Holding on without security
It is becoming increasingly difficult for international
humanitarian organizations to operate in conflict areas where
there is little or no security. While outside relief undoubtedly
helps alleviate the short-term suffering of many victims, it may
also contribute inadvertently to a worsening of the situation,
as happened earlier this year in Liberia. More often than not,
the focus on aid also provides decision makers with a convenient
excuse not to adopt more pragmatic, and realistic steps, with
regard to long-term political solutions.
When fighting broke out again in the Liberian capital on 6 April
earlier this year, thousands of civilians sought refuge in Mamba
Point, a villa-studded peninsula considered the most, if not only,
secure part of the city in times of turmoil. It is here where
most of the international relief agencies and the few remaining
diplomatic missions, notably the United States embassy and the
European Union representation, are based. Even then, Mamba Point
has remained a highly precarious safe haven, totally dependent
on the will, and the ability, of the international community,
West African peacekeeping forces (ECOMOG), and the US to assure
As expatriate relief workers prepared to evacuate their offices,
abandoning vehicles, computers, satellite telephones, and radio
transmitters to prospective looters, throngs of Liberians crowded
into Graystone, a US residential complex a few hundred metres
from the embassy. Others sought safety in and around the aid organization
compounds. Following days of tension as armed factions of Liberia's
rival warlords jostled for position, heavy fighting broke out
again in Liberia. And as usual, it was Liberia's war-weary population
who were the ones to suffer.
For the international community, and Africans in particular, Liberia's
continued strife has emphasised the urgent need for more sober
and realistic approaches to dealing with the ineptitude of corrupt
power groups, the terror of uncontrolled armed thugs, the failure
of regional peacekeeping forces, the role of the relief agencies,
and the desire of local populations to simply get on with their
lives with a say in their future. Mired in a state of lawlessness
and insecurity, the civilian population of Liberia (as with their
neighbours in Sierra Leone - see sidebars) have found themselves
at varying points over the past few years at the mercy of marauding
factional leaders, government officials, soldiers, armed fighters,
rebels, profiteers and bandits. For any group or individual backed
by a kalashnikov, or holding the upper hand in a particular region,
sector or village, civilians represented little more than pawns,
sources of commercial gain, food, labour, and sex.
As for the relief agencies, the international humanitarian effort
has become very much part of this power equation. In many respects,
Liberia is little different from other emergencies, past and present,
ranging from Somalia to Sudan and Afghanistan, so the vulnerability
of the relief agencies is nothing new. As one of the world's 30-plus
conflicts in 1996, Liberia represents an increasingly current
predicament whereby millions of civilians are caught up in a ruthless
and enduring war with little hope of resolution. Over 150,000
Liberians have died in nearly seven years of strife. At least
half a million have been displaced as internal refugees within
their own country. Well over half of Liberia's pre-war population
(the World Food Programme believes more than 80 percent) of 2.6
million has been forced to flee their homes.
In such situations, humanitarian agencies are often seen as the
last barrier between basic survival and death for civilian populations.
At the same time, scores of veteran aid agencies are finding themselves
in the awkward position of inadvertently aiding the survival of
militia and armed factions. In Liberia, the relief agencies have
represented a specific and highly lucrative target both for looters
and armed fighters.
Although Liberia's conflict has been nourished primarily by continuing
local power struggles, commercial greed and tribal friction, one
of the most nagging questions is whether, and to what extent,
outside humanitarian assistance is actually alleviating, or contributing
to, such crises. While some aid agencies may have played a relevant
role in the support of Sierra Leone's electoral push in early
1996, their very presence in Liberia may have helped fuel if not
prolong the conflict. Obviously, this represents a highly disturbing
predicament for the international humanitarian community. It strikes
at the very heart of what relief workers seek to achieve, yet
it is a question that they can ill-afford to ignore.
While Liberia's conflict is not a tribal one per se, traditional
ethnic hatred has certainly played a role. As witnessed by this
and other journalists, many civilians killed during the early
stages of the war were deliberately murdered based on their tribal
origins, their remains still littering countless roadside killing
fields. Today, tribal division remains partially responsible for
the animosity that exists among the different faction leaders,
notably between Charles Taylor, an Americo-Liberian (descendent
of the freed slave colonists who settled in Liberia in the 19th
century) and Roosevelt Johnson, a member of the Krahn tribe.
Perhaps more pertinently than other recent crisis, Liberia has
raised the question of whether international relief agencies should
continue with humanitarian operations without the benefit of appropriate
security. Should relief workers seek to save lives in the short
term but risk exacerbating the conflict by feeding the warring
factions with vehicles, supplies and other sources of equipment
and revenue, thus condemning more people to deprivation and death
in the long term? Or should they stand by and do nothing because
more lives may (but also may not) be saved eventually? Is this
a decision for the humanitarian agencies? Or has the onus fallen
once again by default on the aid organizations to "provide
the solutions" (when obviously they cannot) because the international
community has failed to provide the necessary political or military
support for them to operate?
