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Red Tape, Bureaucracy, Life and Death

By Josef-Israel

Josef-Israel is a U. K. based Voice Actor, Broadcaster and Journalist working with West London's BBC Newsgathering. An 11 year sojourn in Ghana, West-Africa, decidedly weathered a passion and love for all things from "éyè-fie" (back-home), a regular in Accra, it is impossible to take the African out of this son of Africa.

Posted on Friday, 4 November 2011 17:47

Red tape and bureaucracy, while some say are part of life and the “official way”, can literally bridge the divide between life and death in the Horn of Africa.

According to Wikipedia the Horn of African (HOA) “denotes the region containing the countries of Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia”, whilst a quick hash tag search #hoacrisis or #hornofafrica would probably add Kenya, Uganda and Sudan (the south as well) to the equation.

But essentially the HOA is “a peninsula in East Africa that juts out hundreds of kilometres into the Arabian Sea… it is the eastern most projection of the African continent.”

I digress. But although this is not a geography lesson I do need to draw attention to the scale of life in this discord.

It is no secret that the ‘Dark Continent’ is full of dichotomies; vast wealth versus poverty, huge crop yields and perennial drought, bread baskets and agricultural basket cases. They all cohabit seemingly quite merrily in many of the 50 plus countries across Africa. 

This year, however, the bony hands of famine yet again grip the HOA like a vice and perhaps the most alarming point is that Africa and the rest of the world knew ahead of time that this was a disaster waiting to happen. And allowed it to happen!

Perhaps our brief encounter with geography was not in vain, for any geographer or environmentalist worth their salt would advise that the HOA is plagued with seasons of drought and vast regions of semi-arid land.

And while countries like Kenya and Ethiopia, among others, have support programmes to tackle these issues yearly, on a day to day basis, a question that can’t wait to be asked is “how did this happen?”

As far back as 2008, various programmes were initiated in these regions when a United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report warned of the likelihood of drought conditions particularly in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and north-eastern Uganda.

Many across the globe pledged financial assistance for various (in hindsight) possibly preventive programmes.

But a pledge in diplomatic or bureaucratic terms is a misnomer. The real word (in West-African pidgin English) is “window wiper,” translated as “go come I will ‘see’ you later.”

In a recent article discussing the crisis, Oxfam humanitarian manager, Andrew Blejwas said: “Oxfam and other organisations have been warning for more than a year that the (HOA) crisis is real.

Our TV sets now regurgitate pictures of East Africans stripped of the dignity of life, food camps, flies playing footsie on the forlorn faces of emaciated children, death and suffering an all too well known story.

”Yet international attention to a disaster often fails to muster anything more than a few news articles and modest monetary response from the international donor community unless the crisis has reached a famine point.”

August 2011, CNN, the international news broadcaster began a nightly live broadcast on the humanitarian disaster in the HOA.

Our TV sets now regurgitate pictures of East Africans stripped of the dignity of life, food camps, flies playing footsie on the forlorn faces of emaciated children, death and suffering an all too well known story.

As words and images of tragedy and crisis flash by, the realisation of the inconsistencies of newsrooms to bring continued and consistent attention to these problems until it’s too late hits me hard.

Despite strong warnings from all quarters in time enough to stop a disaster that was waiting to happen, THIS IS HAPPENING!

Government pledges, the media and manifold warnings had failed to avert the crisis.

This crisis is, however, in sharp contrast with the mega economic growth in other parts of Africa, including Ethiopia, which ironically is also suffering from serious drought.

A sharp continental contrast that sees British Prime Minster David Cameron declaring in a speech in July, at the Lagos Business School that “frankly, we’re (Britain) just not doing enough to pursue the possibilities of trading with you (Africa).

“Right now, Britain is in danger of missing out on one of the greatest economic opportunities on the planet”. 

Drought, hunger, and famine (unfortunately) these are not strange words in the HOA and other parts of Africa.

A personal experience

In 1983, Ghana, in West Africa was ravaged by a drought, which caused widespread food shortages and hunger across the country with many households forced to reduce food consumption and some resorting to drastic means of survival.

I even recall my own grandmother recounting how she dinned on canned dog food.

Whilst it is true that Somalia, which remains the epicentre of this crisis with a hard-line insurgent group, al-Shabab, playing God in an on-off truce with the humanitarian aid efforts, and Eritrea whom in all probable terms are feeling the effects too with an on-going aid ban, do nothing for these possible long term solutions.

Evidently targeted technological advancements have provided remarkable results, stories of reverse desertification, photovoltaic underground water irrigation systems and a host of other scientific developments.

Are Africans and the so called development partners, (or resource benefactors, as it were) doing enough to lift the continent that holds “the greatest economic opportunity on the planet” out if this perennial quagmire?

Notwithstanding the question, many cannot resist penning notes of interest and concern whilst making mental audits when big economies, Eastern and Western alike, come forward with their investments even in their tough economic climate.

Eyebrows stretched to their limit when India granted a $5 billion dollar loan announced at the recent India-Africa Forum Summit and in recent days a group of Indian billionaires announced they were investing $2.5 billion in Tanzanian agriculture.

A Sub Saharan regional economic outlook report by the International Monetary Fund suggests that “Sub Saharan Africa’s recovery from the (world economic) crisis-induced slowdown is well underway, with growth now back fairly close to the high levels of the mid-2000s.

The region’s output expanded by 5 percent in 2010 and is projected to grow by some 5½ percent in 2011″

Admittedly, these are just projections. But famine and starvation continue unrestrained as investors in Africa are being urged to boost the world economy.

Don’t misunderstand me, I strongly believe that immediate concrete donations – especially for the HOA crisis – and investment are necessary as well as desirable.

Nonetheless, if we don’t find immediate as well as long term sustainable solutions (not mere pledges), the crisis sweeping across East Africa will remain a perennial issue, like a yearly ceremony that people sit in the comfort of their homes to watch unfold before their very eyes, live on CNN.

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