Systemic Causes of Periodic Famines amid Affluence
Amartya Sen, in his award winning essay "Famines and Deprivation: An essay about the political economy of famine” demonstrates – by examining the causes and conditions of famine in more than 16 third world jurisdictions - that there has never been a famine wherever there is a free press. This implies that political democracies are self-correcting economic systems. Hence the demand for food provisions would be communicated to suppliers and those hunger victims would be fed.
Clearly, the government must ensure that food security measures are installed, beginning with early warning systems. The forthcoming Freedom to Information Act anticipated by Article 33 of Kenya’s Constitution, would assist forensic experts to determine the exact date upon which the state knew or ought to have known that famine was looming.
Why, for example, wasn’t the current drought predicted by meteorologists? Why didn't the state, through the Kenya Meat Commission, purchase the livestock of pastoralists in advance to preempt losses by perishing Cattle? How come restocking mechanisms are performed predominantly by international NGO's like Red Cross? Fourty-eight years after independence, why should Kenya, an agricultural economy, be the third highest recipient of World Food Programme relief food? It's embarrassing, if not re-colonisation!
Each of these indicators points to abdication of responsibility by the Minister for Agriculture and Livestock. There are suspicions that our own silo's/ granaries are packed with bumper maize grains but that successive agriculture ministers prefer to import finished foodstuffs for a ready mass market. By declaring famine a ‘national disaster,’ the private sector players are accorded with licences to import thereby generating obscene profits. It is no coincidence that these super profits are in a penultimate election year.
The fourth estate has a civic responsibility to expose systemic corruption and explain to voters that what appears like a natural disaster, is actually an artificial, well orchestrated scheme deliberately designed to starve certain sections of the population in order to benefit a few elite merchants. Politicians wish to redistribute maize to bribe voters next year. The international community, including international financial institutions have the effrontery to suggest that the subsidization of basic need is anti-liberal and therefore contrary to WTO rules. The Kenya government should seriously interrogate WTO requirements with a view to pulling out since they do us more harm than good.
Developing countries must inevitably revert to government participation in the economy, including free secondary education, free health care and perhaps even declare unemployment a national disaster too. This way, the state of emergency would enable state funds to be directed to establishing factories at local levels, for example, using Constituency Development Funds and employing the youth. Accountability is key to the success of social services projects, since private profit motive is absent. The anti-corruption Czar, P.L.O. Lumumba, should earn his K Shs 1.7 million monthly salary by ensuring that the welfare state functions efficiently.
Citizen’s Participation to Produce Public Goods or the Use of Courts to Enforce Legal Rights?
“Kenyans for Kenya” is a spontaneous response driven by the corporate and private sector elites and media houses to organize charitable donations or philanthropic emergency relief. Yet many basic needs like the right to be fed, sheltered, clad and shod, informed, cared for and communicated with are contained in the new constitution. Individuals have the right to claim these provisions from the state and compel the government to budget for them. Thus in the long term, our duty as judges and lawyers is to enforce the legal provisions imposes a duty on politicians to constrain their use of taxpayers money and expend it on poverty alleviation before increasing their salaries or allowances or luxuries for political expenditure. Future policy is determined by today's writers "and initiatives."
The service that judges provide to the community is removing a sense of injustice. To do this, they must not only be impartial, but be seen to be impartial. The perception of equal treatment is inspiring to investors since it is bulwark of fair competition. Yet there is a tension between competing priorities. On one hand, some scholars like Richard Posner, argue that developing countries should forget about civil rights and fundamental freedom and concentrate on economic progress. On the other hand, in the 21st Century, it is not possible to ignore not only conventional human rights violations but even emerging civic equity issues like environmental protection.
The pictures of starving, famished and dying citizens whether from Somali refugees or emaciated Turkanas, invade our conscience with shame and guilt. It has to be admitted that property rights are becoming subject to limitations by civic responsibilities. It is not possible for certain categories of citizens to continue to live in lavish wealth while fellow citizens or neighbours starve to death. If the underclasses do not die, then they shall need to steal from the “haves” simply to survive. Who are the international “haves?” The North have most of the world's capital. The South have raw materials. It does not take rocket science to infer that our poverty seems directly attributable to their prosperity.
On famine, I am therefore trying to explore global solutions. I think that confining our thinking to internal innovations may only half-work. The problem of a suffering or dying continent becomes a global concern to human beings with any sense of dignity and self-respect. True solutions must be domesticated by participatory governance, but I still think foreign input preferably through trade rather than aid, or better still, regional co-operation, is imperative. Hence I like your reference to the idea that fixing regional institutions like IGAD to possibly redress the mass suffering. The question is whether it has capacity. I recall a case where Zimbabwe was dragged before a South African Court as a member of SADCC on account of a debt it owed. The court ordered Mugabe to pay up or risk sequestration of his countries assets. Zimbabwe retaliated by threatening to withdraw from the regional body!
Towards and Alternative Energy Source
So what conclusions can be drawn? One thing is for sure, to industrialize we need energy. Why does Kenya rely upon one river, the Tana, for all is electricity needs? It is tragic that we cannot even build electric railway lines to reduce our dependency on oil. Worse still we do not have any way of maximizing solar, or say wind, which are in abundant supply. For a quantum leap in development andindustrialization, a visionary Kenyan leader would do well to invest in some safe form of energy production whether geyser, waves or even nuclear (if catastrophic accidents can be avoided and some cheap source of uranium could be found). After overcoming the energy barrier, all other things shall be added unto us. The discovery of coal power to replace wind power drove the industrial revolution in Europe.
Our famines are an Achilles heel. It must be resolved through an energy source. Such energy must not be mismanaged like some countries where oil is a curse rather than a blessing. So we are back to where we started, needing sound institutions, but lacking the citizenship base with sufficient literacy to demand transparency or keep leaders accountable. Part of the solution must come from foreign well wishers or philanthropists if not from heaven above.
The judicial power requires executive and political will for enforcement and implementation respectively. Should IGAD or Kenya colonize Somalia to sort out Al Shabaab? This would be expansionist like Iraq's paternalistic takeover of Kuwait in 1991 under Saddam Hussein. Besides, Kenya can hardly afford to feed itself! The UN should mandate a global humanitarian intervention into Somaila before it deteriorates into a disaster.
By Charlie Khamala esq.
Advocate based in Kenya.
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