By Robert Asketill
We are all by now disgusted and upset with the numerous media descriptions of children dying, mainly in the Horn of Africa area of the continent. Our disgust stems from years of past experience that the suffering in this region is man-made, not by the actions of Africans but by past and continuing interference by world powers, some of it political and some in the search for fertile land to grow food for world markets. No matter what, we are constantly seeing or hearing of children, far too young to know why they are on the planet, dying in agony in the bony hands of mothers whose stomachs already bulge with yet another child to be born only soon to die the same agonising death, the descriptions of which are given by the press or shown on television screens, always followed by an appeal for a substantial cash donation to some relief organisation.
Yet we ourselves know after a lifetime of seeing failures of the rains , especially in the Horn of Africa, that its people after centuries of living with this seasonable sporadic rainfall, we call them nomads, have learnt to live under these conditions, even in an extremely bad year. These proud nomads of Africa, especially those of Djibouti and Ethiopia, do what we could never do; they have become geniuses in following the pattern of sporadic rainfall so common in vast parts of Africa, rain that nevertheless always does make a seasonal fall, moving with their vast herds of animals and surviving where others would die. We have seen it over and over again whilst flying in the blue African sky: wild animals, elephant, buffalo, zebra and other proud beasts, heads high, marching from arid terrain to where they know there will be rain. The nomads in those days kept to this pattern. So what has changed so drastically that now we see only babies and toddlers so ill-nourished that they are scarcely recognisable as humans and we are made to feel responsible for their survival by the constant requests for money to provide food?
Mainly it has to be war and conflict, almost a new situation in parts of Africa where tribal disciplines kept the people safe and together, but looking closely at the so called “Arab Spring” and the use of the recently invented mobile type phone, encouraged by far off foreign interests like the American Pentagon or some other well clad, well fed activist group in Europe. We can see over the last four decades tribal (mini nation) disciplines are fast going and certainly hitting, with considerable cruelty, Africa’s nomads. Then the Horn of Africa is cursed with the activities of the al-Shabaab (“the lads”) Islamists and others. As they in some cases divert aid money to fund their own activities, more of their women tramp into the wilderness to the nearest UN refugee centre instead of following the rain, leaving none to plant seeds into the parched soil waiting for the next rains. They leave the men to fight; men who tell the world they have their own cause, having seen tribal forefathers lose their traditional living off seafood that was vacuumed up into the bowels of huge fishing fleets feeding the Far East and the world’s super stores.
Elsewhere in this part of Africa we are seeing the foreign land grabbers at work. Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and the Southern Sudan have been mentioned in the media over the last decade. But the largest grab has been in Ethiopia, certainly causing the march of the people under that wretched banner of starvation having been forced out of their traditional tribal agriculture soils to make way for the foreigner, especially the wealthy investor. Ethiopia is well positioned because perfect highland temperatures make it ideal for horticulture, the average wage rate is US$20 per month compared with unthinkable union rates elsewhere, and the price of leased land is about 10 dollars per hectare, and the government has tremendously aided the entry of new businesses into this sector in recent years.
For example, a number of entrepreneurs from India, the Netherlands and other parts of the world decided to make an investment in Ethiopia’s flower industry. Six years back, as there was no vacant land in the area, the government had to seize land from farmers and lease it to the investors. The displaced farmers had no choice; altogether a land mass the size of Great Britain has gone into the hands of investors. UN emergency relief coordinator Baroness Valerie Amos in Addis Ababa, after visiting the Ogaden which is hugely affected by the drought, told the world that Ethiopia has to do more not to suffer the recurring drought every few years. But Ethiopia’s rain forests are now totally destroyed. The current regime is spending too much time in concrete and proudly shows visitors the highways and high rises. But the desertification of the country has accelerated in the last two decades. She is right, but nothing will be done.
We know that besides all of these human calamities, environmental conditions will also get worse as these foreign government-run farms excessively use chemicals to desperately increase productivity. Despite trying to pose as an environmentalist against the “West” at the Copenhagen Climate Summit, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi leads a government that has pillaged the environment in Ethiopia, particularly in the State of Oromia, where there is the deadly algae infestation in Lake Koka by foreigners in the leather trade, the drying up of Lake Haramaya by TPLF-owned commercial khat farms and beer factories and the pollution of Akaki by soap and oil factories; all these and others are helping to cause the present famine.
Dictatorial regimes care for their power and if this power is supported by Western countries as is the case now, tackling the root cause of wide spread starvation will be difficult. If the West cares only for patting leaders on the back and arming their soldiers, starvation will continue side by side with the exploitation of the land and the water by foreign countries.