Last weekend was a defining moment in Africa, with two high profile events of great significance. One was the case of David Beasley, the head of the World Food Programme (WFP) criss-crossing Africa when a surprising announcement got to him about the selection of the WFP for the award of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. The man, who was on the field of humanitarian services when the announcement was made, said – for the first time – he was speechless. The second, however, had to do with the release and return to France of Sophie Petronin, the 75 year-old French woman who had been abducted nearly four years ago in Mali by terrorists and used as bargaining chip for the release of their comrades at arms.
The relevance and relationship between these two events can be underscored by the statement of Berit Reiss Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, as she said hunger and starvation are related to insecurity in a “vicious cycle,” with each side acting as both causes and consequences of the other. By these, she has summarised the African food crisis situation as most countries today face the existential threats and grim prospects of not meeting the SDGs 1 and 2, the ambitious criteria set by the UN on end to poverty and hunger, under the Agenda 2030. Notable and commendable as these two great events are, a point has to be made that they only laid greater emphasis on effects than causes. It is also important to give greater attention to the very causes of the prevalent hunger and starvation, particularly those that have remote links. A lot depends on Africa in finding true solutions to the crises.
On the whole, Africa has had the misfortune of poor governance and bad governments. Africa is urbanising. But most sickening among the reasons for the urbanisation are the conflict and geopolitical rivalry that have now become a commonplace. One of prominent consequences is the disruption of public peace, which has decimated many rural agrarian communities. The two-fold results are the internal displacement of people running to the urban precincts, considered much safer. The second is the food shortage occasioned by the unsafe rural countryside where most food in Africa is produced by these subsistence farmers whose safety is threatened. International community, including the African Union (AU), needs to pay attention to this nexus. This is all the more important, considering the yearly increase in the number of internally displaced persons (IDP) and the number of the IDP camps across the continent. An estimated 18 million displaced persons in Africa, and growing, should worry the incurable optimists as more than 12.5 million of these are IDPs in their own countries.
Africa currently struggles with an increase in clandestine cross-border smuggling of small arms, which – in turn – has led to flashpoints and cases of unprovoked attacks. Observers have blamed the illicit trade in small arms for the unending hostilities and wars in which approximately 30 million firearms are reportedly disseminated through Africa. Analysts attributed part of the causes to the collapse of the Soviet bloc hat open a new floodgate of small arms into Africa. That was a distant two decades plus. More recently, however, are reports from a survey on small arms showing that “Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Niger serve mainly as transit or origin countries for illicit arms bound for Mali, especially the Mopti, Gao, Kidal, and Timbuktu areas.” It stated that “Libya has been a source of trafficked weapons since 2011, but this trend appears to have reversed, and in recent years seizures of weapons and ammunition flowing back towards and into Libya have been reported.” Connections between illicit arms trafficking and other types of illicit flows are real, forming part of a complex web of interconnected criminal markets extending through West Africa and the Sahel. It is nearly impossible to separate illicit flows of weapons and drugs from illegal migrants. From the Malian experience, to Burkina Faso, to Mozambique and Nigeria, the cases of militant insurgency are becoming one too many. It is difficult to absolve governments of the affected countries of complicity and connivance based on emerging stories relating to these cases of insecurity. It is also possible to propose the hypothesis that the laid-back and lackadaisical approach to governance created a leeway for the attackers who easily identify the weakness in the rural security infrastructure of the rural communities, and exploit it to advantage.
Countries in Africa feature prominent on the radar of WFP. Apart from war-torn Syria and Yemen in the Middle East, African countries are severely vulnerable to food crisis. The WFP has listed Zimbabwe, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central Sahel region as ”standing out when it comes to the needs of hungry children, women and men.” It is not therefore difficult to establish the link behind hostilities and food insecurity in affected nations as African countries to be worse affected by food insecurity and hunger. Horrible figures emanating on Africa’s exposure require urgent action. With 4.3 million people now food insecure in the North East of Nigeria, 3.3 million people in Burkina Faso and 22 million in DR Congo, the task of feeding the teeming vulnerable people is becoming herculean just as the WFP may be undergoing financial strain. According the WFP, the top five donors in 2019 were USA, giving $3.4 billion; Germany, $886.5 million; the United Kingdom, $698.6 million; European Commission, $685.9 million and Saudi Arabia, $378 million. David Beasley has said it publicly that the WFP needs money to continue its work. This is happening in the era of donor fatigue in many donor-dependent interventions. International finance providers – as loan, donations or grants – and aid agencies need to emphasise global governance best practices as pre-requisite for any support that is to be given. This could hold them accountable.
Boko Haram in Nigeria began in 2009 with the political thugs of a North East state that were not demobilised, rehabilitated and reintegrated into the society. With arms in their hands not retrieved, and with prospects of hunger since they didn’t learn any vocation, the only option they considered was to terrorise people, mostly rural. This created an open window for a well-funded international terrorist group’s invasion. No fewer than three local government areas (equivalent of counties) are presently deserted in a state famed for grains and fish. Poor border control, corruption, ethnic sentiment, lack of modern equipment for emergency preparedness and early warning system make the affected areas vulnerable to attacks. The weakness of the AU in providing robust emergency intervention was evident in the case of Sudan’s flood, in which case a distant Qatar responded with food aid within days. Beyond mere declarations and cliches – such as silencing the guns – African governments need to be more proactive, pragmatic and persistent in keeping the peace within their domains. They also need to collaborate with neighbouring African countries in information sharing, military pacts and joint security operations. Seventeen years ago, in 2003, a declaration was made in Maputo, capital of Mozambique, calling for a “commitment to the allocation of at least 10 per cent of national budgetary resources to agriculture and rural development policy implementation within five years” by African countries. It is doubtful today if 10 countries have heeded this declaration. Sadly enough, Mozambique has been through two environmental within two years. While recovery from the two cyclones that hit Mozambique in quick succession would have been an easy task, the trouble of trans-border terrorists in the north of the country is creating a different type of humanitarian disaster, one that comes with violence and killings.
The Sub Saharan Africa is up against an unabated climate change crisis, which is one of the catalysts for the growing insecurity. Traditional cattle herdsmen that were earlier used to back and forth seasonal migration across national borders in search of herbage and water have now taken up arms, killing, maiming and raping on their way. They invade rural communities, cause wanton destruction and seem to get away with such actions, with various lazy explanations in governments to explain them away. The effects of these marauders’ invasion needs to be put in proper perspectives as they seem to be changing their roles and styles of operations from mere migrants to territorial expansion by violent means. Their impact on food security needs to be examined. As Africa now makes trade a tool for continental engagement, the launch of African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is expected to boost intra-African trade. But the growing number and pockets of insecurity flashpoints could hinder a lot of trans-border trade. African countries and the AU have to make it a priority to end these crises, by every method possible. Only in environment devoid of conflicts can Africa experience true prosperity and food security. All hands must be on deck to get this done.