descent
ICC charging Bashir
Another genocide developing
Another famine…nobody cares

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