Increasingly debated by the serious relief agencies, such options
place the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Save
the Children, Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), Oxfam,
UNICEF, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
and others in a severe quandary. It is also one which, without
the international community willing to seek or impose durable
term settlements, can only offer temporary band-aid "solutions."
These may appease the guilty consciences of governments but barely
plug the dam.
During the April fighting, international relief teams in Monrovia
(as well as those operating in other parts of the country) lost
an estimated $20 million worth of equipment, including at least
200 vehicles. The breakdown of law and order prompted almost all
the aid agencies to shut down their operations and evacuate their
expatriate personnel. Despite efforts to remove or paint over
logos before abandoning their compounds (vehicle keys were simply
left on the bonnets in a bid to avoid unnecessary violence), four-wheel
drives and trucks sporting the markings of MSF, UNICEF, UNHCR,
Save the Children and others quickly became more closely identified
with the armed factions than with medical relief and food distribution.
For the ICRC, this was the fourth such withdrawal. "This
is the first time in our long involvement that the Red Cross has
determined that circumstances on the ground has made it unrealistic
to send back expatriate staff," commented Jean-Daniel Tauxe
of the Geneva-based organization's African operation. Since 1990,
the humanitarian groups have sought to work within the constraints
imposed by various ceasefires, concessions obtained from the different
factions for the right to work in certain areas, and the whims
of local commanders. Relief workers have been taken hostage, vehicles
hijacked or "borrowed," and aid supplies "liberated,"
taxed, or stolen by one faction or another.
Not only enormously frustrating but debilitatingly detrimental
to the development of basic health assistance or other civilian
aid programmes, most relief agencies have been forced by constantly
changing circumstances to open, close, re-open, or evacuate their
missions. By the end of May, Monrovia had been thoroughly pillaged
by supporters of the rival warlords, freelance fighters, and ordinary
civilians. A substantial portion of these stolen goods ended up
in the ECOMOG compound, some supposedly confiscated, but much
reportedly sold by the looters to the alleged peacekeepers.
International aid representatives are not necessarily suggesting
that the humanitarian organizations are making matters worse.
"But it is a question we constantly ask ourselves,"
observed one United Nations official in Monrovia. According to
the ICRC, the Swiss-based organization was frequently accused
of prolonging violence in Somalia because, based on its own estimates,
up to five percent of its food aid was being misappropriated by
the warlords. Nevertheless, it argues, 1.5 million Somalis survived
the famine thanks to international assistance. In Liberia, however,
no holds are barred, no rules are obeyed, and no deals hold. So
what to do?
Faced with the prospect of trying to help beleaguered civilian
populations at the risk of further aggravating the crisis, many
relief workers have convinced themselves, or are at least trying
to convince themselves, that continued humanitarian relief to
Liberia remains imperative. Few are willing to declare openly
that letting Liberians fight it out amongst themselves may be
the only way to deal with the conflict.
While Liberians themselves admit that they are responsible for
their own predicament and should not expect the outside world
to bail them out, most humanitarians feel that the international
community should assume a degree of responsibility to help resolve
the crisis. "Morally, the aid agencies aren't going to sit
back and watch people suffer," said John Langlois of the
Atlanta-based Carter Center.
Today, Liberia remains the epitome of a nation abused by its leaders.
This despite indications late last year that this West African
country was groping its way back to normality. In August 1995,
Liberia's seven principal warring factions had signed the so-called
Abuja peace accords, the seventh such agreement in as many years
of civil war, leading to the creation of a Council of State comprised
of three warlords and three civilians.
Backed by the US, the UN and the 16-nation Economic Community
of West African States (ECOWAS), the agreement sought to force
the country's rival factions to accept a sweeping peace plan aimed
at demilitarizing Monrovia, disarming the country's estimated
60,000 fighters (many of them in their teens), returning all equipment
stolen from relief agencies, and preparing for nation-wide elections
a year later.
The new atmosphere of apparent reconciliation encouraged international
relief agencies to slowly expand their activities, even laying
the groundwork for more longer term development strategies. In
early 1996, Liberia was no longer considered to be suffering from
an acute food shortage. In addition, the capital was undergoing
a reconstruction boom with newly refurbished shops, offices, and
homes bolstered by the return of one of the most significant economic
barometers in this part of the world, the Lebanese business community.
The trouble with the new council, however, was that the true reins
of power remained in the hands of the three factional leaders
represented -- Charles Taylor of the National Patriotic
Front of Liberia (NPFL), George Boley of the so-called Liberian
Peace Council, and Alhaji Kromah of the United Movement of Liberia
for Democracy (ULIMO). All jealously guarded their positions to
maintain their respective power interests, both political and
commercial. According to Amos Sawyer, a former interim president,
the transitional "government" was completely taken over
by the three warlords, who consistently sought to "crush
all forms of opposition." Another problem was that the council
had failed to include the four other key leaders, notably Roosevelt
Johnson, a breakaway ULIMO rival.
