Somalia’s people and animals (livestock is a major part of the Somalian economy) are suffering from a drought. It is projected that by September of this year, at least 213,000 people there will be facing famine.
This tragic story is important for us not only because it is our brothers and sisters who are suffering; it also tells a great deal about the types of inequalities that exist in the world and also how people perceive human suffering and choose to react to, either, for example, by doing nothing, by blaming victims, or by monetizing the weak.
Let’s take a look…
There’s a debate over what exactly is causing these droughts. Some say that it’s difficult to say definitively that the reason is climate change—though it could make future droughts worse—in part because there aren’t enough records of past rainfall. Others feel certain that climate change is indeed the reason. This is where things get dark.
From Yahoo News:
“Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, told Democracy Now! this is ‘a creeping, devastating drought, which is coming after four failed rainy seasons. So it’s climate change. It’s the climate change that we in the industrialized world caused. And who is dying from this? The children of Somalia, from a people who did nothing to cause climate change.’ Mohamud Mohamed, Save the Children’s country director in Somalia, said in February that previous events show ‘the ultimate culprit is climate change.’ Somalia has ‘always had droughts,’ he explained, and ‘Somalis have always known how to deal with them — they struggle, they lose livestock, they count their losses, and then they bounce back. But now, the gaps between droughts are shrinking. It’s a killer cycle and it’s robbing Somali children of their future.’”
Even without being able to identify exactly what is causing this drought, the point where the poorest suffer from the actions of the wealthiest is not unimportant in the case of poorer African countries like Somalia.
Sure, local conflicts and corruption are also a concern, but that does not mean one can simply rule out the influence of external actors. This is particularly relevant because beyond even the US’ involvement in local conflicts within Somalia, we are discussing the sharing of resources in a globalized world.
The food system is a great example of the imbalances at play with the sharing of resources.
The Global Food System and Somalia
There is little denying that certain parts of the world simply use more resources than others.
The continent of Africa, for example, could provide much more for its own population than it already does.
There are two primary factors, however, which hinder that: meeting the needs of other countries outside the continent and the local leaders who make this possible.
Consider this explanation:
“The continent of Africa not only could feed itself, it is currently producing more calories than needed to feed its own population. Just one country, Sudan, could be a breadbasket for the entire continent. But what is actually occurring is that governments are making land lease deals with foreign companies or other nations, namely China, so that the production of Africa is literally appropriated to meet the needs of other countries that have the capital to compete for that land and for the production of that and against the interests of native Africans.”
The expert goes on to say:
“…hunger does not just happen to people. It isn’t just that climate change has occurred. It isn’t just that there’s been a temporary catastrophe such as a typhoon, a hurricane. It is that we deliberately make decisions to deprive other folks of the factors of production that they require to take care of one of their prior needs, which is to provide for their nourishment.”
We can also look at the type of decisions that have led to this.
The Road That Brought Us Here: Structural Adjustment Programs
After a debt crisis in the 1970s, the 1980s and the neoliberal leaders and economists, for which the decade is remembered, devised ways for change. For poorer countries in much of what was called the Third World, Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) were put in place.
The World Bank and the IMF made “structural adjustment a condition for access to new loans and renegotiation of existing private loans.” The design was supposed to be a way to break through the economic crisis, and while it may have provided more money at the top, populations still suffered.
Amongst other market-driven changes, countries needed to reduce food production and replace it with imports. “The removal of price supports, declining exchange rates, diminishing government spending, and a loss of public employment all affected the poor inordinately.”
This is, in part why many African countries are where they are now. And then, on top of that, there’s the current debt crisis:
“As both the IMF and World Bank have warned, many countries are emerging from the pandemic in a debt crisis that is on the verge of crippling their economies if both public and private creditors force them to repay.
Debt initiatives, which suspend payments on debts for a few years, have also come to an end.
Now, the Russia-Ukraine conflict is increasing the risk of defaults and economic recession for countries as inflation spirals, interest rates spike, and economic growth evaporates.
