The continent is getting more prosperous and democratic by the dayby Alex Perry / October 15, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
Between October 2010 and April 2012, a quarter of a million people died in a famine in Somalia. Even in the war years, no one had seen dying like it. In a few weeks in mid-2011, half a million people abandoned their homes in the south of the country and walked across the desert to Mogadishu, an exodus of hundreds of miles marked for eternity by thousands of shallow graves. In the camps the survivors erected out of brushwood and plastic bags in the war ruins of Mogadishu, hundreds were dying every day. When cholera and measles swept the camps, that number accelerated into the thousands. The living and the dead soon found themselves competing for space. Mothers would return to the graves of children they had buried the day before to find a camp had materialised on the same spot over night. By the end of the catastrophe, one in 10 of the children in southern Somalia aged five and under was dead.
Maybe you remember it? Perhaps you gave money to the aid agencies who blanketed newspaper front pages and billboards in London with pictures of starving Somalis? The campaign was one of the biggest of the last decade, raising £1.2bn in months, about £400 for each of the three million Somalis in need. That figure, however, poses a question. With all that money, how did 258,000 people still die? The answers are an excruciating testament to how badly we in the west can get Africa wrong.
The truth about famine in Africa is that it hardly ever occurs. The Somali famine is the only one to have taken place in Africa in the 21st century, and it had its own special causes.
As was evident to anyone in Mogadishu at the time, even at the height of the famine in August 2011, very little aid was getting to the epicentre in southern Somalia. Almost none of the big western aid agencies raising money to fight the famine were even present, confining themselves to a secure compound at the airport if they were in southern Somalia at all. Why?