Initially, the Abuja peace initiative appeared to be a serious
attempt to encourage if not enforce the sharing of power. In practice,
however, the overall situation remained factionalized with little
effective cooperation. The peace plan was proving a disaster.
According to the accords, the country was supposed to have been
disarmed by January 1996. Instead, Taylor (with the apparent connivance
of ECOMOG) but also Alhaji Kromah and Roosevelt Johnson were infiltrating
both men and weapons into the capital. For the Carter Center's
Langlois, the factional leaders "were never interested in
giving up their control, whether in the ministries or with business.
There are too many commercial interests involved."
What the initiative had failed to recognise is that this war has
been largely fuelled by the trade of Liberia's natural resources
for arms and cash. The warring leaders are more intent on pursuing
their own personal ambitions for power and wealth rather than
the well-being of their nation's people. Far from being serious
political partners, these men, or "vampires" (as one
newspaper of Monrovia's relatively outspoken press referred to
them) represent a greedy but also astute lot of "Mafiosi"
with extremely organized criminal networks backed by local and
outside business interests. British, French and other foreign
mining firms, for example, have provided a very reliable source
of support for Taylor. During the April fighting, Taylor and his
supporters were reportedly taking substantial cuts from looted
goods, much of it stolen from humanitarian supply depots.
Bolstered by crucial commercial links with business operators
ranging from Lebanese businessmen to Nigerian soldiers, Ivorian
government officials and even Russian profiteers, the factional
leaders have destroyed Liberia's central government and infrastructure,
thoroughly looting the economy in the process. Equally important,
soldiers of ECOMOG, the regional military peacekeeping force first
dispatched by ECOWAS to Liberia in 1990, were heavily involved
in the corruption and trafficking either on their own or in collusion
with the various factions.
To the frustration of the relief agencies, the Monrovia faction
leaders often have little real control over their fighters, or
"boys" as they are known locally. Or if they do, they
claim not to be responsible for their abuses against civilians
or incidents involving aid workers. Many of the warring militia
consist of children, some no more than six or seven years old.
What is so horrifying is the ease with which children have become
drawn into the conflict.
All the warlords, without exception, condone the use of children
in their ranks. According to the relief agencies, many are kidnapped
or "borrowed" from villages to serve with the militia.
Over the years, relief workers and journalists have witnessed,
or have been told of incidents, whereby children kill ordinary
civilians or inflict torture in a Clockwork Orange-like manner.
Such logic, or the lack of it, is just as rampant if not more
among the adult fighters. Often on drugs, they demonstrate little
sense of discipline. They terrorize local populations using their
weapons to assert themselves at checkpoints or among the villages,
where they steal food, force local inhabitants to work for them,
and rape young girls and women. A number of human rights organizations
such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have compiled
ample evidence detailing such behaviour.
By early July 1996, Monrovia was once again officially declared
a "safe haven" by ECOMOG with both the main airfield
and the port restored to commercial use. Most United Nations and
independent relief agencies have re-established their operations'
bases in the capital, where the conflict has now subsided. Nevertheless,
there has been increased factional fighting mainly between ULIMO-J
and ULIMO-K in the Bomi Hills and Grand Cape Mount areas resulting
in new floods of refugees.
If there is to be any hope of a lasting solution, it is clear
that the entire peace process will need to be fully assessed.
This includes a complete reappraisal of the roles and intentions
of the different players -- the factional leaders and their commercial
supporters, ECOMOG, the Americans, the UN and the European Union.
For the international aid community, guarantees of security for
civilians but also for aid workers, their equipment and supplies
will determine the nature, extent and justification of humanitarian
relief and development programmes.
For some observers, the only feasible way out of this impasse
is the restoration of effective security conditions independent
of humanitarian operations. Since the failed UN effort in Somalia,
however, the United States and other nations have been reluctant
to support the sort of military operations needed to re-establish
order in politically volatile states such as Liberia. The means
are there, the will is not. West African leaders have expressed
disappointment in the United States for its unwillingness to become
more directly involved. As Washington Post correspondent
Blaine Harden noted in May 1996: "The US government played
a pivotal role in making all this happen. And the Clinton administration,
like the Bush administration before it, is doing very little about
it...(the US government) has not deemed Liberia's chaos to be
sufficiently important to warrant serious consideration of any
kind of American intervention."
Other than providing relief shipments, some financial aid, and
support for the evacuation of over 2,000 American and other foreign
nationals, Washington has held back. This was made poignantly
clear during the Gulf War, when Liberians failed to understand
why American troops in 1990 were prepared to intervene for the
sake of oil-rich Kuwait but not to help save lives in backwater
Monrovia. At the time, observers felt that a relatively small
US show of force in the Liberian capital could have helped prevent
some of the horrendous killing that occurred.
