Famine in the Horn of Africa

Failure of Rain or Failure of the Global Capitalist System?

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Horn of Africa is now facing the world’s most severe food crisis. Around 3.5 million people in Kenya, 2.85 million in Somalia, and 3.2 million in Ethiopia are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. An additional 117,000 people have found themselves in the same situation in Djibouti, and 600,000 people in northern Uganda are affected.

Drought Alone?

As we write the death rate amongst children arriving at Dadaab refugee camp is put at 6 in 10,000 by UNICEF. The principal cause of this famine is frequently stated to be drought. The rains have failed for two consecutive years and none is expected until September. It used to be an event that occurred once a decade but now it is more frequent (2 good years followed by 2 bad years). Some claim that it is all the fault of climate change. Whatever the cause, focussing on the lack of rain is an over-simplification. As Simon Levine of the Overseas Development Institute points out

... please don’t call this a drought although the lack of rain will doubtless be the only problem that is discussed, as if pastoralists have never developed systems for coping with recurring rain failures; they have - by moving their livestock over the rangelands in search of new water sources and fresh pasture. Famines don’t occur in pastoral areas when the rains fail unless they have other problems …

And these other problems are war and rising world food prices.

Today the refugees camp at Dadaab in Kenya holds nearly 400,000 people although it was built to house only 90,000. Thousands more queue outside to get in despite the squalor of overcrowding. Most of the refugees come from Somalia and most have been forced south because of the civil wars that have gripped the country for decades (a barbaric legacy of the Cold War). Somalia has ceased to be a state and the population of the South face barbarism heralded by violent attacks by militia who do not hesitate to rob, rape and behead in the name of extracting “aid” from herders. South Somalia is in the hands of the Al-Shabaab Islamists but the transitional government which barely clings on in Mogadishu aided by Western governments has recently taken the fight further south. This is no place to look for food or pasture.

Global Food Prices

At the same time any hope of buying food has also dwindled. According to UNICEF

In Baidoa, Somalia, for example, the price of red sorghum has increased by 240 per cent. The price of maize has increased by 117 per cent in parts of Ethiopia and by 58 per cent in some areas in Kenya.

Kenya’s overall inflation rate is in double digits though it is the most stable economy in the region. The World Development Movement states that in Djibouti the price of wheat flour rose 17% in a single month.

The same report also tells us that

The price of maize - more of which is grown than any other staple food crop - has increased by 102 percent since April 2010. New research from the World Development Movement reveals that hedge funds, investment banks and others own futures contracts for maize worth $15.7 billion up 127.5 percent from a year ago.

This shows that this is not just a local issue. World food prices have been going up astronomically for four years. Part of this is because a lot of acreage has been diverted into producing ethanol as a so-called green fuel (which it is not and thus double disaster has been created). But an equal portion of the blame lies on the speculators or as the WDM politely calls them “hedge funds”. The same parasites who have been bailed out by Western governments are reducing more of the world’s population to starvation. According to some aid agencies a measly £10 billion will solve the immediate threat to life for most in the Horn of Africa. Two thirds of that could come from bonuses (£7 billions) paid to British bankers this year! The British Government has offered only £52 million (partly funded by cutting “aid” to Malawi for its lack of democracy) and the US less than half that. And these are the most generous of the richer nations.

No Sudden Emergency

This is not a crisis that has come upon the world suddenly. Aid agencies of all types were highlighting this problem last year but few were listening. As the head of one UN agency stated

Droughts are predictable, as are, to some extent, price fluctuations … While we concentrate our efforts on the immediate human consequences right now, we must equally commit to viable, longer term and pro-child approaches in these areas. We must ensure that this kind of crisis never happens again.

Ever had the sense that you have heard that before? And before … and before that? There is no shortage of food to feed the world’s population but there is lack of food in the right places for the whole world to avoid malnutrition and starvation. This will always be the case as long as production for profit dominates and the necessities of life are seen as mere commodities and not as human needs. This tragedy will be re-written many more times yet …



Have we heard this before? You said it we have. The vast quantity of empty sounding endlessly repeated "assurances" that the various ruling class spokespersons robotically pronounce, is reaching astounding proportions. Hilary Clinton may well be the prizewinner. And even she looks bored and unconvinced by what she says. Especially when on "democracy" and "human rights". We must ensure this that and the other, they bleat, not even pretending anymore that they mean it. Because they know they can't pay for it. They're bankrupt, first of money and now of ideas. Why don't they all frick off?


Yet another example if one was needed of the failure of capitalism to provide for even basic human needs. The amounts needed to combat poverty is indeed small yet capitalists are unwilling and as Kinglear points out annd unable to tackle the alleviation of poverty. While saying this we also need to understand that capitalism as a social system is redundant and needs to be replaced by a communist system that ensures that production is geared to satisfying human need and not profit. When you consider the work that needs to be done to repair the damage done by capitalism then you can also see that this requires a truly international response which can only be done within a truly globalised production system.