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It’s not just about climate

One thing sticks out now when the subsidiary organisations to the UN are now asking for urgent humanitarian aid to Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda. These are exactly the countries whose corrupt cynical politicians have almost nothing in common with democracy. They routinely violate human rights and start ethnic and religious conflicts. As for Somalia, it has stopped being a real country a long time ago. That country is consistently ranked at the very bottom in the corruption index. South Sudan, while drowning in oil, has millions of refugees as its main export, in the wake of the bloodbath that is the ethnic conflict there. And the previously promising new player Eritrea has become the African version of North Korea: encapsulated, sealed, shut down to the rest of the world, and ruled by a clique that amasses wealth from drug, arms and human trafficking.

But no other country underlines the connection between bad governance and hunger as much as Ethiopia. This strategically important country in the Horn of Africa is the motherland of coffee. The Blue Nile and the two rainy seasons are a perfect condition for having record agricultural output, and the country has Africa's second largest labour force. But instead of prosperity, Ethiopia has suffered famine crises since the 70s, and refugee floods, and massacred protesters, and opposition activists spending a lifetime behind bars. When nearly 85 people live off rural, agricultural lifestyle, and the authoritarian government bans land ownership and gives out seeds for the crops only to trusted party members, this is a sure recipe for a vicious cycle of hunger and poverty. But this obviously isn't discouraging a number of Western governments from pouring loads of cash onto countries like Ethiopia, with no strings attached.

Doubtless, there are countless factors contributing to the hunger situation. Climate change and the related desertification of previously fertile lands are combining to escalate the scramble for resources, pastures and water. Hundreds of thousands of farmers are leaving the rural areas for the cities. The terror of Islamist militant groups like Ash-Shabaab in Somalia also leads to the abandonment of farmlands. And yet, most of these problems could have been tackled with relative success if there was coordinated help from outside – plus responsible politicians at home. Unfortunately, those are scarce in Africa.

The Western governments have known this truth since day one, of course. Now some of them (led by Germany) have come up with a sort of Marshall Plan for Africa. A program that is as ambitious and well-meant as it is vague. The difference from the original Marshall Plan is evident: the recipients of international aid in 1948 had the unshakable will to stand back on their feet again after the devastation of World War 2. Unlike the recipients of the new version.

The idea behind this plan isn't new. It includes the creation of jobs through investment, and giving the young Africans an incentive to stay in their home countries. The problem is, this isn't so much a recovery program as much as it is meant to be a prevention from migration. But when the Western governments are signing agreements with corrupt governments like Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan, they don't really mean to introduce fundamental reform in those societies – their efforts are mainly aimed at stopping the migrants from coming to the West. They are indirectly triggering the next famine. Because they are sending the wrong message to the governments in Addis Ababa, Asmara and Mogasishu: it turns out, corruption and human rights abuse would be overlooked, if not tolerated and even rewarded.

Granted, the current hunger crisis will probably pass, just like all previous ones have. The international humanitarian machine, which has already become a multi-billion industry in the donor countries, is working flawlessly. There are hundreds of asylum centers for starving children in the region. They are receiving nourishing food products. But the next hunger crisis will inevitably return in a few years, and then the next one. The people, the animals and the land itself are getting less and less time for real long-term recovery between these cycles. The wide-spread myth that hunger in Africa is mostly a climate phenomenon is exactly that, a myth. Hunger in Africa, particularly in the Horn of Africa, is largely caused by the African politicians and elites themselves. And in this upcoming year of German leadership of the G-20, where Africa is expected to be playing a larger role than usual, the Western politicians ought to respond accordingly.

I have said this before. A new approach to development aid is needed. Not one that pours money into a problem and pretends that the solution would somehow come up by itself – instead, one that would make the giving of help dependable on the willingness of the help recipient to be helped.

Source: Talk politics.

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