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Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK
Famine in southern Africa: Why has it happened?
Malawi sold off its stocks of maize on the advice of international donors
Millions of people are starving after poor harvests in countries across southern Africa.

Some areas have had floods and others unseasonal dry spells.

But politics has worsened the situation - Malawi sold off its stocks of maize on the advice of international donors.

Commercial farmers in Zimbabwe have been prevented from planting their crops by supporters of President Robert Mugabe and civil war has stopped farmers from working in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

What do you think is causing the famine - freak weather or policy failures? Tell us your experiences. What can the region and the international community do to stop it happening again?

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

It's not natural disasters that cause famine but governments. There are countries that experience drought regularly yet still manage to feed their people. Famine occurs when governments don't have the will to feed their people, usually because they're too busy spending money on fighting wars and buying more weapons from the Western powers. Sorry, Vish, UK, for the "usual comments" but it's a fact, and how are these countries supposed to build their infrastructure when it keeps getting demolished by Western-built weapons? It's we in the West who are perpetuating this whole system of aid and telethons because it suits our economies.
Steve B, Scotland

The lack of foresight by corrupt politicians coupled with sheer greed has caused the problems

Alex Olusegun, USA
Africa has all the wealth it needs. It does not need aid from the West. The lack of foresight by corrupt politicians coupled with sheer greed has caused the problems that we see in every sub-Saharan country except for South Africa. I lived in Nigeria for 5 years and there are bright students who want to learn and better their respective countries but the political climate has caused a brain-drain that started in the '80's. This will continue until some of these politicians lift their veils of ignorance and wake up! What sense does it make to have 100 luxury cars when your roads are filled with potholes?
Alex Olusegun, USA

Those who claim that Africans were better-off under colonialism are nothing but closet-racists using people's misery as an opportunity to vent their bent-up prejudices. They are also plain wrong. Most Africans are better-off than they were 40 years ago. Most socio-economic indicators like Literacy Rates, access to water and sanitation and life expectancy are up in most of Africa as it is the rest of the world. But even if they weren't most Africans will still not choose to live under colonialism.
Ahmed Jama Mohamed, Somaliland

Malawi has a valuable resource within its own borders to combat drought and failed rains, it's called Lake Malawi, you need pipes and pumps to operate it. Zimbabwe has on it's North Eastern Border Lake Kariba and the Zambezi it pours millions of gallons of water out to the Indian Ocean every year yet no attempt is made to harness it. The corruption endemic in Africa politics and tribal differences means that everyone is looking for the Get Rich Quick solution of a Swiss Bank Account and not investing for the future. The problems here have nothing to do with Global Warming - droughts in Africa have happening for centuries, you just have to stand back and look for the long term solution.
Phil Davies, UK

We have to prepare these countries for globalisation

Stefan Schlicht, Germany
Governments are becoming weaker and weaker in the face of globalisation; therefore we have to prepare these countries for globalisation. It cannot be that tobacco is subsidised as part of a development program on one side when export to the donor countries isn't possible due to the donor countries' health and tariff regulations.
Stefan Schlicht, Germany

Debt relief? The money would only go to line the pockets of those corrupt, incompetent leaders who have totally mismanaged their countries. Yes, the weather is to blame for bad harvests, but these leaders have made matters worse. Stop blaming the West. This happened before, you should have known it would happen again.
Christopher W Whybrow, Philippines

I have seen starving children whose parents are unable to harvest the crops which have once again failed. They don't want to have to ask for the help of others. Corrupt governments mean that communities are simply not given the opportunities to develop as in the West. Without the education necessary to create future scientists, doctors and teachers how can we ever expect to see change? Disease, famine and poverty will prevail no matter what the West donates because the changes needed have to come from within.
Jennifer, England

Let's buy what they have to sell at a fair price

Andrew, Britain
Bad leadership and economic mismanagement are largely to blame but there are other factors at play. EU and US market protection measures effectively stifle any chance of earnings and hence inward investment. With a few notable exceptions, aid doesn't work in the long term and no-one is prepared for colonialism (the ultimate rescue package) so let's give them a chance and buy what they have to sell at a fair price.
Andrew, Britain

There is no great secret in the reason that southern Africa is starving. Corrupt governing bodies have not let farmers do their job. The farmers have been way too busy defending their families and properties to be able to concentrate on the job at hand.
Ross Goddard, England

