Africa News Roundup: Food Crises in Somalia and West Africa, Senegalese Elections, South Sudan Violence, and More

Christian Science Monitor: “Famine ends in Somalia, as drought looms in West Africa.” For more, see Reuters on the United Nations’ declaration that Somalia’s famine is over, and AFP on UN warnings concerning food insecurity in West and Central Africa.

Kenya claims to have inflicted over 100 casualties on Somalia’s rebel movement al Shabab in yesterday’s fighting.

IRIN reports on political conflicts in northern Kenya:

Politically motivated violence in the northern Kenyan town of Moyale, which has left dozens dead and tens of thousands displaced in recent weeks, shows little sign of abating and there are fears that the clashes could continue until elections are held for new local government positions.

The main two pastoralist communities involved, the Borana and the Gabra, have a long history of sometimes violent competition over resources.

But by many accounts, an unintended consequence of Kenya’s new devolutionary constitution has raised the stakes considerably. The prospect of real political and budgetary power – concentrated since independence in distant Nairobi – rather than water, pasture and cattle-raid vendettas, now drives the violence.

The Economist offers a somewhat mixed view of the political situation in Senegal, whose presidential elections are only twenty-two days away. On the one hand, The Economist‘s sub-header says, “West Africa’s beacon of democracy loses its lustre.” On the other, the magazine predicts, “Even if there are further violent protests in the run-up to the poll, Senegalese democracy should survive.”

The BBC on South Sudan:

At least 37 people have been killed in South Sudan during a shoot-out at a peace meeting aimed at ending recent violence, officials said [on Friday].

Officials from three states and the UN had met for talks in the remote town of Mayendit in Unity state in an effort to reduce inter-ethnic tensions.

Those killed in the gun battle included civilians, but most were police.

The talks were called after a series of clashes, including one in which 74 people died earlier this week.

Thousands of people have been displaced in the violence.

Northern Mali’s Tuareg rebellion has sent thousands of Tuareg refugees into neighboring Mauritania. See World Politics Review for a backgrounder on the rebels in Mali.

What are you reading today?

Human Rights Watch on Somalia’s Civil War and Famine

If you thought the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces were the good guys in Somalia’s famine and civil war, Human Rights Watch has news for you:

All parties to Somalia’s armed conflict have committed serious violations of the laws of war that are contributing to the country’s humanitarian catastrophe, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. All sides should immediately end abuses against civilians, hold those responsible to account, and ensure access to aid and free movement of people fleeing conflict and drought.

The 58-page report, “‘You Don’t Know Who to Blame’: War Crimes in Somalia,” documents numerous abuses during renewed fighting in the past year by parties to the 20-year-long conflict in Somalia. These include the Islamist armed group al-Shabaab, the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the African Union peacekeeping forces (AMISOM), and Kenya- and Ethiopia-backed Somali militias. The report also examines abuses by the Kenyan police and crimes committed by bandits in neighboring Kenya against Somali refugees.

There are no good guys among the major players.

I imagine a lot of people feel that abuses by the TFG and AMISOM are “worth it” in the fight against al Shabab. But whatever territory the TFG gains, it will have to rule, and not just through force, but through politics. Abuses against civilians now will have long-term effects.

To demonstrate that point, this is not the first time Human Rights Watch has pointed to patterns of violence and abuse against civilians in Somalia. During the Ethiopian occupation of Somalia from late 2006 to early 2009, when Ethiopia was supporting the TFG, “the worst abuses [were] by Ethiopian soldiers…Ethiopians…often indiscriminately attacked civilian areas and looted hospitals.” I suspect the brutality of the Ethiopian occupation gave al Shabab a boost in the early days of its insurgency, driving recruitment and pushing civilians into the arms of al Shabab.

Today, al Shabab may be pulling back, and the TFG may be gaining ground, but the TFG’s behavior is quite possibly setting the stage for future conflict, whether in terms of a resurgence by al Shabab or the rise of another rebellion.

Roundup: Commentary on the Famine in Somalia

A lot of articles on Somalia’s famine have been accumulating in my Somalia file, and today seems like a good today to put them into roundup form. Here goes:

Feel free to post relevant links in the comments. What is your understanding of causes of the famine? What do you think could help the situation?

EU Aid for Sahelian Hunger Crisis

As millions suffer from hunger in the Sahel, the EU adds $29 million in aid to the $24 million it had already pledged for the region:

Humanitarian programs will target more than seven million people in Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and northern Nigeria.  The aid will fund emergency food assistance between harvests, allocation of seeds to farmers and treating acutely malnourished children.

The Sahel was pushed into crisis by erratic rains, resulting in poor harvests.  The EU says that setback, coupled with high food prices and limited job opportunities, has forced up to 10 million people in Chad and Niger to require emergency assistance.

This is the first mention I’ve seen in the press that Northern Nigeria is also considered to be in crisis, but I’m not surprised: desertification and drought have been problems there for years, and famines elsewhere send people from other Sahelian countries into Nigeria.

Tommy has more on the crisis.

A Sahel-Wide Famine?

