East Africa famine

Somalian children queuing to receive food

On 20 February 2017 the United Nations (UN) declared a famine in parts of South Sudan and reported that up to 20 million people in four countries (South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen), faced famine unless the ‘international community’ stepped in to ‘avert catastrophe’. It is very likely that there was a famine in South Sudan last year but no formal declaration was made. Under the five-level Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC scale) established by the UN in 2010, a famine (IPC Phase 5) is not officially declared until ‘starvation, death and destitution are evident’, defined as when more than 20% of households face acute food shortage, acute malnutrition is above 30%, and the child mortality rate for under-fives is higher than four deaths per 10,000 children per day. Additionally, a South Sudan government representative sat on the IPC committee, blocking any such famine declaration. Blame has been attributed to climate change, the El Niño weather phenomenon, terrorist groups, drought and lack of funds for the catastrophe, but the elephant in the room is imperialism. Imperialism is to blame for this recurring disaster and the famine is proof of the inability of capitalism to meet the basic needs of humanity. Charles Chinweizu reports.

In December 2016, the UN’s World Food Programme announced that 3.6 million South Sudanese people ‘faced severe food shortages’; by February 2017 that number had jumped to 4.9 million people. By July 2017, 5.5 million people – 43% of the population of 12.7 million people – could be starving. One million children are already suffering acute malnutrition. Famine has been declared in the central Unity state, affecting 100,000 people.

In Somalia, half the population, 6.2 million people, now face acute food insecurity; 363,000 children are acutely malnourished. The country could suffer its second famine in six years. In Kenya, the Kenyan Red Cross says 2.7 million people face starvation. 5.6 million people in Ethiopia will require emergency food assistance through to June 2017.

In Yemen, according to the UN, by 1 March ‘17 million people … 60% of the total Yemeni population, are food insecure and require urgent humanitarian assistance’. ‘2.2 million children are malnourished, 462,000 severely and acutely malnourished’ (Unicef). The health system has collapsed and over 19 million people lack access to clean water, with 14.1 million people lacking basic health care. The US and British-backed Saudi Arabia-led war against Yemen since 2015, with blockades and destruction of infrastructure (roads, markets and ports), in a food import-dependent country, is the main cause of the starvation.

In northeast Nigeria, some 5.1 million people face serious food shortages and around 120,000 people face famine conditions. In the Lake Chad Basin area, 7.1 million people are ‘severely food insecure across … four countries [Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon]. Among them are 515,000 children who are suffering from severe acute malnutrition’ (Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)). Islamist group Boko Haram has been blamed, but people are starving inside Internally Displaced Persons’ camps controlled by the Nigerian government. Food aid is stolen by camp officials. Families cannot leave the camps and so are completely reliant on food distributions. Refugees staged near-daily protests in August 2016, with women blocking roads for five hours, complaining children were starving and had no drinking water. The camps are centres of hunger, malnutrition and communicable diseases. 66% of displaced people in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states said camp officials sexually abused female residents. Nigerian President Buhari dismissed famine warnings as ‘blown out of proportion’.

In total, almost 44 million people in nine countries are starving and close to death.

South Sudan

For 22 years, Britain and the US supported the ‘rebel’ Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in the Sudanese civil war until 2005 when SPLM/A became the new de facto government. South Sudan was created in July 2011 when it seceded from Sudan, taking 75% of Sudan’s oil revenue. Britain, the US and Norway orchestrated events as part of a strategy of breaking up Sudan to engineer regime change. The armed rebellion in west Sudan (Darfur) since 2003 is part of this plan. Britain plans a long-term military presence in South Sudan, estimated to hold sub-Saharan Africa’s third biggest oil reserves. The imperialists intended South Sudan to become another client state in East Africa to exploit resources, to the exclusion of China.

The result has been war, famine and possibly genocide. In addition to Unity state, one million people are on the brink of famine in other parts of the country. This famine isn’t caused by drought, but by imperialist-inspired instability: when President Salva Kiir tried to consolidate power by unilaterally dissolving decision-making organs, civil war broke out in December 2013. The SPLA split into SPLA-IG (in government) and SPLA-IO (in opposition). The political crisis quickly took on an ethnic dimension. Nine ‘ceasefires’ have come and gone. The UN reported that South Sudanese soldiers and allied militias have killed civilians, kidnapped and raped women and girls, and burned down and destroyed villages: ‘children and disabled people [have been] murdered by being burned alive, suffocated in shipping containers, shot, cut to pieces or hanged from trees’. The SPLA-IO has carried out similar crimes. The racist Israeli regime has been training and arming soldiers in South Sudan. In December 2016 the UN reported ‘a steady process of ethnic cleansing underway in several areas of South Sudan using starvation, gang rape and the burning of villages’, a ‘mind-boggling scale of rape’ and ‘warning signals of impending genocide’. These are the people Britain supported for 22 years.

