Famine in Somalia: Competing Imperatives, Collective Failures, 2011-12.

Author:Ackerman, Angel R.
Position::AFRICA - Book review

Maxwell, Daniel and Nisar Majid. Famine in Somalia: Competing Imperatives, Collective Failures, 2011-12. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

For more than thirty years, Somalia has presented a sea of challenges to governments and agencies in the West. The instability of the government, extreme geographical and climate issues, involvement with piracy, proximity to conflicts in the Middle East, potential as a liaison to terrorist groups, and even the complex network of kin and clan relationships create an environment that complicates efforts of humanitarian and government agencies when crises develop in the region. Famine affects the Horn of Africa frequently. Daniel Maxwell and Nisar Majid provide a comprehensive analysis of the 2011-12 famine. They not only examine the literature and statistics on nutrition, rainfall, livestock, food availability, and farming practices, but they also present interviews with Somalis, the complications of delivering aid to Al-Shabaab controlled areas, and the successes and failures of traditional Western and Islamic relief efforts.

Because much of the industrialized world considers Al-Shabaab a terrorist organization, this opened the possibility that aid workers and organizations could be persecuted for assisting the Somali people. Al-Shabaab also placed restrictions on who and what could enter Somalia: outlawing, for example, any food labeled from the World Food Program. Since many aid agencies had left Somalia (and the remaining ones were expelled), operations often originated in Kenya, which left workers and volunteers with little idea what was actually happening on the ground in famine-affected regions. The famine of 2011-12 was most likely caused by two consecutive failed rainy seasons, but the fiasco of relief efforts and the time it took to correct that failure exacerbated the disaster.

In addition, Al-Shabaab changed the tax system in regions under their control, which placed greater burdens on farmers. Farmers turned to cash crops like sesame instead of traditional crops like sorghum. In a drought, sesame cannot survive. Families stockpile sorghum reserves specifically because when the rains fail the crop can feed livestock and people. Sesame and other cash crops offer no such security. Farmers had also invested in cattle, rather than camels and goats, and the lack of rain depleted available grazing lands. Families would use their monetary savings to buy food to keep their cattle alive.


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