Déjà vu: bellies and begging bowls

2011-07-23 10:21

About 25 years ago, the world was rattled by the images coming out of Ethiopia and the countries of the Horn.

After seeing the dead and sunken eyes, the ribs protruding from flaking skin and the enlarged heads of the grossly hungry, the world found its moral conscience.

Those images of starving people, shot largely by the Kenyan photographer Mo Amin, made their way across the globe and catalysed the Band-Aid movement and better aid payments. We vowed then that it would never happen again.

So how do we explain the haunting images of the countries of the Horn, especially Somalia?

We Africans are celebrating the fact that the image of our continent is finally changing from that of children with empty bowls and distended bellies to more positive images. But the famine suggests it is too early to celebrate the African growth story.

Between 10 and 12 million people are now threatened by famine, according to the United Nations.

The reasons are varied. Climate and drought are the immediate factors, but the terrorist group al-Shabaab has turned the largest territories into no-go zones for aid workers.

African leaders should take the lead role in quickly dealing with this famine so that it is downgraded to manageable levels. If not, all we would have done for almost two decades is spin on the same tragic axis. 

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