Shame of countries that cannot feed their people
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Shame of countries that cannot feed their people

Posted RASNA WARAH

on  Monday, March 6   2017 at  15:08

You know you live in a failed state when images of starving people from your country are aired on international television.

For many years, decades even, Somalia has dominated international coverage of people facing famine, but now it seems that Kenya has joined the ignominious group of countries whose governments have failed to feed their people.

Last week Al Jazeera showed people in Ganze, Kilifi Country, plucking and eating raw wild berries ostensibly because their crops had failed.

The report did not state what the government was doing to help these people.

Delivering water

Instead, an individual from a cement company in Mombasa was delivering water in tankers to the people in Ganze.

This famine relief effort thus appeared to be a purely private sector initiative.

What’s worse, the reporter stated that the government’s direct cash transfer scheme to the poorest and most vulnerable people in Kilifi County was going to be discontinued, but did not explain why.

The story was a public relations disaster for the government, but then the government has only itself to blame.

National disaster

When President Uhuru Kenyatta declared famine a national disaster, he paved the way for the foreign media and the international community to make a case for why Kenya is in need of food aid.

Once a government admits that it does not have the capacity to help its citizens to avert hunger, it is basically signing on to failed state dependency status.

It is a well-known fact that famine is usually not the result of drought or poor rainfall, but the consequence of poor governance or failed policies.

Famines occur because governments fail to institute policies or programmes that enhance food security.

Arid countries

As I have stated in this column before, there is no reason Kilifi, which has so much agricultural potential, should be on a famine watch list.

Both the national and the county governments have failed the people of Kilifi because they failed to unleash this potential.

However, agriculture is not the only means to enhance food security; many rich arid countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, import almost all their food.

Their people don’t starve because they have the capacity to buy imported food.

Kenya was not reduced to a starving nation even during the devastating famine that ravaged the country and the Horn of Africa region in 2011.

At that time, ordinary Kenyans contributed generously to the relief effort without begging for aid from foreign donors.

It seems we have sunk pretty low since then.

It is shameful and disturbing to see that our so-called “digital government” could not see this national crisis coming, and now expects the international community to pick up the pieces.

And it is the same international community the government has been vilifying since it took office in 2013.

***

I have always wanted to go to West Africa, but for one reason or another I have lost the chance to do so.

A couple of years ago, I was invited to a conference in Abuja, but the online visa application form was so hard to navigate, I gave up and so could not go to Nigeria.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I got an unexpected invitation to attend a meeting in Dakar and got really excited because the Senegalese embassy’s website showed that Kenya was among those countries whose nationals do not need a visa to go to Senegal.

The invitation

Just to make sure, I wrote to the embassy and was told that, in fact, I did need a visa, which could take up to 14 days to process.

So I was forced to decline the invitation.

I expect to go through lengthy, cumbersome and humiliating visa processes when going to Europe or North America, which is why I have been declining invitations from those regions in recent years.

But I didn’t expect it to be so difficult for Kenyans to travel within Africa.

Need visas

I now realise that the Pan-Africanist dream of a borderless continent was just that — a dream.

Ghana and the Gambia are the only countries in West Africa for which Kenyans do not need visas.

The other countries in Africa for which Kenyans do not need to apply for a visa are Botswana, Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Rwanda, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

These now top my list of countries to visit in the coming years.

rasna.warah@gmail.com