Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Four Horsemen Gallop Through the Horn of Africa

Drought in SomaliaThe bare bones of an AP story:

A senior U.N. humanitarian official said Tuesday he saw Somali refugees living in “the worst conditions I have ever seen” during a tour of the Horn of Africa.

I read two versions of the same story today, both credited to AP, one from Mercury News, and one from CNN. They agree on the above quote, and on the general facts: the Horn of Africa is experiencing severe drought, with livestock dying and people facing malnutrition. They also agree that the political situation in the area is exacerbating the humanitarian crisis.

But beyond these bare bones, the two stories diverge in interesting ways. First, Mercury News:

A senior U.N. humanitarian official appealed to Arab nations that have benefited from soaring oil prices to help millions suffering from prolonged drought in East Africa.

Kjell Magne Bondevik, the U.N. special humanitarian envoy for the Horn of Africa, said the United Nations has raised only 20 percent of an emergency $426 million appeal for 15 million people affected by drought.

Most of the aid has come from the U.S. and European countries.

“Countries in the Arab League could do a lot more. Some contribute bilaterally, but they do not join the multilateral efforts,” Bondevik, a former Norwegian prime minister, said after he visited feeding centers and camps for displaced people, accompanied by militiamen wielding assault rifles and pickup trucks mounted with heavy weapons.

So far, so good. It’s an old story – the bloated plutocracies of the Arab world badmouth the West and bemoan the fate of Muslims, but keep a tight grip on their own purse strings when the begging bowl is passed around. Meanwhile, generous donors in the West, many of them Christians, donate billions of dollars to try to help the people starving in Africa.

Now let’s look at the CNN version:

Kjell Magne Bondevik, the U.N. special humanitarian envoy for the Horn of Africa, said that governments must do more to ensure drought and hunger are eradicated in the long term.

[…]

He said, however, that the U.N. was “concerned” and that he had asked the government to issue a report on the matter. [emphasis added]

Strange stuff here. Governments will somehow eradicate drought “in the long term.” Boy, that better be a really long term. Governments can’t manage to eradicate much of anything except for human freedom and the general prosperity, if history is any guide.

But leave that aside. The U.N. is “concerned”. That’s reassuring. I’ll bet that puts a smile onto the faces of those thousands of human skeletons crouched over the corpses of their livestock. When the U.N. is “concerned”, a new ray of hope beams across the landscape like the rising sun!

Just ask the Tutsis in Rwanda.

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A strange sense of déjà vu hangs over all these stories about hunger in the Horn of Africa. Haven’t we been through all this before? Didn’t Bob Geldof take care of this problem back in the 1980s by having a bunch of famous rock-’n’-rollers like Sting do benefit concerts for Africa? Didn’t Bill Clinton send our boys into downtown Mogadishu in 1993 to fix everything?

How many billions of dollars have been poured down the corrupt African sinkhole since then? And yet here we are again, with the pictures of starving children and dead cattle in the dust of Somalia.

The climate in Africa isn’t the problem. Drought recurs there periodically, as it does in many places. It is predictable, and can be dealt with. Oklahoma sometimes experiences severe drought, but nobody holds telethons to benefit the starving children of Muskogee, crouched in the dusty shadows of their parents’ double-wides. Somehow the cruel exploitative capitalist society of the United States carries us through these tough times.

The problem in Africa is – as it has been ever since the departure of the European colonial powers – corrupt, tyrannical, and unaccountable government. Even when Oxfam gets its lorryloads of food into the devastated areas, most of it is likely to be siphoned off in “taxes”, bribes, kickbacks, and outright expropriation by the thugs and petty despots who control the affairs of the region. Lacking the rule of law and pluralist institutions, the Horn of Africa has repeatedly failed to develop a robust productive economy which can sustain its people through the inevitable fluctuation of natural cycles.

All of this can be credited to the legacy of Socialism. When the colonial powers left, Marxism took root in much of Africa, as it did in so many parts of the Third World. And African Socialism was a particularly brutal and despotic strain. With the collapse of worlwide Communism, the countries in question were left with simple brutality and despotism, unfettered by ideology.

And as the political structures collapse into anarchy, Islam is ready to fill the void. The Islamic charities – not the governments, but the private outfits fund by the Salafists, the same organizations that ship semtex and AK-47s into the region – actually manage to get sacks of rice and flour to the hungry people, all the while exacting lower taxes and taking smaller kickbacks than the local thugs, thereby discrediting the government even further.