It's sad when in times of technological and scientific achievement, we still are faced with our fellow human beings starving and dying. I am ashamed that I, like many others, have been too wrapped up in the egotisim of the war-talk. I had forgotten to care about others in countries where leaders are greedy and uncaring and children are dying unnoticed. Britain should stop sending aid to Europe, and instead revert it to southern Africa.
Esther, UK

There is no continent on the surface on the world that is blessed with fertile soil like Africa. I lived in South Korea which is a very small country, able to feed its people and even support its neighbour, North Korea, with food. What is the secret here? There is political will and the government thinks of its people more than anything else. This country also experiences drought but manages it by mobilising the army to drill water and fetch it to farms with their tanks. Can't this be done in Africa? How can you be a proud leader when you are leading hungry people? Africa does not need food aid. Unless African leaders think of their people and not themselves, this man-made problem will continue.
John Bosco Obara, Kenya.

It starts with throwing out Mugabe

Mikko Toivonen, Finland
Whatever the reason, the problem can't be rectified with more aid that would be misused. The people in the affected areas must rectify the situation themselves. It starts with throwing out Mugabe and his like and assuming some responsibility as part of human race. It is a difficult task because all African dictators have all the guns and no respect for any human values whatsoever but it will succeed eventually.
Mikko Toivonen, Finland

Poor agricultural policies that limit farmers' ability to produce. Agricultural subsidies in developed countries that tilt the trade balance to their advantage and deny developing countries' fair competition. The consequences are a demoralised farming community and a subsequent reduction in crop yields. It's a vicious cycle involving several factors both beyond and within human control.
Maru, Kenya

No-one should be surprised by this famine.

Jon Livesey, USA
No-one should be surprised by this famine. It was widely predicted as a consequence of the policies of Mugabe and similar African leaders. Of course, such predictions are politically incorrect, so we usually ignore or denounce them when they are made, and then we act as though we have been taken by surprise when they come true.
Jon Livesey, USA

With today's communications and transportation options, provision can be made and there is no justifiable reason why anyone, anywhere should starve. A worldwide disregard or amnesia for Africa that allows bad political systems to flourish is the true cause of this.
Andrew Cover, UK

Since the colonial era, Africa has become a total disaster. Why have countries that were the feeding themselves, and other, become dependent upon aid? Easy. The indigenous political leaders padded their own nest, built up huge national debts, that the bleeding hearts now want the donor countries to write off! Colonialism by the western nations may not have been perfect, but at least the poor were fed, and the countries developed.
John Atkins, England

I agree with John Atkins, colonialism may not have been perfect but at least there wasn't mass starvation. Zimbabwe used to be the bread basket of Africa and now for the first time ever it has to beg for food aid. Totally unforgivable - I can't wait for leaders like Mugabe to get their comeuppance for all the suffering and hunger they have created.
Dale, UK

Malawi must once again become self-sufficient in food

Kabanga Kabanga, Malawi
Erratic rains and unusually dry spells have certainly contributed to the acute food shortage in Malawi and other southern African countries. Regrettably surplus maize was sold off to other countries based on the advice of the donor community. It is very disappointing to see that this same donor community has been very slow in responding to appeals for food and other humanitarian aid related to the current food shortage. Let this be a bitter lesson to the present and future leadership of Malawi.

Malawi must once again become self-sufficient in food as it once did for decades under President Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda. It would also be most helpful if Malawi diversifies its staple food. Rather than depending on maize as the main food, other grains must also feature prominently in the national diet. Grains such as rice, wheat and other foods can help solve the hunger problem. In the US and other countries, there are plenty of foods to choose from.
Kabanga Kabanga, Malawi

We have abundant food in the West and we should distribute it to the starving in Malawi. Instead of signing a piece of paper in Moscow, Bush and Putin should be issuing bags of grain in Malawi. Then we can celebrate as one world.
Steve Lewis, UK

Greed and corruption by elected leaders and the heads of ministries, who would rather sell off the national food stock piles to feed their bulging offshore bank accounts to the total disregard of the starvation surrounding them. The collapse and destruction of Zimbabwe is a prime example.
Roger James, USA

