Drought does not necessarily lead to famine: The catastrophe in Somalia was man-made.
Minneapolis, Minnesota - Several months ago, I wrote an essay entitled “Genocidal Politics and the Somali Famine”. It appears that the coordinator of the UN’s Monitoring Committee for Somalia agrees with the essay’s proposition that nature is not to blame and that powerful human actors are responsible for the catastrophe.
The coordinator of the Monitoring Group recently published an article in which he claimed that the Somali famine is not only a catastrophe, but that identifiable individuals and groups engaged in the production of the famine and therefore have committed crimes against humanity. This bold statement by the coordinator of the Monitoring Group demands careful assessment.
It has been common wisdom for decades that droughts do not by themselves lead to famines, and the cause of the latter is the failure by national and international authorities to take action long before people run out of food. There have been 10 major droughts over the last 50 years in the Horn of Africa in general, and in Somalia in particular.
The evidence gleaned from this climatic record show that most droughts did not produce famine.
For instance, the first famine in Somalia since independence occurred in 1991/2, when roaming gangs destroyed or looted peasant harvests and then warlords used food as a weapon against hapless people. Today’s famine is similarly a consequence of the (in)actions of several Somali and international actors.
I partly agree with the coordinator’s assessment that this is a man-made famine and, therefore, that those responsible have committed crimes against humanity. However, my disagreement with his claim is that he only offers a partial list of the perpetrators by ignoring some of the major culprits, while accusing others who had nothing to do with the making of the famine.
There is a general agreement that something went horribly wrong in southern Somalia for thousands of people to die of starvation and for hundreds of thousands to be in grave risk of perishing. The coordinator of the Monitoring Group points his finger at the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and al-Shabaab as the principle culprits that precipitated the famine. Consequently, he recommends that these two Somali actors should be hauled to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to account for “their crimes against humanity”.