The Horn Of Africa States: Agriculture The Only Savior – OpEd


The plight of the Horn of Africa states region is hunger and not only hunger but man-made hunger. Millions of its people are susceptible to hunger the year round, not only because of natural disasters or the vagaries of climate but because of decisions made by its leaders both ruling and in the opposition just simply because they do not like the tribe or clan of the other. Despite their significant qualifications not only in education but also in experience in what they do, tribal/clan politics, they just turn themselves into children or teenagers competing over crumbs and leftovers of others sent to feed the hungry populations.

The other day, a friend sent me a short story narrated by the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, which read as follows and I quote:

“I took a taxi one day to the BBC office for an interview. When I arrived, I asked the driver to wait for me for forty minutes until I got back, but the driver apologized and said, “I can’t, because I have to go home and listen to Winston Churchill’s speech.” I was amazed and delighted with the man’s desire to listen to my speech! So I took out ten pounds and gave it to the taxi driver without telling him who I was. When the driver collected the money, he said, “I ‘will wait for hours until you come back, sir! And let Churchill go to hell!”

You can see how principles have been modified against money, nations sold for money, honour for money, families split for money; friends separated for money, people killed for money; and people being made slaves for money.

The Horn of Africa leadership, both ruling and opposition groups, officialdom and even many of its citizenship are no more than just sellouts to their lands and people. Money is the key which they pursue without sweating for it and simply selling their souls. Isn’t that what West Africans were doing some five hundred years ago selling their brethren and sisters for shining beads into slavery? How is a few dollars for purchasing the souls of Horn African leaders today different from a few shining beads?

The tribal and clan conflicts which they instigate in the region has almost disabled its food production. The populations were mostly agricultural, pastoral and a small minority were either urban and/or fishermen. Nearly seventy percent were in the food production, although it was not commercial. But it was, indeed, able to feed itself and even produced more to export to others, and no one needed food imported from outside, let alone as aid and grants from armies of NGOs who have wiped out the original seeds of the region.

The region was not only feeding itself but also feeding the barren countries of Arabia through the provision of not only cereals, pulses, and other grains but also meat and fish, oils and even labor. Today, the Horn of Africa States region is barely able to survive if there are no WFPs or Save the Children Charity or Oxfam or the Red Cross and Red Crescent Society. The leaderships of the region apparently feel happy when they see these NGOs around because they know they would get food which they will sell out instead of feeding the people for whom the food was destined. Recent reports of food aid brought from foreign countries as help for Somalia were found to being sold in the markets. The UN, the WFP and many other NGOs report of this phenomenon.

The irony is that there are those in the region who create camps in the countryside of the Horn of Africa States where they force populations to leave their farms and whatever subsistence activities for their livelihoods to wait for food aid. Many camps are spread across the countries of the region as internally displaced people. No one asks who displaced them and why. It would be surprising and interesting what they would discover if a real investigation were truly made.

The Horn of Africa States region, despite the changes in climate, still receives plenty of rains and hence has plenty of water. It also owns vast arable lands and the soils of the region are volcanic and fertile. Why can’t they continue to grow their foods and if there was really help, why are they not helped to grow their own food, instead of being kept like animals in barns, so often called camps of displaced peoples. It has vast maritime space which can feed not only the region’s population but more. How come this is not exploited to feed the region and these “kind-hearted NGOs” are still providing food aid to the region.

The answer to these questions and many others related to food insecurity are simple. It is a means to beg the international community to show there is hunger in the region and to collect money that will be used not only to fatten the NGO administrations, but perhaps to share a little with the corrupt officialdom and, maybe even to launder fake and illegal monies. It is strange that most of the news and media about the Horn of Africa States over the past three decades were mostly on hunger and hungry populations. How come the ‘concerned parties’ who seek assistance for these poor peoples have not been able to find durable solutions for recurring problems such as food insecurity and hunger? It is clear that they do not want to find permanent solutions for the problems of the Horn of Africa States, and there would still be reports of hunger and hungry people in the region in the beginning of each year, almost boringly. It appears to be good ‘as is” apparently!

Relief projects can always continue but the region’s leadership should settle their quarrels over the table and not through the continuous bullets flying around all the time. There are, indeed, terror groups that were imported into the region, which is causing chaos as well, but if the ruling parties and opposition parties walked away from the tribal/clan wars and competition for power, then they could together face off the terror groups, who are fearful of peace and stability. They will not be able to operate in the region anymore. Stability is, indeed, the key and people can grow their own foods not only in their traditional ways but also commercially to feed other populations beyond the region through exporting their surplus productions. Agriculture is the answer to the food problems of the region and not food aid from the WFP and the likes.

The governments of the region should be spending more of their efforts in agriculture, fishing and animal husbandry to feed its populations instead of arms and weapons that are unnecessarily pouring into the region. It is a question of prioritizing and feeding one’s population, which is more important than just bringing in more and more weapons to keep tribal and/or clan fighting going and continuing. The region’s populations should grow away from this almost childish teenage-like competition among the tribes and clans of the region for access to power. The region’s population should realize that no one can win and that they are all, indeed, losers in the current frame of mindsets in the region.

There are also many of those leaders today, whether they are ruling or in the opposition, who appear to have no shame in continuously staying in power or looking for power. Once they try and complete their mandate, they should learn to walk away. If they fail to win a leadership position, they should also walk away to give opportunity to perhaps a better person. It is ironic we see the same faces coming back on the screens all the time and most often those who have failed in their jobs for decades.

A region infested with conflicts is difficult to turn the page so quickly, but then it should not fold its arms and just let such conflicts continue forever. The Oromo, the Tigray, the Amhara, the Afar, the Somali, the Benishangul Gumuz, the Gedeo–Guji, and many other conflicts pitting one group against another and against the authorities, makes the region, indeed, insecure and hence agricultural development difficult. Governments in the region need not invest heavily in material contributions to the development of agriculture. They just need to be kind to their populations and settle their violent competitions for power, most often ethnic based to a minimum or zero so that people can live in peace and attend to their small farm holdings to grow their own foods as they did throughout history. They can invest in providing tools, should they have the means and they will have the means if they stop buying weapons and arms, to farmers and pastoral nomads or fishermen along the coasts or rivers.

Authorities could have invested in public-private projects in agriculture to produce not only for local markets but also for export markets. The Arabian Peninsula next door does need food and it is capable of purchasing large quantities as it has the financial wherewithal and means to do so. It could be a major target of the agricultural produce of the region, should there be some sense in the region’s leadership, which spends most of its energies and efforts managing conflicts or pocketing the meagre resources available for enriching themselves.

Agriculture does, indeed, provide a means to avoid hunger and an effective way out of poverty. Millions can, indeed, be moved out of their current predicament of being collected in displaced refugee camps to earn their own living in their own farm holdings in the vast territories of the region, where they can lead healthy and productive lives. Agriculture, indeed, is the only savior of the region and the authorities of the region should make it a priority project. 

Dr. Suleiman Walhad

Dr. Suleiman Walhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at [email protected].

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