Every year the UN-OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) says that 3-4 million (always different) subsistence farmers and pastoralists in a variety of different regions in Ethiopia are food insecure, and thus in need of food aid (out of a total population of 80 million) The Ethiopian government then holds a press conference and asks donors to pitch in. The number of food insecure in Ethiopia is roughly the same this year, and yet when reading the news reports in the Western media about famine in the Horn of Africa you would think something totally dramatic and different has been happening in Ethiopia this year.
On the other hand as a percentage of the population the numbers of food insecure people are substantially higher in southern Somalia where “access” to food insecure places is a key factor in donor activity in the region. When I say “access” what I mean is that getting physical access to southern Somalia is a key issue in donor efforts in the region. Southern Somalia is also controlled by Al Shabbab. And, well the powers that be have been trying to tame southern Somalis for the past 20 years, but without much success. Thus, in the past 20 years, we have had two formal military interventions (one US led and one led by Ethiopia) and myriad small scale regularly inflicted informal interventions, sometimes in the form of drones, sometimes coming as ak47s, etc. So between the war on terror, and the war on poverty it is hard to know why Somalia is in the news right now. But also more difficult to know is what is happening in the Horn of Africa militarily, politically, and economically beyond sensational reports. But, certainly since there is always enough food to feed the people of the world, we must become cognizant of the fact that famine has its own specifec political-economy, as does war, and also news reportage. So, just as poor news reporting is never a disaster of an individual mind, famine is never a natural disaster. Bad institutional configurations produce both :)
Where does that leave us? I am not suggesting a conspiracy theory. But when I start to put the pieces of this story together the Cassandra in me certainly hears grumblings of another military intervention in all of this news making activity. After all, what else can “access” mean?
In the mean time, though I am still waiting for a really good article/analyses on the framing of this years biggest “humanitarian disaster”, I see that other people have questions too. We are starting to get closer to a better analyses of this event with this blog post. Check it.