The Africa Policy Forum on Famine was held on Tuesday, April 4, 2017, at the US Capitol Visitor Center Auditorium, sponsored by the office of Congressmember Karen Bass. This forum discussed the escalating risk of famine on the Horn and the Sahel regions of Africa, and the efforts, unrealized thus far, to stop not only the famine, but its root causes as well.
The Horn of Africa has, for years, experienced many threats. These include drought, famine, and ongoing conflicts - from struggles for power to genocide. In fragile states like South Sudan, Eritrea, and Somalia, these threats have, in the present day, created a situation that threatens the lives of millions of refugees and the future of these states.
The Africa Policy Forum on Famine was a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Monde Muyangwa and featuring Gen. William “Kip” Ward (Ret.), John Prendergast, and Jon Brause. The discussion brought into question the roles various Western powers as well as the United States play in the famine situation. It also discussed the effect of the ongoing conflict and refugee situation in these countries. The discussion ended with what we need to do to solve the situation and how we need to change the tactics being used.
From all of the panelists, the largest critique of the major players, from governments to NGOs as well as belligerents in the conflict, was the lack of accountability. This lack of accountability refers specifically to efforts to resolve the crisis in these fragile states. Governments, NGOs, and other major world leaders have yet to take responsibility and the lead in doing what’s necessary to put a stop to the root causes of the famine in order to end the famine itself. This lack of responsibility has allowed the situation to deteriorate to the point of famine, a situation where internally displaced persons are unable to even receive basic necessities. Furthermore, the lack of responsibility enables many of the governments and regional leaders to sit back and point fingers in the midst of an international crisis.
The panel discussed the role of governments and states and reviewed the factors that contributed to the situation. In Sahel and Horn of Africa countries like Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Eritrea, conflict has kept their economies from reaching maximum production despite holding enormous natural wealth. This, in turn, has created a situation where many of the residents are economically and socially vulnerable, a situation that can usher in even more conflict. Historically, people experiencing economic strife and dissatisfaction with government are highly influenced by extremism, and in this region of the world extremism translates to atrocities such as political disenfranchisement, corrupt governmental practice, theocratic oppression and genocide,
The solution, then, is to not only properly disclose root causes of famine — conflict, lack of accountability, and ineffective leadership — but to also work to ensure that famine cannot easily return. That means not only ensuring that states have food security, but ensuring that they have food sovereignty, something Western organizations and powers have time and again failed to do for many famine and conflict-stricken regions. Furthermore, all of the major players need to step up to the plate and use the resources that we have today in order to make a difference in the situation. Corrupt governments, fragile leadership at the local levels, as well as conflict are no longer excuse for allowing refugees to perish.
My biggest takeaway was that we need to work to fight these issues in the Sahel and Horn of Africa. Something needs to change; we have been fighting famine and conflict since the year 2000, and the same issues are with us today.
Leadership needs to become much more accountable, and the way that leaders lead needs to change: nine UN peacekeeping missions going on in Africa is nine too many.