Instead, humanitarian aid has been used as a means to skirt international
responsibility rather than make the political commitments needed
to provide conditions which could lead to a resolution of the
conflict. "What has happened in the last few years is that
humanitarian aid has become a tool that governments use to avoid
real and concerted action," asserted MSF's Steve O'Malley
in New York. Similarly, while the principal donors are fully aware
that regional peacekeeping without proper accountability has not,
and cannot work, as in the case of ECOMOG, the international community
seems perfectly willing to persist with the facade.
While some observers feel that any form of American intervention
in Liberia would be disastrous, others consider that there is
a definite role for the US to help end the violence. Not only
can the Americans bring pressure on the faction leaders, they
believe, but a US security presence in Monrovia would assure appropriate
security. "If you want to establish the sort of security
that will save lives, let the relief agencies get on with their
job, and allow people to go back to their homes, you've got to
be prepared to adopt the appropriate action and not be afraid
to follow through with it," said a UNOPS representative in
Another possibility is the deployment of mercenaries such as the
South African-run Executive Outcomes, a controversial option increasingly
debated among both donors and humanitarians. Consisting mainly
of white and Coloured ex-personnel of the South African Armed
Forces, Executive Outcomes has achieved relative security albeit
with apparently ruthless efficiency in select diamond areas of
Sierra Leone. Although the Freetown government, which has being
paying the originally 300-strong force, is under pressure not
to renew their contract, Executive Outcomes has proven popular
among local civilians tired of banditry and war.
While vehemently opposed by some, such mercenary forces may prove
a far more effective and less costly option if the international
community is unable to come up with better peacekeeping solutions.
One fear expressed by relief representatives is that mercenary
forces will only serve specific interests and may not prove accountable
to the community as a whole in the long run. For most civilians,
it does not matter who is providing the security as long as they
can once again enjoy the conditions that will allow them to get
on with their lives. This includes the chance to vote in or otherwise
support leaders genuinely interested in the well-being of their
nation as opposed to their own individual greed.
For a growing number of aid professionals, there is simply no
longer any point in providing aid, whether emergency or long-term,
if both the relief agencies and the civilian populations continue
to be held hostage by warlords, armed fighters, profiteers, and
the lack of any effective international resolve. Western countries
are providing the bulk of Liberia's humanitarian relief. As matters
stand, they are throwing taxpayers' contributions and voluntary
donations down the drain. Yet Liberia's problem is hardly one
of funding. Nor should the international community consider emergency
relief support as its sole response. The donor countries and others
concerned by the conflict all need to find the political will
to finally tackle the issue head on, difficult and controversial
as this option may be. There is little question that unless appropriate
action is taken, the Liberian civil war will fester, even if fighting
subsides for long periods at a time. It may also spread to other
parts of West Africa.
Edward Girardet is Editor of CROSSLINES Global Report.
peacekeeping force or business?
For many observers and humanitarian representatives, the West
African peacekeeping forces, particularly the Nigerians who represent
85 percent of the soldiers, there is little question that ECOMOG
has become an extension of the conflict. It is also very much
part of the Nigerian military regime's own foreign policy and
commercial interests. Ever since its intervention in 1990, ECOMOG
has been responsible for more looting than the factions themselves,
some observers believe. Officially known as the ECOWAS Monitoring
Group, ECOMOG has become known more appropriately as "Everything
That Could Move Is Gone."
Over the years, its troops have made a concerted and unabashed
effort to remove anything of value ranging from cars to house
roofing, piping and mineral wealth, shipping most of it to Nigeria.
"I have never come across such an inherently corrupt bunch
of people," commented one Western aid representative.
Nigeria's profiteering has incurred the dismay not only of the
international humanitarian community but also Liberians. Many
initially saw the robbing of their country as the price for peace,
but anger has grown as people have realised that ECOMOG was not
only failing to provide security, but continuing to exploit Liberia's
plight for its own benefit. As with the warlords, ECOMOG does
not seem in particular hurry to end the conflict. Business is
just too good.
As a regional peacekeeping force, ECOMOG has proven an utter failure.
It failed even more dismally during the April violence. ECOMOG
peacekeeping forces mysteriously disappeared from their checkpoints,
making little or no effort to halt the spread of fighting or looting.
Apart from a number of operations to rescue people such as aid
expatriates, U.N. local staff and their families, and (at a price)
Lebanese, they abandoned their positions almost as soon as the
fighting began. Had they remained at their posts in a show of
force, they might have been able to contain at least some of the
fighting. ECOMOG's supposed impartiality came into question even
more when, according to diplomatic and other sources, it had made
a deal with Taylor allowing him to infiltrate fighters and weapons
into Monrovia during the weeks leading up to the fighting. While
the West African community claims, with some justification, that
the force is too poorly equipped and badly trained to perform
an effective role, it is more than that. The force has proved
too corrupt to do any good.
