Africa's famine woes continue

Posted: Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Famine once again is stalking the African continent. Regrettably, it will be harder to stir the world to offer aid this time.

In the past, the world has responded swiftly, rushing food to the stricken nations. In 1984, for example, a major effort was launched when Ethiopia was in dire straits. This time, the crisis is centered in nations such as Zimbabwe and Zambia.

In Zimbabwe, the dictator is sponsoring a purge of white farmers, seizing their land and driving them off so that his friends and relatives can assume the properties. This is certain to reduce the nation's ability to produce food.

In Zambia, even more remarkably, the dictator in charge of that nation is refusing food for the nation's 14 million starving residents.

Cryson Mutema, sitting in his mud hut in Kooma with his gaunt 3-year-old son at his feet, responded to reports that President Levy Mwanawasa had said the government didn't want the proffered corn -- eaten daily by millions of people -- because it might be dangerous.

"He doesn't want? But we want. He's eating all day. He is satisfied. Here we are hungry. Here we go starving," he said.

Residents of his village have to fight with baboons and birds for nuts and wild fruit in order to survive. As Mutema noted, Mwanawasa lacks for nothing.

About 15 private sector and religious agencies are trying desperately to get food to the affected regions. But the worldwide reaction of previous years is missing.

Another factor is that giving food only produces meals, staving off hunger. What Africa needs is efficient methods of agriculture.

Norman Borlaug, Nobel Prize-winning author of the "green revolution," has been teaching methods of increasing farm yields. But his efforts are being stymied by a variety of factors. Among them are a lack of capital to help keep the more productive farmers in business. Without storage, marketing and distribution facilities, much of their extra produce goes to waste. ...

Because of these defects, the World Bank has recommended that African nations rely on tourism and other industries to produce money and to buy food, rather than grow it themselves -- even though the continent once could feed itself and might again, with modern methods.

It is difficult to help people when their own governments adhere to policies that kill them.

The frustration is expressed well in "Out of America" by Keith Richburg, a black reporter for the Washington Post, who spent years in Africa and found it had lost any romantic appeal his heritage held for him. "Thank God my nameless ancestor, brought across the ocean in chains and leg irons, made it out alive. Thank God I am an American," he wrote.

With AIDS, famine, disease, civil wars, corrupt and murderous politicians and economic reality against it, little wonder that Africa teeters on the brink.

-- The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville - Dec. 9

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