Somali Famine Highlights Need for Aid Reform


East Africa’s worst drought in over half a century has ushered in one of the largest famines in the region to date. As a result, millions of people have been displaced into Mogadishu, Somalia, and some even further south into Kenya. 

The World Bank has promised $500 million to help relieve the situation, in conjunction with the World Food Programme and other relief agencies on the ground. But in a comprehensive analysis, the CBC unearths some of the deeper causes and solutions for the famine: inadequate food production, changing the nature of international aid, and promoting food self-sufficiency through proper public policy.

Aid is crucial to eradicating famine, but the long-term solution rests in peace-building through a pluralistic system of government. One precedent is the Ethiopian constitution, which is the only constitution in the world to guarantee a right of secession. For the Horn of Africa, the challenges are as follows: reducing and eliminating the influence of armed sub-state groups, like al-Shabaab, and making the focus of international aid the development of critical infrastructure and equipment to ensure food self-sufficiency.

The mobilization of aid for Somalia is a band-aid solution. The paradox we have in the world today is that enough food can be grown to comfortably feed a growing world population; however, there is a poor production and distribution system. In Europe and North America, food production is far beyond the requirements of their respective populations and supplanted by extensive subsidies. Much of it, especially grain cultures, goes toward the feeding of livestock, the production of bio-fuels, and what cannot be used is either dumped on the world market or thrown to rot.

The long-term solution is certainly painful, and it may involve prolonged conflict, social instability, and more famines along the way. The idea is to reduce the chronic dependency on Western aid and build up the capacity for self-administration and government in East Africa. A federal solution, or Sudan-style split may be the outcome of Somalia’s struggle to define itself, but a predictable, peaceful, and legitimate regime based on popular consent has to take hold before food sufficiency can be achieved. It is important to have a strong state and nothing more than a facade democracy to begin with if this project is to succeed; the balance can be adjusted with time. 

However, the entire concert is a complex balancing act: The West’s role must be to encourage the right steps, not perpetuate dependency, instability, and war. On the other side, the Somalis themselves must take up the responsibility of their statehood and livelihoods in order to minimize and check the influence of radical substate groups. There are thus two major parts to the overarching question: What peace strategies will work for Somalia, and what steps need to be taken to reform a long-standing global imbalance?

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