New peace initiatives call for a strengthening of ECOMOG. The
U.S. has offered 30 million dollars in support, which would include
new equipment and training. Belgium and Denmark have offered to
pay for additional peacekeeping battalions from Ghana and Burkina
Faso. According to Ghanian deputy foreign minister Mohammed Ibn
Chambas, a 12,000-man force would cost $90 million a year and
should be provided by the international community. Instead, he
complained, it prefers to spend unimaginable sums of money on
humanitarian assistance while "the roots of the crisis go
While European and American donor representatives agree that such
a force needs to be properly equipped in order to prove effective,
some question whether ECOMOG, given the agenda of Nigeria's military
dictatorship and its obvious expansion in the region, is indeed
the right vehicle to help implement the peace process. Such assistance
will prove a sheer waste of money if ECOMOG is allowed to operate
as before without any form of outside accountability. Regional
peacekeeping forces which have too many local interests simply
cannot function in an impartial manner.
Initially, both Roosevelt Johnson and Alhaji Kromah enjoyed good
relations with ECOMOG. Later, the Nigerians switched their support
to Kromah, who took direct control of local mining operations
in Bomi county in western Liberia. In return, the Nigerian commanders
received a cut in his trade. In early 1996, fighting broke out
between ULIMO-Johnson and ECOMOG in Tubmanburg when a new Nigerian
commander would not go along with a collaborative diamond mining
arrangement worked out by one of his predecessors.
The Nigerians have been similarly involved with faction leader
George Boley in exploiting rubber resources. But ECOMOG soldiers
have gone also into business themselves by running their own operations.
According to sources, at least six former Nigerian commanders
have developed substantial business operations in Liberia and
are still using their ECOMOG contacts to continue dealing. The
Bulk Challenger, for example, was reportedly carrying vehicles
and other commodities looted during the April fighting, much of
it sold directly to the Nigerians at the ECOMOG base.
As Colin Scott, a British relief consultant, observed in a 1994
report for the Thomas J. Watson for International Studies, the
West African peacekeeping operation had stepped clearly into a
political vacuum but had failed to maintain a neutral stance.
It also raised the question as to whether a U.N. intervention
force might not have produced "a better, long-term outcome."
For this reason, observers suggest that Liberia would be served
better by involving troops with no particular affiliation or interests
in the region, such as Eritreans or Pakistanis, or by placing
the ECOMOG forces under UN, even American control.
None of the faction leaders, or most Liberians for that matter,
will ever really trust ECOMOG to police a re-instituted peace
settlement or nation-wide disarmanent of militia as long as its
commanders and soldiers retain a personal stake in the country's
The International Centre for Humanitarian Reporting (ICHR) is
calling for nominations for the 1996 International Media Awards
for War & Humanitarian Reporting. The awards seek to recognise
outstanding and consistent reporting in radio, print, art, and
television among the international press in the coverage of wars
and humanitarian crises. The ICHR also represents one award to
a group or individual for outstanding relief, development or advocacy
work in humanitarian action.
- · The Mirwais Jalil Radio Award for War & Humanitarian
- · The Alexandra Tuttle Press Award for War & Humanitarian
- · The Herbert Girardet Art Award for War & Humanitarian
- · The Ilaria Alpi and Miran Hrovatin Television Award
for War & Humanitarian Reporting
- · The Fred Cuny Humanitarian Award
Please send your nominations by 5 September 1996 and reasons for
proposing a particular group or individual to: The Director, ICHR,
PO Box 530, 1110 MORGES (VD), Switzerland. Fax 41(22)-920-1679
(Geneva). E-mail: info.ichr
Sierra Leone: reason for optimism?
Sierra Leone's new civilian government is struggling to maintain
a hold over the peace process. This includes control over its
own undisciplined troops, a task which government officials themselves
admit is not easy. As part of the country's peace talks earlier
this year, both the Freeport government and the rebel Revolutionary
United Front (RUF) have agreed to a simultaneous demobilization
of forces in an effort to reduce the number of troops under arms.
There is friction between the army and local populations, who
distrust the soldiers. There is also increasing tension between
government troops and civilian-supported "traditional hunters."
Reducing insecurity, however, represents only one of Sierra Leone's
challenges in the months ahead.
As opposed to Liberia's renewed plunge into chaos earlier this
year, neighbouring Sierra Leone appeared to be moving gingerly
toward peace following its elections last March. Five international
observer teams pronounced the elections free and fair despite
the security situation which prevented many from outside the towns
from voting. Nevertheless, nearly 60 percent of the country's
registered electorate cast their ballots.
During the weeks leading up to the first round of elections in
late February 1996, rebels and other armed fighters (some believed
to be soldiers) terrorized civilians, including children, by killing
or beating them, or chopping off hands as a means of intimidation.
When interviewed at a special internally displaced refugee camp
in the eastern town of Bo, many of these victims said they were
told by their attackers to "go and show the others"
what had happened to them. Despite such intimidation, sporadic
gunfire, a shortage of ballot papers and long queues, people demonstrated
an extraordinary spirit of determination and public courage in
their bid to exercise the right to vote.