The irony is that poor countries are forced to raise even more debt in order to meet repayments and existing debt, much of which is denominated in US dollars. And as the greenback increased in value as a safe haven during the pandemic, the burden of repayment has only mounted.”
Somalia’s Debt: The Danger of Structural Adjustment Programs and Foreign Loans
In March of 2020, Somalia accepted “bank debt relief” under the Enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative from the IMF. Here’s what the IMF claimed this would achieve:
“Debt relief will help Somalia make lasting change for its people by allowing its debt to be irrevocably reduced from US$5.2 billion at end-2018 to US$557 million in net present value terms (NPV) once it reaches the HIPC Completion Point in about three years’ time.”
Here’s a different version of this seemingly fantastic debt relief:
“The IMF and the World Bank were presenting a facade of magnanimity when they changed their position on debt relief but the real issue that drove them to adopting debt relief was the mortal fear that the debt could cause the entire global financial system to collapse. HIPC initiative is therefore not a tool to relieve the debt burden of the poor countries like Somalia but a strategy to make the external debt of those countries sustainable by slightly reducing the debts owed by the poor countries to put an end to late payment, defaulting and or application for debt restructuring by countries that are unable to repay their debts.”
In other words, HIPC is more like a band-aid, and a shoddy one at that—one that keeps unsticking, but you just keep re-attaching it rather than ripping it off and replacing it with a better one. It’s not actually helping to solve the problem.
What’s more, in order to get this “debt relief,” Somalia had to sign an agreement with the IMF that requires them to follow an economic policy similar to the ones we’ve discussed in relation to SAPs Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. From Kenyan Social Movements for Abolition of Illegitimate Debts:
“…Somalia will effectively loose its sovereignty to the IMF and World Bank as it will lead to privatisation of the Somalia resources and parastatals, plunder of Somalia natural resources under the guise of ensuring that Somalia can generate enough resources to repay any future debts.”
We can see here how Somalia’s leaders have not helped their country’s situation. These IMF initiatives and other foreign loans hit the poorest the hardest. They will shoulder the burden of these debts.
Checking In With Reality
Back in 2005, two photographers set out to show the differences in food consumption throughout the world. Their photographs starkly demonstrate the extent to which resources are unevenly distributed.
Now with that in mind, let’s turn our attention to an article written by a concerned journalist in the Washington Post—better yet, let’s first look at some of the readers’ comments written in response to it:
Yes, that’s why the US is turning away by upping troops there. That’s why Africom—based in Germany to seem less colonialist—conducts and/or assists with military operations across the continent. They’re turning away…
We’ll call this a moment of clarity after callousness, alhamdulillah.
Isn’t it great when people who don’t know anything about Islam consider themselves experts by assuming it must be just like Christianity?
Do you think Sir Charlie exclusively consumes products made in the US or wherever it is that he lives?
You may be thinking that these are probably just some trolls. But this is not the first time I’ve come across such comments. In fact, I’ve heard them in person, from people not hiding behind screens. This is, dare I say, a fairly common perspective. They solve the world’s crises with one, simple answer: people far away should stop having so many kids.
It’s great isn’t it? Except that beyond revealing some kind of underlying prejudice is the face that it’s not really a solution because what they think is the problem isn’t even the problem.
If the problem were solely the number of children, then why is it that the richer countries, which have lower fertility rates, consume the most and have caused the most environmental damage?
“Even several billion additional people in low-income countries — where fertility rates and population growth is already highest — would leave global emissions almost unchanged. 3 or 4 billion low income individuals would only account for a few percent of global CO2. At the other end of the distribution however, adding only one billion high income individuals would increase global emissions by almost one-third.”
We’ll delve a little deeper into this shortly. First, let’s quickly take a closer look at that Washington Post article.