Famine has nothing to do with politicians

Deo Peter Mushi, A Tanzanian in Rome, Italy
Famine has nothing to do with decisions made by politicians. What is failing Africa's agriculture is bad weather and poor farming tools. Africa should now make use of its rivers and lakes and start irrigational agriculture. It's time Africans were equipped to properly manage their natural resources. There is ample arable land in Africa which, if used well, can eliminate famine in sub-Sahara Africa. A vivid example is my country, Tanzania, where the government is slowly shifting people from congested, overused agricultural areas to other vast arable land.
Deo Peter Mushi, A Tanzanian in Rome, Italy

Starvation is never merely a natural disaster; the politics of war and greed deprive people of food. There is more than enough food to feed populations suffering from drought or other climate factors. Why isn't the international community mobilising more rapidly and massively? And why are the media not giving priority to what seems to be one of the major famines of our time? None of these questions can be answered by pointing at climate factors.
Paul Jonghoudt, Belgium

With the US and the rest of the West increasing farm subsidies and being protectionist, the Third World doesn't stand a chance to exploit their own natural resources. The fairest way for world trade to work is for a level playing field. The trouble is this would just involve too many sacrifices for us Western world citizens.
Richard N, UK

The starvation in Africa is caused by the people who govern those countries. Their only goal when gaining power is to enrich themselves and their cronies, and destroying those who oppose them. These so-called leaders should have their personal wealth confiscated and redistributed to the people they stole it from in the first place in the form of food aid, education and healthcare.
Martin Thompson, Canada

There is a mixture of causes including internal politics, disease, corruption, war, and climate change

Anthony, Reading, UK
As usual, for all major problems there is a mixture of causes including internal politics, disease - particularly Aids, corruption, war, and climate change. However the West is not totally blameless because too much subsidised food is dumped into the local economies, undercutting local farmers. Debt at crippling rates of interest is still owed by African states to western governments and banks. But our priority must be a short-term one of getting these people food as quickly as possible, and to talk about the long-term solutions later.
Anthony, Reading, UK

Policy failures is an understatement; the neo-liberal policies of globalisation are putting African governments further in debt and making development of infrastructure impossible. Furthermore, French and other Western financial support for corrupt leaders ensures the survival of military dictatorships that use the money to maintain power. Without "real" democracy Africa can never move forward. Such is the cold ethos of the new world - starve them while they wait to be sanctioned or bombed.
Eric Montgomery, USA

Africa was better off under colonial rule

The West is not stopping Africa from developing. We send food, foreign aid, medicine and doctors. The real problems are political corruption, uneducated people, tribal attitudes and religious warfare. Famine, suffering, and epidemic disease are not new to Africa. Western countries can face freaky weather, crop failure and all sorts of natural disasters, because we come together and have leaders that help to lead us out of these occurrences. Africa was better off under colonial rule. When Africa becomes educated and the leaders start caring for their people, then they will be able to face such problems better.

In my opinion it's Mugabe's fault. This could have been seen ages ago but nobody thought anything of it, or stopped it from happening.
Andy, UK

There are a variety of factors involved when famine strikes. Obviously, climate is the major factor, but we must consider policy failures of harsh, corrupt regimes too. Government officials in some under-developed countries have lined their own pockets with Western aid, handing out far too little to their deprived populations.
Graham Rodhouse, The Netherlands

There isn't a simple reason as to why this has happened. Of course I expect to read the usual comments about corrupt regimes spending money on weapons. The real problems lie in the lack of infrastructure, which will never be fixed unless Third World debt is written off. This should be done without wrangling over how money will be spent, just write it off and then work on rebuilding roads, schools, hospitals - basic amenities. Secondly something really needs to be done about global warming, only the ignorant, stupid or those with vested interests don't acknowledge global warming. There is more energy going into the weather system every year, this will bring about more problems in the countries that can't help themselves.
Vish, UK

No more credit, no more aid

Charles, US
Vish: There is absolutely no proof that human activity is tied to any global temperature increase. It's not arguable; the science simply isn't there. As to the debt of African countries, why should we write it off? Do you think for one minute they wouldn't stick out their hands for more? What makes you think they would build the necessary infrastructure if we gave them more money than we have already? The African countries should be written off. No more credit, no more aid.
Charles, US

Key stories

Horn of Africa

Southern Africa

West Africa

Ways to help



See also:

06 Mar 02 | Africa
27 Feb 02 | Africa
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