(But what is happening in the Ogaden, the Ethiopian lowlands? Almost entirely populated by Somalis, it has been fenced off and closed to outsiders for years because Ethiopia fears it might be infiltrated by anti-Ethiopian insurgents. Atrocities by Ethiopian troops are reported but cannot be verified. If the rest of the region is suffering, the closed Ogaden may be hiding an even larger disaster.)

Richard Dowden
Director of the Royal African Society

“Here we go again”. These words should have been heard in November last year. Not since. That’s when the drought early warning lights flashed in Eastern Africa. No one should be saying it now. But now we are seeing pictures of starving Somali babies – pictures that we were promised we would never see again.
The aid agencies are out with their begging bowls as if this had never happened before. To be fair, some of the best have been issuing alerts for some time based on the early warning systems which measure rainfall and food prices. They were put in place after the Ethiopian famine of 1984. The alarm sounded in 1999, 2002, 2005 and 2008 and each time the response arrived, but often late.

Drought can cause food shortages and price rises. But drought does not automatically mean famine. Famine is cause by politics – when war or governments prevent people moving or trading. And politics in this region are deadly and remain deadlocked. If we want to stop seeing starving Somali babies on our TV screens our governments will have to engage with al-Shabaab. America refuses to do that because it means abandoning the present Somali ‘government’. This is a powerless collection of individuals who live mostly in Nairobi, control less than a square mile of Somali territory, and has achieved nothing.

The rest of the world must deal with Somalia as it is – a fractious society and a fractured state. Somalis will probably never agree on a single leader, a single party, or a single government. Since 1991, attempts to create a national government from the outside have failed again and again. Let the pieces of Somalia fall where they will, and engage with them locally, generously and pragmatically.

There are shortages but no famine in the Ethiopian Highlands, Somaliland, or in Puntland, the north eastern part of Somalia. That is because people are able to move around and the governments ensure trade continues and food reaches those who need it. Famine seems to have only occurred in Southern Somalia where a failed government pretends to rule but al-Shabaab actually controls. Kenya compounds the problem by refusing to let people cross into northern Kenya.

But what is happening in the Ogaden, the Ethiopian lowlands? Almost entirely populated by Somalis, it has been fenced off and closed to outsiders for years because Ethiopia fears it might be infiltrated by anti-Ethiopian insurgents. Atrocities by Ethiopian troops are reported but cannot

 

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