Millions in Niger are facing hunger, but the UN now says Chad is also experiencing a food crisis. This is looking like a regional famine, and there aren’t enough resources to go around.N'Djamena area, Chad by afcone

Relief efforts for two million people facing food shortages in Chad are suffering because donors are concentrating aid on neighbouring Niger, a United Nations agency warned on Tuesday.

Niger is seen at the centre of a looming food crisis in the Sahel, the strip of land stretching across the south of the Sahara where some 10 million people are facing hunger in coming months because of poor rains last year.

But the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) sounded an alarm that Chad, which along with its neighbour is one of the world’s poorest nations, was being overlooked.

Some aid agencies (French) are also starting to talk of a Sahelian famine that affects Mauritania and Mali as well as Chad and Niger.

Meanwhile, after last year’s experience, the approach of the rainy season is bringing anxiety, not hope, in some places:

Devastating floods swept through West Africa in 2009, killing more than 100 people and displacing hundreds of thousands more in 16 countries.

As this year’s rainy season draws closer, efforts are being stepped up to prepare for the worst.  The International Federation of the Red Cross is leading the preparation effort.

A Red Cross’ spokesman, Moustapha Diallo, attended flood preparation talks earlier this month in Praia, the capital of Cape Verde.

Famines have occurred periodically in the Sahel for decades, but in recent years crises have occurred frequently. Climate change and desertification are taking a toll on people and agriculture. That in turn puts pressure on Sahelian governments, some of which have other huge political problems, such as rebellions in Chad or last year’s referendum debacle in Niger. A spirit of generosity exists in the region, and governments have often helped each other in times of need, but when everyone is suffering no one is in a position to give much help.

Niger’s Food Crisis and Its Regional Impact

The food crisis in Niger is placing strain on its neighbors even as the country makes some political progress. Regional leaders are hailing Niger’s moves toward restoring civilian rule, and global institutions like the World Bank are resuming aid to the country. A resumption of EU aid may come soon. Chinese investment in Niger is growing. Yet while ordinary Nigeriens may appreciate the normalization of politics and of Niger’s relations with the outside world, many are still desperately hungry: The total number of Nigeriens “facing severe food insecurity” has risen to 3.3 million.

The increasing difficulty of surviving in Niger has driven hundreds out of the country and into Northern Nigeria.

The BBC’s Abba Muhammed Katsina in Katsina says some of the those arriving from Niger are selling water or tea to make money.

There are also reports of women going from house to house begging for food, he says.

A significant number of Nigeriens are also reported to have arrived in Sokoto State.

Nigerian authorities have limited means to respond to the migrations.

A Nigerian immigration officer, who asked to remain anonymous, said there was little his officials could do to stop the influx.

“There is very little we can do… due to the porous nature of the over 1,000 kilometre (63 mile) border stretch,” he said.

In anticipation of the influx, Katsina authorities have stockpiled grains for distribution, Makana said.

The new arrivals are not necessarily “strangers” – Hausa communities on different sides of the border are connected through language, religion, kinship ties, and trading networks – but the migrants could cause tensions and contribute to strains on Northern Nigerian infrastructure. When residents of Northern Nigeria already have difficulty getting consistent access to electricity, sanitation, and potable water, a sudden increase in the population could mean trouble. So Niger’s problems are becoming Nigeria’s. If hungry people from Niger start heading into other Sahelian countries as well – some of which face their own food crises – the problem will become truly regional.

Read about one aid worker’s experience in Niger here.

Niger: Self-Sufficiency and Economic Hardship

Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja, facing political isolation by his neighbors and the international community, has called on his countrymen to brace for “sacrifices.” The Economic Community of West African States has urged Tandja to accept a power-sharing deal, but negotiations have borne little fruit thus far. With politics deadlocked, we’re starting to see what Nigerien self-sufficiency will mean, and what sacrifices it will entail.

Zinder, Niger

In some areas, the state in Niamey is making a credible bid to go it alone. New generators will make Niger less dependent on neighboring Nigeria for electricity, and Chinese firms are still investing in the country’s uranium.

But for much of the country, the outlook is grim.

More than half of the population of Niger will go without food at some point this year, according to a leaked official survey contradicting public assurances by the government of the poor West African state.

About 7.8 million people in the desert nation of 15 million will face food insecurity — a term that covers stages from missing meals to malnutrition and famine — according to a report in Le Canard Enchaine, one of the country’s newspapers.

“These figures are the same as those found by our survey,” an official involved in the study told Reuters on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Food security is a politically sensitive subject in uranium-exporting Niger, which suffered severe shortages in 2005 affecting 4 million people.

The government resisted foreign help and denied there was a famine until media coverage attracted international attention.

The Famine Early Warning System also predicts food shortages in Niger, IRIN reports.

I have said before that I do not believe Tandja is unwilling to cede any substantial amount of power. But if economic conditions change, leaving half his people starving, the political conditions will change too. The pressure on him to alter his course could become too intense to resist. In the meantime, it looks like the sacrifices Nigeriens endure will be very costly indeed.