Posts by: Alex DeWaal

Politics of Starvation

On January 30, 2018 By

Humanitarians struggle to claim successes that are rightfully theirs. Two recent books help us to understand why the tremendous achievement of reducing the number and lethality of famines over the past half-century is not well understood, and hasn’t been sustained. Up to the 1960s, the world suffered a persistent drumbeat of out-breaks of mass starvation that left an average of 10 million dead every decade. By the 1990s that number had dropped to about 500,000. Then, about a decade ago, the advance halted and began, slowly but appreciably, to reverse. We are not back to the horror years of the mid-twentieth century, but there’s reason for concern.

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The “humanitarian imperative” has to be above all else, “including above restrictions imposed on humanitarian action by the war on terror by this country [UK] and by the United States. “If we go down the path of a deal-making, transactional politics where every international engagement is run on the basis of ‘what’s in it for us’, then I’m afraid we’re going to have another era of famines in the world.”

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Alex de Waal wrote the Introduction to Africa Muckraking, the first collection of investigative and campaigning journalism written by Africans and about Africa. The editors delved into the history of modern Africa to find the most important and compelling pieces of journalism on the stories that matter. This collection of 40 pieces of African journalism includes passionate and committed writing on labor abuses, police brutality, women’s rights, the struggle for democracy and independence on the continent and other subjects. Each piece of writing is introduced by a noted scholar or journalist who explains the context and why the journalism mattered. Some of the highlights include: Feminist writing from Tunisia into the 1930s, hair raising exposes of the secret tactics planned by the South African government during apartheid, Richard Mgamba’s searing description of the albino brothers in Tanzania who fear for their lives, the piece by Liberian journalist Mae Azongo’s on genital cutting which forced her into hiding. This edited collection includes the legends of African journalism and seminal pieces of writing: stories on corruption and brutality by Mozambique journalist Carlos Cardoso and Angolan writer Rafael Marques, a loving profile of the legendary cameraman Mo Amin and his writing on the Ethiopian famine, Drum’s investigative reporter Henry Nxumalo who went undercover in South Africa to write about labor conditions on the notorious potato farms of Bethal. Nigerian novelist Okey Ndibe describes Chinua Achebe’s passionate writing on the war with Biafra and Kenyan novelist Peter Kimani describes the Hola Massacre while Ken Saro- Wiwa warned of the coming war in the Niger Delta. Like their counterparts all over the world, African Muckrakers have been imprisoned and even killed for their work. Africa Muckraking is a must-read for anyone who cares about journalism and Africa. Edited by Anya Schiffrin with George Lugalambi.

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The cultural critic Mark Fisher writes, ‘it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism’.[i] He continues:

“Once, dystopian films and novels were extensions of such acts of imagination—the disasters they depicted acting as narrative pretext for the emergence of different ways […]

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In the battle of wills for Somalia’s future, the terrorist group al-Shabab struck a cruel and potentially lasting blow on Oct. 14. Not only did it kill more than 300 people in the largest terrorist attack in the country’s history; it shook the confidence of the Somali government and its domestic and international backers that they can stay the course in rebuilding the war-torn East African nation.

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Is there an Islamic path to state-building? Historically, Islam has provided many of the tools needed by rulers looking to institutionalize their authority: a lawbook that extends to regulating commerce and diplomacy, a shared language, and an international cadre of trained jurists and administrators.

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