In 2005, Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja denied that a food crisis was underway in his country, dismissing warnings issued by international bodies like the World Food Programme. Subsequent Nigerien leaders, including the military junta that removed Tandja in 2010 and current civilian President Mahamadou Issoufou, elected last March, have been more willing to discuss the country’s problems with food insecurity and act to address them. Aid agencies have celebrated the change in attitude, saying that early acknowledgement of shortages helps strengthen responses to crises.
Senegal’s recent political history differs from Niger’s – no coups, just a defeat at the ballot box in March for two-term President Abdoulaye Wade – but Senegal’s new President Macky Sall is showing a change of attitude toward food insecurity that is reminiscent of the shift in Niger:
One day after being sworn in on 2 April, Senegal’s new President Macky Sall reversed months of public denial of the hunger affecting over 800,000 of his people – part of the Sahel-wide crisis affecting 16 million inhabitants – by calling on partners to help the country get food to those in need. UN agencies and NGOs are struggling to raise enough money to get programmes working so they can catch up with the steadily rising number of hungry people.
After Sall appealed to bilateral and multilateral partners to help rural areas affected by food deficits on 3 April, Abdoul Aziz Diallo, President of the Senegalese Red Cross (SRC), told IRIN: “We knew about the situation but the previous regime did not want to make a public declaration, since they thought it would prove their agricultural programmes were not efficient.”
Addressing recurring food crises in the Sahel will require sustained political will. Two examples does not necessarily make a trend, but it may be that leaders in Niger and Senegal represent a new, more engaged approach to the problem of food insecurity.