The second round on 15 March proceeded more peacefully. By the
time the final ballots were counted, it was clear that Sierra
Leone's renewed experiment in democracy, its first multi-party
elections in over 30 years, revealed an overwhelming desire among
its war-weary population for political change and an end to war
and insecurity. As one senior Western diplomat noted: "The
amazing thing is that only months earlier these elections had
seemed unimaginable. But the ordinary people obviously wanted
to say: enough!"
By the time the military handed over power in a formal ceremony
on 29 March, ending four years of army rule, over 10,000 civilians
had been killed in a ruthless civil war that first erupted in
1991. Thousands more had been injured, many of them suffering
from deliberate mutilations. Almost half the country's 4.5 million
people had been driven from their homes. Many had sought refuge
across the border in Liberia or Guinea, but the majority had flocked
to the overcrowded environs of Freetown, Bo, Kenema, and other
towns. According to humanitarian organizations, Sierra Leone's
conflict has been characterized by a total lack of protection
of the population and by severe human rights violations inflicted
on civilians by all the warring sides.
The elections came in the wake of a provisional agreement between
the former military regime and the RUF. Sierra Leone's new president,
Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, has now made it his "top priority"
to continue the previous regime's negotiations with the RUF in
an effort to halt the violence and allow Sierra Leone to recover
from its spiralling nightmare of anarchy and economic degradation.
By June, however, the 28-point peace plan was bogged down over
two key points: the departure of the South African mercenary force,
Executive Outcomes, and the creation of a joint government-RUF
committee to oversee budgetary and debt questions.
Despite a wealth of natural resources, Sierra Leone has been subjected
to extraordinary economic and social ruin ever since its early
years of independence from Britain. From 1964 onwards, successive
regimes have thoroughly ransacked the nation's economy through
a combination of political corruption, greed and repression. During
the 1970s and 1980s, President Siaka Stevens ensured that government
officials systematically looted or siphoned off everything from
office fixtures and cars to the proceeds of the diamond industry,
donor funding, tourism, and the airlines. Substantial kickbacks
went straight to the president and his cohorts. The population,
too, was terrorized by the army and police, in particular the
State Security Division (SSD), who were little more than thugs
and known as "Siaka's dogs."
When a group of young soldiers grabbed power in a coup d'etat
against the civilian regime in 1992, they were welcomed enthusiastically
by a desperate population. Many people simply wanted to see an
end to the kleptocracy which had left the country's commerce totally
wrecked, civil servants impoverished, schools without teachers,
and beggars to die from hunger on the steps of State House. People
were worried also by the spreading violence induced by Sierra
Leone's grim new civil war, which had begun in 1991 with the overrunning
of towns close to the Liberian border by RUF leader Foday Sankoh
and his men. But the years of corrupt civilian rule were only
replaced by corrupt military rule and more civil war.
Inexperienced and uneducated, the new military rulers allowed
the country to slip into a free-for-all with both RUF rebels and
soldiers involved in the killing and looting. When Sankoh, who
was initially backed by Liberia's Charles Taylor, first entered
government-controlled towns he opened local jails swollen with
inmates who had been imprisoned unjustly by the Freetown regime.
Many joined the RUF while others escaped into the bush to become
bandits. Huge swathes of Sierra Leone became security zones too
dangerous to live in, prompting tens of thousands of civilians
to abandon their homes and flee.
In 1994, a nationwide movement for change began to emerge. Tired
of being abused, plundered and terrorized, ordinary people decided
to defy those who had helped transform Sierra Leone into one of
Africa's best known examples of misrule and corruption. Even though
government structures had clearly collapsed, traditional, and
in many ways, democratic grassroots institutions remained very
much alive. Local communities formed their own "civil defence
forces" under the leadership of secret societies, the paramount
chiefs and hunter-warriors. An increasingly powerful women's movement,
perhaps one of the most effective lobbies for forcing the discredited
military regime to hold elections, also came to the fore. For
the first time, people felt empowered. But they also appeared
more sober in their expectations. "This war must stop and
we must get on with the building of a new society. And that includes
a real democracy which is what I think the people really want,"
noted a concerned Zainab Bangura, head of Sierra Leone's Women
Organized for a Morally Enlightened Nation (WOMEN).
There is little doubt that Sierra Leone's problems will not be
resolved by a mere change of government. The current challenge
is to make its new democracy sustainable. It will also take more
than foreign aid to put the country back on the road to recovery.
Following the return to civilian rule, the United Nations immediately
called upon the mainly western donors for $57 million in emergency
assistance, mainly for humanitarian purposes. Donors have been
trickling back to Freetown to explore new projects and possibilities
for renewed funding.
One of the biggest difficulties is corruption. This is blatantly
apparent the moment any visitor steps off the plane and is encountered
by immigration and customs officers seeking "tips."
