1985

It’s hard to find articles about the drought in the Horn of Africa in major U.S. publications. It just is. I have trouble finding them in the ‘World’ section of the email alerts I get from various papers. Today I was surprised to see it featured front and center in my New York Times email. The article is pretty thorough and points out a lot of the political and logistical nightmares that exist. It paints a very grim picture: a country held hostage by a group that overpowers the majority (that is, number) with force during a widespread drought. Aid can’t move in because either this group will skim off the top or take it outright, or to do so – send and provide relief – would break a number of laws.

I’m a child of the ’80s and much of my initial exposure to Africa involved emaciated kids my age who looked like aged infants and jagged cracks of earth that looked familiar – we experienced a drought of our own – and there was, of course, Live Aid. It was an event not without its trouble, which is another post for another day (how best to help when we cannot help at all, which sounds like a post for THIS post but it’s not), but when I think of the ’80s and how I first began to learn about the continent, I think of Live Aid.

We’re kind of in that situation again, but with more roadblocks and red tape holding us back. We don’t want a repeat of what happened in the early ’90s (Black Hawk Down), and we don’t want to stand idly by while an entire country falls to famine. People want answers and they want solutions, things they can do now to help. People want to know why we’re always looked to first in situations like this (hello, super power anyone?), and people want to know why Somalia’s neighbors aren’t helping more. In the comment section of that NYT piece, there are a lot of gross exaggerations and broad statements concerning the nature and behavior of Somalis, and a few calls for the involvement of the African Union. I had to take a step back when I read those comments because a) not every Somali child we managed to “help” in the early ’90s is a terrorist pirate with a gun, and b) not every Somali citizen we “helped” in the early ’90s turned a gun on us. Got it?

As far as the African Union is concerned, people need to stop thinking of it like the United Nations. They might strive to be like the UN, and I think that’s a noble ambition – the UN, though far from perfect, does the right thing from time to time, and they are an unbelievable resource for information – but right now, they don’t have the numbers. They don’t have the resources. They don’t have much of anything, and are you all aware that there’s STILL genocide going on in Sudan? How about DRC? The invisible children in Uganda? Hutu rebels attacking people in multiple countries? The already strapped AU cannot handle this situation on their own. Somalia’s new slip-shod government, if one could even call it that, struggles to govern. What the NYT article does say is that Somalia is more unreachable than Afghanistan.

More unreachable than Afghanistan.

I know Americans understand references to Afghanistan. Does that help put things into perspective for you?

Yes, the country is full of corruption, greed, and violence, but the perpetrators of violence aren’t the ones who suffer. If you know of an aid organization you trust, please give to them. They will find a way to siphon the aid into the country. The relief agencies and NGOs in the surrounding countries will need help. Give to them. Because as the Somali people find ways out of the country, they will overwhelm already crowded camps. Educate yourselves. Remember that this famine is a culmination of many things: drought, lack of access to food, corruption, politics, and greed.

For more information, visit Al Jazeera’s spotlight on the drought, the International Rescue Committee, and this blog post about food access.