Posts by: Alex DeWaal

At the outset of the war, it might have been reasonable to hope that pressure would force the Houthis to submit. Since it takes months to starve people, a brief period of hardship would not have involved a level of suffering disproportionate to the military objective. But, within months of the launch of the war, humanitarian agencies were warning of crisis, and there were no indications of Houthi surrender. By persisting with this method of war, Bin Salman knew for sure that thousands of Yemeni children would die from hunger and disease.

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Current memorials were built with an implicit confidence in the future, expecting that the arc of history is bending towards justice and prosperity. In an era in which famines are returning, because political leaders don’t care enough about human life to take the elementary steps to prevent or prohibit starvation, the famine memorial needs to sting more. How to commemorate famine in an era when we seem prepared to tolerate starvation, I suggest, is a conversation that is needed today.

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The strategy of the coalition campaign against Yemen could have been lifted from a colonial blueprint: the aircraft strike military and civilian targets in equal measure, including among the latter: agricultural extension offices, irrigated farms, fishing ports and fishing boats, clinics and hospitals, markets and roads. The artisanal fishing on the Red Sea coast, formerly a major source of livelihood—fish exports used to be Yemen’s second biggest earner after oil—is now almost totally at a standstill. The bombing raids are augmented by a blockade, which includes commercial food imports in a country that was, immediately prior to the war, dependent on such imports for 80 percent of its grains. It is also amplified by an economic war, which involved moving the Central Bank from Houthi-controlled Sana’a to Aden, and halting all payments of salaries to civil servants.

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Starvation had utility for the Nazis. As indeed it had for colonizers before and since. Acts of colonial conquest, subjugation and extraction had created famine, from the East India Company in Bengal in the 1770s through the American settlers’ use of hunger to expropriate Native American lands, through the British concentration camps in South Africa. The 1863 Lieber Code that regulated the conduct of the Union armies during the Civil War infamously provided that ‘it is lawful to starve the hostile belligerent, armed or unarmed, so that it leads to the speedier subjection of the enemy.’ In his 1906 Handbook for Small Wars, Colonel Sir Charles Callwell advised his fellow officers that pacification operations would likely involve confiscating cattle and burning villages, ‘an aspect that may shock the humanitarian.’

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The word ‘privilege’ originates from the Latin privus lex, ‘private law’—law for a private individual and by extension, an aristocratic entitlement. For the privileged, there is a secret code: their transgressions will never be challenged, and if exposed, will be discreetly forgiven. Privilege is generally male, white, born to riches, expensively educated and clubbable, […]

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The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is the AU’s largest, most ambitious, most complex and most dangerous peace support operation. It has rivaled and often surpassed United Nations peace missions in size and challenges. Paul Williams has written a thorough, extremely detailed, comprehensive, balanced and thoughtful account of the mission. It is indispensible for any policymaker or scholar of Somalia, and a model for how academic analyses of peace operations should be written.

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