In the article, the journalist had described the contrast between the attention Ukrainians are receiving versus the attention (or lack thereof) being received by Somalians on the brink of famine:
“I had been reporting on the war in Ukraine, and I was stuck by the contrast in how the world has reacted to these two immense tragedies. The international community has funded only 18 percent of the United Nations’ $1.5 billion appeal to help Somalia and its neighbors in East Africa. By comparison, the U.S. Congress approved $7.5 billion in economic aid for Ukraine last month.”
“Ukrainians fleeing war have been welcomed in many European nations, as well as in the United States. Displaced Somalis have languished for years in decrepit camps, and hundreds more families are joining them each day, fleeing starvation and burying their children along the way.”
This complaint hits close to home for us, as a lot of us have been feeling it with regards to refugees fleeing from western-fueled conflicts in various places in the Muslim world.
The comparisons made are not unfair. The AP reports that in one case, a donor who was about to give half a million dollars in aid to Somalia decided to redirect the money to Ukraine instead.
But such comparisons from this Washington Post journalist caused what I’ll call “reverse” indignation. Rather than agreeing with him, many commenters basically felt that these ‘overbreeding’ Somalis had it coming. How dare they, the civilized ones with fewer children, be asked to care.
Snubbing the Poorest
If climate change has contributed to this current drought, then there’s even more reason for people in wealthier countries to shoulder some of the blame.
A recent study has attempted to quantify the amount of climate damage caused by richer countries to poorer countries; along with how much the rich countries have gained by causing this damage:
“For example, the data shows that the top carbon emitter over time, the United States, has caused more than $1.9 trillion in climate damage to other countries from 1990 to 2014, including $310 billion in damage to Brazil, $257 billion in damage to India, $124 billion to Indonesia, $104 billion to Venezuela and $74 billion to Nigeria. But at the same time, the United States’ own carbon pollution has benefited the U.S. by more than $183 billion.”
This is heavy, and if accurate, it should be cause for those of us who live well in richer countries to reflect deeply.
What a special position to be in; to be able to blame others for the problems you’re actually helping to cause and perpetuate. Beyond revealing arrogance, this breeds more suffering for the most vulnerable and an ignorance to the problems we actually face.
Oil In Somalia?
Along with the May announcement that US troops would be sent back to Somalia was this curious piece of information from February of this year: the Somalian Minister of Petroleum and Mineral resources had signed a production sharing agreement with a US oil company to explore for oil, only for it to be then canceled by the prime minister due to it being illegal to sign such deals during election cycles.
We are pleased to announce that we have signed 7 Production Sharing Agreements with COASTLINE EXPLORATION LTD. It is a victory for the Somali people.
I thank the President of FGS for supporting the process and encouraging us to complete this task. pic.twitter.com/MZgyzotCXN
— Eng. Abdirashid M. Ahmed (@EngAbdirashidd) February 19, 2022
The alleged production sharing agreement purportedly signed by the Minister of Petroleum with a foreign entity regarding Somali oil reserves is illegal, unacceptable since it wasn't done through legal avenues.I will take all appropriate measures to protect our national resources
— Mohamed Hussein Roble (@MohamedHRoble) February 19, 2022
It’s hard to know exactly what to make of this. More details on the failed deal can be found here.
Whatever the implications of this failed deal were or weren’t, what is important to keep in mind is that for some time, Somalia has been suspected to have oil offshore.
The world desires Africa’s resources. Why else would there have been such brutal forms of colonialism there?
Materials that comprise your phone and your computer, a lot of your coffee and chocolate, etc., comes from Africa. A lot of it is basically taken rather than purchased from Africa fairly, keeping you comfortable and keeping the people there poor, digging for more cobalt (while people in the West feel good about driving electric cars that need cobalt for the batteries), fighting over coltan and so on.
Let’s not close our eyes to this. We should not be telling people there that when they have problems it’s really all their own doing. If you live in this globalized, modern world, then consider yourself part of the problem as well. You don’t have to live in a perpetual state of self-flagellation, but at the very least, a bit of self-awareness would be helpful.
And with a nod to commentor “Milachara” on that Washington Post article, we pray to Allah for guidance to be conscientious and for help for our bothers and sisters in Somalia.