Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Niger: Another African Disaster in the Making?

There are three perennial problems in Africa: disease, famine, and war. These are all preventable in some ways. My prayers go to the unfortunate ones in Niger Republic- the newest in the league of distressed African nations. This time, drought and the stark reality of famine loom across the horizon for millions in central Niger.

Many of the calamities that befall Africa are man-made and only few are due to natural causes. The situation in Niger was predicted last year after a very disappointing harvest, yet little was done to avert this current situation. For Niger, a nation that is semi-arid and vulnerable to drought, to be caught off guards is simply absurd; any responsible government would have instituted measures to prevent, or at the very least, mollify this type of mishap.

A counter argument is that the country is geographically disadvantaged, and economically destitute: a land-locked, vast and arid state on the edge of the Sahara desert. It suffered austere military rule for much of its post-independence history. The nation is also losing some of its landmass to desert encroachment, and its main export- uranium- does not bring much forex for national development. In addition, the country went through a devastating locust invasion that destroyed acres of farmland last year.

Each time an Africa nation is plagued with any one these three problems, there is usually an instantaneous and cacophonous call for aids. According to the BBC News:
"Aid agencies are struggling to cope with the thousands of malnourished children facing starvation - the UN has called it a "catastrophic famine"...On Thursday (about two week back), some 2,000 people marched through the capital, Niamey, demanding immediate food aid...But a government spokesman Mohamed Ben Omar said that its food stocks could not be handed out for free... "What civil society is asking is poorly conceived and irrational. The state of Niger cannot engage in such a foolish adventure," said Mr Omar..."
Stating that "a land of 13 million people has failed to find solutions to its problems" an accurate deduction?

Not really. Just because they have failed this time around does not necessarily mean they cannot find sustainable solutions to their problems. Famine (disease and war) are preventable, and what is required is a commonsensical approach to governance. Aids during calamities such as this are necessary, but purely for humanitarian purpose, and the over reliance on aids may be counter-productive. This nation must find the will to overcome this adversity and proffer long lasting solutions to solve this problem. In fact this principle applies to all nations in Africa.

For Starters...during a period of national catastrophe as this, it is morally wrong for any Niger national to eat three meals a day. How about donating at least one meal, or the equivalent, to the hungry? How about using a proportion of high-ranking government officials' salaries in buying food for the needy? How about President Mamadou Tanja of Niger yielding his african robe, cap, and his comfortable official mansion for the time being, and relocating to the feeding camps to help coordinate charity work? How about...African leaders striving to serve their people and not relying on foreign aids all the time?


More on Niger...via Sudan Watch

..."The report says the "international community" has reacted too late to the crisis. I guess the "international community" comprises the UN and donors from 191-member states. What became of all the donations and aid pledged over the past year - not to mention the public outcry on behalf of Africa and intense lobbying on Darfur? Where are all the African voices shouting about Niger? And all those who complained about white-man helping Africa with global campaigns such as Make Poverty History and Live 8? It is sickening to know about Niger at such a late stage. What has the African Union and its neighbours - and massive number of church goers - done to avoid such a terrible crisis in Niger? Once again, the onus appears to be on the West to come to the rescue - when will it end? How much longer do we have to stomach getting criticised by Africans for coming to Africa's aid?"
Good question!

"...Now, across the windswept plains of the Sahel, carcasses of cattle litter the landscape.
Rains have come - but so late they are now a curse, bringing malaria and other disease.
Families are roaming the parched desert looking for help. One family we came across did not even know where they were going.
"I'm wandering like a madman," the father said. "I'm afraid we'll all starve."
They were hundreds of miles from the nearest food distribution point.
Aid agencies estimate that tens of thousands of children are in the advanced stages of starvation.
Children are dying daily in the few feeding centres there are, where their place in the queue could make the difference between life and death.
Amina is so starved she cannot eat even if she wants to.
"She vomits as soon as I give her food or water," says her mother.
"As far as I'm concerned, God did not make us all equal - I mean, look at us all here. None of us has enough food."

From Ingrid, the author of Sudan Watch:
"Sorry to admit it is emotionally draining blogging about African politics and Africa's crises. I'm afraid I cannot take on blogging about Niger right now unless I get some helping hands. If any blogger would like to co-author Sudan Watch, Congo Watch, Uganda Watch, Ethiopia Watch [and possibly Niger Watch], please make contact. In the meantime, if any blogger can put together news items/summaries/round-ups and/or blog round ups for any of those sites, please email me and I will publish them asap with full credit and blog link. Depending on suitability of content, some posts could appear at more than one blog. Thanks."