Africa, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Food and Agriculture, Headlines, Health, Poverty & SDGs

DEVELOPMENT-AFRICA: Forced to Choose ”Which Rights to Violate”

Moyiga Nduru

JOHANNESBURG, Mar 19 2007 (IPS) - Images of tiny, malnourished African children, some scavenging for leftover food, have continued to grace the covers of brochures, posters and video clips of aid agencies since the devastating famine that claimed more than one million lives in Ethiopia 22 years ago.

Since that famine, regarded as one of the worst in recent history, Africa should have attained self-sufficiency in food production. It has not. Of all the resources that the World Food Programme (WFP) is mobilising through appeals to feed 80 million people worldwide this year, 73 percent is for Africa, the United Nations (UN) agency said.

Part of the donations the WFP is raising, estimated at 3.2 billion US dollars for global operations, will go to Southern Africa where 4.3 million people require food aid as a result of erratic weather patterns, chronic poverty and high HIV/AIDS prevalence.

According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), some 1.1 million people in Southern Africa died of the pandemic in 2005 – one third of all AIDS-related deaths globally. Southern Africa is at the epicentre of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

A huge chunk of the food pledges will go to the Sudan where the WFP has the largest humanitarian operation at the moment, with a total requirement of over 685 million US dollars for this year (2007).

But for how long should Africa depend on relief aid? Increasing numbers of campaigners are refusing to accept the argument that drought and flooding are responsible for food shortages in Africa.

‘‘Just as we in Africa experience drought every year, the United States experiences it. The difference is that there are institutions in place in the United States to mobilize food and which force the government to assist farmers,” said Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, deputy director for the Millennium Campaign based in Nairobi, Kenya, in an interview.

‘‘(President George) Bush, for example, will act fast to help farmers for fear that he or his party might lose the next elections. Such pressures are lacking in Africa,” Abdul-Raheem argued.

‘‘In Africa, we do not have effective institutions and, as a result, leaders ignore farmers,” said Abdul-Raheem, who attended the March 7-14 conference of Anglican leaders in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The conference, attended by over 400 participants including Rowan Williams, leader of the 77 million Anglicans, was exploring ways to speed up the implementation of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. Food security is linked to many of the eight MDGs that countries had set for themselves in 2000.

‘‘Half the 850 million people who currently go hungry globally are children. The MDGs call for halving poverty by 2015, but the picture is not rosy,” Sheila Sisulu, deputy executive director of the WFP, based in Rome, told the Anglican clergy. ‘‘Studies show that the number of people going hungry is increasing.”

She blames part of the problem on food dumping and wastage. Japan is one example of how food is being wasted in affluent societies.

Passing through Japan on her way to South Africa to attend the Anglican conference, Sisulu found that Japanese restaurants do not allow customers to take home leftover food in a ‘‘doggy-bag”, a common practice in South Africa.

They fear that the food may go bad, causing customers to suffer from food poisoning, she said.

‘‘Japan imports 75 percent of its food, and dumps 30 percent of the food,” said Sisulu. ‘‘There is just too much food in the world. Yet people continue to die of hunger everyday.”

Apart from food dumping and wastage, politics also affects food security. Zimbabwe, once regarded as the breadbasket of Africa, is a classical example. President Robert Mugabe’s 2000-2002 ‘‘land reform programme” in which land was seized from over 4,000 white commercial farmers ended up destroying Zimbabwe’s agriculture-based economy.

Inflation now runs at over 1,600 percent, the highest in the world, according to the latest figures by the state-run Central Statistics Office in Zimbabwe’s capital of Harare.

Tapera Kapuya, who runs the South African branch of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), a Harare-based pressure group that campaigns for a new constitution for Zimbabwe, told IPS that 3.2 million people need food in Matabeleland, southern Zimbabwe.

‘‘Parts of Zimbabwe are of particular concern as early indications are that cereal crops in much of the southern half of the country have been decimated by a dry spell in January and early February,” confirmed the WFP in a statement on March 8.

Leading hungry Zimbabweans to hold a prayer meeting in Harare on March 10, Kapuya’s boss Lovemore Madhuku was brutally beaten up by the police, along with Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Police claimed that the MDC and NCA were holding an unlawful meeting aimed to force a regime change in Zimbabwe. ‘‘The situation in Zimbabwe is bad. People are living from hand to mouth. There is no fuel, no food and no medicine,” Jerry Mashamba, a Johannesburg-based representative of the faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara, told IPS in an interview.

Conflicts undermine food security, as the experiences in the Sudan, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire and northern Uganda have shown.

‘‘The 20-year old conflict has ensured that the northern Ugandans are currently the poorest in the country. The 1.4 million people living in the more than 70 IDP (internally displaced persons) camps depend on handouts from agencies and religious institutions with a minimal contribution from the government,” Jessica Nalwoga of the Church of Uganda told the participants.

‘‘Most parents are not able to provide clothing for the children to wear to school. Neither can they provide adequate school materials. Parents are on a daily basis faced with the task of choosing which human rights to violate û education, health or food? For they can hardy meet any since they are themselves living on handouts,” she said.

Talks to end the conflict in Northern Uganda, a region that boasts of one of the fertile lands in the country, foundered after the rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), notorious for chopping off suspects’ lips, ears and limbs, demanded a change of venue and mediator. The talks were being held in the Southern Sudanese capital of Juba.

Equally concerned about food shortages, Salil Shetty, director of the Millennium Campaign, urged church leaders to help poor countries meet their MDGs.

‘‘Church leaders understand their role in society. The influence they exert at the grassroots is immense. Churches meet their congregations once a week, while politicians meet voters once in four of five years. Church leaders are closer to the society than politicians,” he said.

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