Friday, August 20

Colby Gets It Right

Some of the most sensible commentary on Africa Ive heard in a while by Colby Cosh. Its so rare Im going to post it in all its magnificant glory.

"Famine--the lack of food--is principally a man-made condition. It is not a natural phenomenon or act of God." This was one of the hard but encouraging lessons humanity learned in the 20th century: that only command economies can make the bizarre economic errors required to leave large numbers of people utterly without food. The economist Amartya Sen received a Nobel Prize for establishing, as he says, that "no substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free press." Which brings me back around to my original quote. It was not uttered by some development officer wrangling grain shipments from behind a desk in New York: it comes from a newspaper in a country on the verge of serious famine, namely the Nation of Nairobi, Kenya.

I don't make a particular pursuit of following politics in Africa, but since the Internet magically globalized major newspapers, what I've noticed (and what ought to have been obvious) is that Africans, far from being passive victims, typically know quite well who is to blame when they're going hungry. Three years of spotty rainfall have "caused" famine conditions which were declared a national disaster by President Mwai Kibaki on July 14. About 2.3 million people are now in peril of malnutrition, and the Kenyan government--having relented on its opposition to food aid that might include genetically-modified content--is appealing for large quantities of maize,
in tandem with the World Food Project, UNICEF, and other international agencies.

All of which will focus, in presentations and reports to the press, on how very dry the weather has been; and none of which will emphasize the
rampant corruption which led the EU to cut off foreign aid to Kenya just last month. Or the fact that the country's national strategic reserve of maize was sold off wholesale at cut-rate prices two years ago in a series of dodgy transactions. Or that the import of maize is tightly controlled by the "parastatal" Cereals and Produce Board to provide price supports for domestic farmers trying to grow a rain-hungry crop in semi-arid regions. (Or even the superstitions which circumscribe Kenyan dietary practices.) In the West, as a rule, African hunger is reported on as a crime without a culprit.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have a great blog here! I will be sure to book mark you. I have a mr food site. It pretty much covers mr food related stuff. Check it out if you get time :-)

08 October 2005 at 05:20  

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