The bare bones of an AP story:
A senior U.N. humanitarian official said Tuesday he saw Somali refugees living in “the worst conditions I have ever seen” during a tour of the Horn of Africa.
I read two versions of the same story today, both credited to AP, one from Mercury News, and one from CNN. They agree on the above quote, and on the general facts: the Horn of Africa is experiencing severe drought, with livestock dying and people facing malnutrition. They also agree that the political situation in the area is exacerbating the humanitarian crisis.
But beyond these bare bones, the two stories diverge in interesting ways. First, Mercury News:
A senior U.N. humanitarian official appealed to Arab nations that have benefited from soaring oil prices to help millions suffering from prolonged drought in East Africa.
Kjell Magne Bondevik, the U.N. special humanitarian envoy for the Horn of Africa, said the United Nations has raised only 20 percent of an emergency $426 million appeal for 15 million people affected by drought.
Most of the aid has come from the U.S. and European countries.
“Countries in the Arab League could do a lot more. Some contribute bilaterally, but they do not join the multilateral efforts,” Bondevik, a former Norwegian prime minister, said after he visited feeding centers and camps for displaced people, accompanied by militiamen wielding assault rifles and pickup trucks mounted with heavy weapons.
So far, so good. It’s an old story – the bloated plutocracies of the Arab world badmouth the West and bemoan the fate of Muslims, but keep a tight grip on their own purse strings when the begging bowl is passed around. Meanwhile, generous donors in the West, many of them Christians, donate billions of dollars to try to help the people starving in Africa.
Now let’s look at the CNN version:
Kjell Magne Bondevik, the U.N. special humanitarian envoy for the Horn of Africa, said that governments must do more to ensure drought and hunger are eradicated in the long term.
He said, however, that the U.N. was “concerned” and that he had asked the government to issue a report on the matter. [emphasis added]
Strange stuff here. Governments will somehow eradicate drought “in the long term.” Boy, that better be a really long term. Governments can’t manage to eradicate much of anything except for human freedom and the general prosperity, if history is any guide.
But leave that aside. The U.N. is “concerned”. That’s reassuring. I’ll bet that puts a smile onto the faces of those thousands of human skeletons crouched over the corpses of their livestock. When the U.N. is “concerned”, a new ray of hope beams across the landscape like the rising sun!
Just ask the Tutsis in Rwanda.
A strange sense of déjà vu hangs over all these stories about hunger in the Horn of Africa. Haven’t we been through all this before? Didn’t Bob Geldof take care of this problem back in the 1980s by having a bunch of famous rock-’n’-rollers like Sting do benefit concerts for Africa? Didn’t Bill Clinton send our boys into downtown Mogadishu in 1993 to fix everything?
How many billions of dollars have been poured down the corrupt African sinkhole since then? And yet here we are again, with the pictures of starving children and dead cattle in the dust of Somalia.
The climate in Africa isn’t the problem. Drought recurs there periodically, as it does in many places. It is predictable, and can be dealt with. Oklahoma sometimes experiences severe drought, but nobody holds telethons to benefit the starving children of Muskogee, crouched in the dusty shadows of their parents’ double-wides. Somehow the cruel exploitative capitalist society of the United States carries us through these tough times.
The problem in Africa is – as it has been ever since the departure of the European colonial powers – corrupt, tyrannical, and unaccountable government. Even when Oxfam gets its lorryloads of food into the devastated areas, most of it is likely to be siphoned off in “taxes”, bribes, kickbacks, and outright expropriation by the thugs and petty despots who control the affairs of the region. Lacking the rule of law and pluralist institutions, the Horn of Africa has repeatedly failed to develop a robust productive economy which can sustain its people through the inevitable fluctuation of natural cycles.
All of this can be credited to the legacy of Socialism. When the colonial powers left, Marxism took root in much of Africa, as it did in so many parts of the Third World. And African Socialism was a particularly brutal and despotic strain. With the collapse of worlwide Communism, the countries in question were left with simple brutality and despotism, unfettered by ideology.
And as the political structures collapse into anarchy, Islam is ready to fill the void. The Islamic charities – not the governments, but the private outfits fund by the Salafists, the same organizations that ship semtex and AK-47s into the region – actually manage to get sacks of rice and flour to the hungry people, all the while exacting lower taxes and taking smaller kickbacks than the local thugs, thereby discrediting the government even further.
There’s not a whole lot we can do to improve the situation. Pouring more money into the region won’t help – I’m not recommending that you stop giving money to Catholic Charities; I’m just saying that it won’t make much of a difference.
Keep an eye on the Horn of Africa. Once Iran starts handing out nukes to places like Sudan, the Horn of Africa is likely to get even worse.
Millions of people are likely to die. They won’t be Americans or Europeans, but they’ll still be dead.