It affects virtually every aspect of public and private life,
whether in the form of police stopping cars at checkpoints or
provincial secretaries taking rakeoffs from donated food supplies.
Many of those elected to the new parliament are the same people
who participated in (and profited from) Sierra Leone's downward
spiral to economic and political oblivion over the past two decades.
Sierra Leone will need to completely reform its government structure
including the army, police and judicial system. It will need to
implement an efficient tax, customs and excise system to help
bring in much needed revenue. Above all, it will need to instil
a new sense of responsibility supported by appropriate salaries
among civil servants to do their jobs with the country's interests
at heart and not for personal gain.
Another key problem is what to do about the bands of fighters
roaming the bush. As with numerous other conflicts, Sierra Leone
suffers from a preponderance of child fighters who know nothing
but war. According to CARE-UK, UNICEF and other aid agencies,
the RUF has captured children in attacks against villages or recruited
youngsters from the diamond areas. Many have been forced to carry
out mutilations and killings as part of their initiation. "How
is one going to persuade these young men and boys who find it
easier to live by the gun that there is another life for them?"
asked Freek Landmeter of Médicines Sans Frontières
For those with guns, looting is far more profitable than waiting
for jobs to materialise. No one is certain how strong and how
organized the rebels are. What is clear, however, is that the
past few years of insecurity have led to the creation of undisciplined,
warring groups in the bush who have set up their own fiefdoms
to exact "rents" from traders and local farmers. Such
realities will hamper the implementation of any effective peace
process. There is also concern that many of the armed men involved
in assaults against civilians are not rebels or freelance fighters
but military personnel. Numerous civilians claim to have recognised
soldiers among their attackers. While such activities may indicate
soldiers masquerading as insurgents for their own benefit, it
could also suggest collusion between elements of the army and
the RUF. Some observers fear that this could eventually lead to
a joint army-rebel move to oust civilian rule as a means of holding
on to local interests. As with Liberia, much of the fighting has
been over control of the lucrative diamond mines.
Proposals are now on the table for disarming the fighters but
also re-training (and reducing) the Sierra Leone army into a new
security force that will respect democratic institutions. The
same goes for the police. The United States has already included
some forms of training and other support for the military in return
for their use of Freetown as a logistical base during the Liberia
evacuations in April and May 1996. Donors and others concerned
by Sierra Leone's rehabilitation have proposed a diverse group
ranging from the Nigerians and various ECOMOG countries to the
British, the Commonwealth (of which Sierra Leone is a member)
and the United Nations to do the job. As it is, the Nigerians
have been providing Sierra Leone with security support (an estimated
2,000 troops) to protect government facilities such as office
buildings and the national radio transmitter on a hill overlooking
Given the corruption and lack of respect for democratic institutions
by Nigeria's own military regime, its expansionist interests in
West Africa, and the disastrous role its forces have played in
Liberia, many observers consider Nigeria a risky choice. "The
Nigerians don't deserve it," said Julius Spencer, a dissident
Sierra Leonean editor and theatre director. A better solution,
he and others suggest, would be to bring in an outside force with
no regional interests, such as the Commonwealth. "There is
a definite role here for the Commonwealth and not only in the
military domain. Right now, the whole country needs to be overhauled."
Innocent targets Of War:
Protection Or Abandonment?
Western policy, international relief and the media in conflicts
and humanitiarian crises.
The International Centre for Humanitarian Reporting (ICHR) will
be holding its second Weapons of War, Tools of Peace Symposium
in Boston, MA, on 15-17 November 1996.
Co-hosted by Boston University School of Journalism, the Nieman
Foundation of Harvard University, Northeastern School of Journalism
and CROSSLINES Global Report, the conference will focus
on practical working partnerships between the media and the international
aid community in the protection of civilians in conflict.
Co-sponsors will include major international humanitarian organizations
For further information, please contact:
Eve Porter, ICHR,
16a Grant Street,
Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.
Relief in Sierra Leone: a fragile situation
The humanitarian predicament in Sierra Leone remains precarious.
While both sides to the conflict - the new civilian government
and the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) - announced a general
"security guarantee" for humanitarian assistance even
before the actual stepdown of the previous military regime in
late March 1996, this has not necessarily happened. Aid agencies
have managed to increase assistance to new areas previously denied
access. Other attempted relief initiatives have been halted or
At the time of this writing, there has been a worrisome rise in
security incidents and violence in the field. At one point, the
government sought to curb operations of the International Committee
of the Red Cross (ICRC) prompting the Geneva-based aid agency
to suspend all activities. This resulted in new rules for the
agencies, notably ICRC and Médecins sans Frontières,
seeking to work in RUF territory. Humanitarian aid is now forbidden
to be brought over the border from neighbouring Guinea. According
to aid agencies, the Freeport authorities now insist on strict
government control of outside aid, making it far more difficult,
insecure and costly to provide international relief by road and
Initially, government efforts toward reform and rehabilitation
of the country's devastated infrastructure appeared positive.