There’s not a whole lot we can do to improve the situation. Pouring more money into the region won’t help – I’m not recommending that you stop giving money to Catholic Charities; I’m just saying that it won’t make much of a difference.

Keep an eye on the Horn of Africa. Once Iran starts handing out nukes to places like Sudan, the Horn of Africa is likely to get even worse.

Millions of people are likely to die. They won’t be Americans or Europeans, but they’ll still be dead.

9 comments:

Scott said...

I remember a few months ago the UN
was saying that all that was needed
to avert famine in, was it Mali,
was $36 million, a few months later
the total needed was $80million. No
doubt owing to the needs of the UN
and NGO hunger workers for new SUVs
and airconditioned facilities from
which to survey the 'drought'.

I noted at the time that Mali was
a Muslim nation surrounded by 3
major OPEC nations, Nigeria, Libya
and Algeria. I did the math at the
time to make my point but, as I
recall, the three nations produced
some 6 million barrels/day and at
just $50/barrel that was a daily
income of $300 million. So if Mali
needed $80million it was about 6
hours of oil production.

Of course the situation there was
not helped by two things. One the
'president' of the country denied
there was a famine and two, aid
workers were reporting that men
were hoarding the rations and even
allowing their own wives and kids
to starve to in order to purchase
more important things... like a new
wife or some livestock!

As to Somalia I see the BBC is
reporting "Boy, 16 executes fathers
killer" according to a sentence
handed down by a Sharia court in
that benighted land. Surprisingly,
or maybe not, the BBC notes with
some approval that because of the
Sharia courts now operating in the
area, crime is falling.

Somehow I doubt the BBC would be so
understanding if it were BNP party
courts in Britain reducing street
crime through summary executions
of street thugs.

Richard Malik said...

Put this story in the "Tell someone who cares" file.

Les Publica said...

Democracies don't have famines. Amartya Sen got the statistics and even explained why.

Starling David Hunter said...

Richard, I care. And it's not because of my "african-american" heritage. I care because, as Baron has pointed out, as did Les p. in the comment thread, this disaster is man-made. It is not the result of the wrath of a venegeful God.

These problems are preventable and the failure of governments to make the needed changes to prevent such wide-spread starvation is the true crime here. Baron has it precisely right when he notes that the trail of evidence leads back to the corrupt politicians and a discredited and the deadly political ideology of Socialism.

This all matters because many of so-called friends in the West, a good part of the left in this country, and I dare say, a majority of the members of the UN openly support pro-Socialist and anti-capitalist policies. These policies produce only human misery and failed states.

I care The attendant chaos and smell of death will attract the vultures of humanity who, when having been run out of Iraq, will need another base from operate.

You might find interesting a post I did recently entitled Conversations with an MBA student about just the matter Baron and Les P raised: misconceptions about the importance of the profit motive and its role in producing wealth and preventing famine.

Sigmund, Carl and Alfred said...

The real problem is Israel and the Jews.

Don't you know anything?

Evan said...

The problem in Africa is – as it has been ever since the departure of the European colonial powers – corrupt, tyrannical, and unaccountable government.

But that raises the question of why, even among former colonies and even in Africa itself, some have much more "corrupt, tyrannical and unaccountable" government than others. Why is the Bahamas or Botswana much better run than Nigeria, despite their shared British heritage? There are more than a few candidates - ethnic diversity in artificial states, the vague catchall of civilizational and cultural inferiority, lack of exposure to the global economy, and many more. There is surely no single cause, but given the way in which failed states incubate the entrepreneurs of chaos, we had better find out.

ScottSA said...

If only the colonials HAD committed cultural genocide in Africa, the Africans wouldn't still be at the real thing.

Starling David Hunter said...

Evan, I like that line..."the entrpreneurs of chaos"

Anonymous Conservative said...

You're right to say that corruption and an anachronistic economic programme are responsible for much of what plagues Africa today. But climate is a serious consideration. Yes much of this owes to clear-cutting and other phenomenon, but a great deal of African land rates as marginal, in large part because much of the continent is several thousand feet above sea level. Grazing is the accepted utility for most marginal land, but sleeping sickness and other cattle diseases prevent this. Much of the poverty is man-made, but enough of it is natural that some of the standard agro-business templates will founder.