War and famine in the Horn of Africa

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For some weeks now, among the posters for L’Oréal, Décathlon, Dior etc there’s a new one from UNICEF: “Hunger Emergency: two million children threatened by the food crisis in the Horn of Africa”. They display graphic pictures of anguished mothers holding undernourished children. But the careful work of the publicity experts is all in a good cause. We the consumers are enjoined to put our hands in our pocket, while at the same time letting us know that the democratic state has set up structures which will allow good citizens like ourselves to come to the aid of the underprivileged.

We reject this way of seeing things because it is an insidious way of making us think of ourselves as “privileged”, as people who are spared the worst kind of misery and should not therefore complain too much about the minor austerity measures being introduced by the governments of the central countries. 

 What is happening in the Horn of Africa?

It is true that the situation in Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Kenya is particularly dramatic and disgusting. An unprecedented drought (the UN is talking about the worst drought for 60 years) has hit the Horn of Africa with merciless force – and this is a region which has been a theatre of war for over two decades. In an interview published in Figaro.fr, Andrée Montpetit, quality controller for the NGO Care in Ethiopia, puts it like this: “I am hearing things that I have never heard before. A villager from Dambi, in the Morena region, explained to me on Friday that even camels are dying of thirst, whereas in the great drought of 1991 the camels survived. In Borena, you have to walk six hours there and back to reach a source of water. This has never been seen before. There is no water, no grass. The cows are dying like flies”. The UN has estimated that more than 12 million people are in a desperate situation. In Somalia, the situation is unbearable. Since 2006 it has been the scene of conflict between the Ethiopian army and the al-Shabab militias which control up to 80% of the country and have imposed a very harsh version of Sharia law. More than 9 million inhabitants are living in a daily hell, deprived of food, wracked by disease and heat, with no water to wash themselves. As for humanitarian aid, the NGO’s themselves are denouncing the lack of any real provision. Even worse, when aid does arrive, it is often blocked or stolen by the Islamist rebels fighting the government, or by the Somali army for the same military reasons. “The most recent example, last Friday (12 August), was the looting of two trucks of food aid by Somali soldiers, just before it was due to be distributed to starving families in a neighbourhood of the capital. The fusillade that followed left five dead” (Courrier International no 1085, 18-24 August 2011). You hardly dare imagine what happened to these families in Mogadishu, or to the thousands of other families who have fled the capital, and have been parked in refugee camps under a burning sun, with no more food and water than needed to survive from one day to the next. “Mahieddine Khelladi, executive director of the NGO Islamic Aid, prefers to talk about ‘the serious risk’ of supplies being stolen. ‘In a hospital that I visited, one which had been sent medicine, the pharmacy was empty’, he said” (‘Somalie: l’aide humanitaire détournee?’ 20 Minutes, 22 August 2011). And the intervention of the great powers is not going to make anything better, far from it. “Since the collapse of the government in 1990, the USA has been in military occupation of part of the terrain. This was pushed through by the ‘Restore Hope' operation in 1992. This was also the time when France's Bernard Kouchner arrived in Somalia carrying sacks of rice on his shoulder, discretely followed by some French army contingents!” , as we wrote in February 2010, in ‘Yemen, Somalia, Iran, the drive to war accelerates’. Acting solely in defence of their capitalist interests in this important geostrategic zone[1], the great powers have done nothing to help the impoverished inhabitants of the region. In fact, the exacerbation of imperialist tensions in the region makes the whole situation worse. Among other things it is pushing the armed groups to recruit more and more young people. “According to a recent report by Amnesty International, al-Shabab, which has lost a lot of fighters since the beginning of the year, has been reduced tor recruiting more and more children” (Courrier International, ibid).

The faces of so many children in the cradle of humanity are cracked with heat, tormented by flies, bleeding and emaciated; or else they are marked with the scars of war, eyes empty yet full of hatred, a machine gun in their hands. Faces sculpted by decades of capitalist barbarism. Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution are being put into question by the survival of this utterly cynical system. We should be lucid about this: what is happening in Africa and in all countries ravaged by war and poverty is the future that capitalism is shaping for all of us. No government, no armed force or NGO can hold back the destructive dynamic dictated by the laws of profit and the interests of imperialism. In the central countries, galloping inflation and austerity packages announce where things are going. Only the overthrow of capitalism, the work of a majority seeking for authentic solidarity, can free humanity from the talons of his dying system.

Maxime 27/8/11       



[1] The Gulf of Aden, a maritime route towards the Red Sea and the oil fields of the Persian Gulf, is crossed by half of the world’s container traffic and 70% of the total traffic in the oil products which pass by the Arabian sea and Indian Ocean.

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