What are the 17,000 UN ‘peacekeepers’, including 300 British troops, there for? To protect the oil fields? They don’t intervene when internally displaced persons are killed or soldiers rape women right outside the UN’s main camp, nor when aid workers in hotels in Juba are raped with the ‘peacekeepers’ less than a mile away, ignoring desperate calls for help. No one knows how many have died in the civil war; the UN never kept a death toll, demonstrating racist contempt for the South Sudanese. Patients, including premature babies, have died in hospital due to lack of fuel to run generators.

Today, almost half the population is starving as agriculture has collapsed and inflation reached 479%; oil output, source of 98% of revenue, has fallen from 350,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2011 to 130,000 bpd. Possibly $10bn of oil revenues earned from 2005-2016 have been embezzled.

1.9 million people are internally displaced and 1.5 million people have fled the country (305,000 people to Sudan). Before he left office, former US President Obama partially lifted sanctions imposed on Sudan in 1997 – an admission of 20 years of abject failure. British and US scheming in the Sudans has backfired spectacularly.


Three consecutive seasons of poor rainfall and ongoing conflict have led to total crop failures, water shortages, reduced employment, livestock deaths, rising food prices and limited access to food for poor Somalis, especially in rural areas. Children are suffering from cholera, pneumonia, kwashiorkor and/or anaemia. Drought has extended since 2014 to the whole country and half the population are at risk of famine. A 2012 report revealed that 258,000 people died because of famine in Somalia in 2010-2012. That famine was also blamed on drought, food prices and Al Shabaab.

But drought, though now more frequent, does not automatically mean famine. As explained in FRFI 233, ‘Until the 1970s, Somalia … despite recurrent droughts, was virtually self-sufficient in food. That agricultural system was systematically destroyed in the 1980s through the intervention of the World Bank and the IMF.’ Austerity programmes imposed on Somalia to release funds to service its debt reinforced Somalia’s dependency on imported grain and food aid and dependence on imperialist states.

Somalia has been balkanised. In 2011, with US and British support, Kenya invaded and carved out Jubaland. Ugandan, Burundian, Ethiopian, US, British and French troops have also invaded Somalia. Somalia’s carve-up is driven by imperialism’s need to exploit East Africa’s energy resources. The extent of Somalia's oil and gas reserves are unknown, but are estimated at up to 110 billion barrels – nearly half those of Saudi Arabia.

As predicted in FRFI 226, David Cameron’s London Conference on Somalia in February 2012 was ‘a grubby cover to enable Britain and the US to bargain over Somalia’s oil resources.’ A deal signed between British company Soma Oil & Gas and the Somali government in 2013 was the first – and only – contract to explore for oil since the start of civil war in 1992. Chaired by former Home Secretary Michael Howard, Soma paid $490,000 (£315,000) to the Somali Ministry of Petroleum to sweeten the deal. The Serious Fraud Office admitted it had ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect wrongdoing before closing its investigation. Somalia’s new prime minister, Hassan Ali Khaire, is a former Africa director of Soma.

Al Shabaab, which is affiliated to Al Qaeda, was formed in response to the Ethiopian invasion of 2006. It was driven out of all the major towns it controlled by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in 2011. How can Al Shabaab be blamed again this time? People are starving to death in areas controlled by the Somali government. AMISOM’s 20,000 troops have engaged in rape, torture, looting and indiscriminate murders.

In 2015, the US, and then Kenya, suspended the legal transfer of remittances worth $1.6bn annually to Somalia. The imperialists are now appealing for donations for Somalia!


In Kenya, large areas face crisis, acute levels of food shortages blamed on reduced agricultural output and reduced imports. However, almost every year about five million Kenyans survive on food aid, and malnutrition (stunting and wasting) rates were at 42% of the population in 2012 (Unicef). Kenya cannot feed its own population despite being endowed with different climatic systems, a vast territory of 58m hectares and an elaborate network of surface and groundwater systems containing billions of cubic metres of water. Kenya has all the natural resources it needs to achieve self-sufficiency.

These resources have been handed over to giant monopolies, including British agribusinesses. Kenya grows flowers, legumes, tobacco, tea and coffee for export, whilst output of cereals and livestock for domestic consumption has stagnated or declined, necessitating expensive imports and dependency on food aid.

Kenya appealed for international aid, but in January 2017, Obama approved a $418m arms deal, the biggest in Kenyan history ‘to fight Al Shabaab’. Kenya will give officials a 100bn shillings ($980m) pay rise in July, a month before the general election.


During the last decade, 8 million to 18 million Ethiopians each year required food or monetary aid to survive (Oakland Institute). Like Kenya, Ethiopia exports coffee, flowers and legumes. Ethiopia’s strategy has focused on promoting industrial agriculture to boost economic growth, such as making it one of the largest sugar producers in the world, handing over 11.5m hectares to foreign investors. Land-grab projects have reduced access to land and water, undermined food security, and destroyed resilience to drought. Tens of thousands of people have been violently displaced to free up land for investors, making the displaced people dependent on food aid to survive. Over the last six years, especially 2015–2016, hundreds of thousands of people protested all over Ethiopia to resist the government repression and land grabs. Ethiopia’s terrorist government has the full support of Britain and the US.

Imperialism out of Africa!

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 256 April/May 2017