According to MSF, ICRC, the United Nations, and other aid agencies,
there seemed to be a "clear sense of realism and political
direction" among new officials in the Ministry of Health
and other departments. Despite the cease-fire, however, there
were still reports of violent attacks along roads or in villages.
In May, Bo hospital received 69 war-related injuries, twice as
many as in April. During the same period, 3,500-4,000 people sought
refuge in the town. Government officials acknowledged that these
attacks were not necessarily only carried out by rebels, but by
"bandits" including possible former or current military
"Often there seems to be no strategy in these attacks and
come close to ordinary banditry. They are random, aimed at simply
terrorizing the population or robbing commercial goods,"
said one MSF representative.
Given such incidents, aid agencies suggested that insecurity affecting
both civilian populations and relief operations would continue
for some time. There are clear indications that both sides have
been receiving new arms and ammunition since the cease-fire. Diplomats
and relief representatives fear that further deadlocks in the
peace negotiations might induce the RUF to return to the bush.
Apart from possible restrictions on relief operations by the government
or rebels, the humanitarian situation will primarily hinge on
conflicts in neighbouring countries such as Liberia. Even though
Sierra Leone has forbidden entry to further refugees, it is clear
that Liberians will still seek to flee. Such exoduses could further
destabilize Sierra Leone. In addition, there have been disturbing
reports of tension in Guinea which could erupt at any time and
produce more refugees. Another potentially disruptive threat is
the return of Sierra Leonean refugees attracted by improving conditions
in their native country. And as if that were not enough, relief
agencies fear that considerable quantities of humanitarian aid
supplies could provoke looting, particularly among armed groups
in the frontier areas.
Since the early 1990s, international relief agencies have sought
to provide humanitarian assistance to civilians caught up in the
conflict. However, major donors and aid organizations, particularly
those involved in non-emergency projects, such as the US Peace
Corps or Britain's Voluntary Service Overseas, pulled out because
of growing insecurity and government corruption.
Even the aid agencies focusing on emergency relief found themselves
severely restricted by the fighting. In certain areas, aid supplies
could only be brought in by air. On the ground, trucks could only
travel in convoys and then at constant risk of being stopped by
rebels or armed fighters.
Deteriorating conditions provoking influxes of refugees from the
countryside in Kenema sparked off a major food emergency in mid-1995
prompting aid agencies to establish therapeutic feeding centres
for children. At times, between 8,000 and 10,000 new refugees
were arriving from the countryside every month in towns such as
Bo. MSF, Action Contre La Faim, UNICEF, Catholic Relief Services,
Concern Universal and others have continued to assist locally
displaced civilians as well as wounded and mutilated victims of
the fighting. Following the outbreak of yellow fever, MSF conducted
an immunization programme involving nearly 150,000 people.
There has been some encouraging collaboration in ensuring more
long-term relief activities. By early 1996, MSF was able to hand
over its Kenema operations to the more development-oriented British
medical agency, MERLIN. Overall, however, much will depend on
the success of the peace negotiations. EG
Reflections on "The Coming Anarchy"
In February, 1994, the Boston-based Atlantic Monthly published
"The Coming Anarchy", a highly controversial article
by American journalist Robert D. Kaplan that has coloured the
way certain observers now view the future of West Africa and other
parts of the developing world. The article, which maintains that
ecological crisis, tribal warfare, disease, and marauding urban
gangs will cause the collapse of many Third World nations, has
become recommended reading among policy circles, aid agencies
and universities both in the United States and Europe. Kaplan
further develops this theme in his recently published book: The
Ends of the Earth**. For certain critics, however, Kaplan's gloomy
predictions are uninformed, superficial and completely off the
Robert D. Kaplan is a widely travelled journalist. He tells us
that he has reported from 60 countries, that he has ridden in
"bush taxis," and that, unlike foreign policy mandarins
with their stifling suburban background and their mental "protective
bubble," he has the "stomach" to see the world
as it really is. Having reported from Sudan to Afghanistan, the
Balkans to West of Africa, he makes it clear that he is no ordinary
reporter, but an analyst, a thinker, and thus uniquely qualified
to assess the world's fate in the coming century.
Kaplan maintains that endemic tribal warfare will rage in the
interior of many Third World nations and will spark mass migrations,
giving rise to teeming coastal cities filled with crime and disease.
Youth gangs with no culture beyond the worst of western pop music
will wage endless cycles of urban violence. The distinction between
crime and warfare will disappear. The 21st century, he says, will
witness the collapse of many nation states, threatening the "social
fabric of our planet."
Kaplan's essay, which appears as a chapter in his new book, begins
with an account of Sierra Leone, a small West African nation he
regards as a "microcosm of what is occurring in...much of
the underdeveloped world." He sees that country's indigenous
culture as incapable of meeting the challenges of the 21st century.
Its traditional animism corrupts Christianity and Islam and fosters
"polygamy" and "communalism." Above all, it
is a place where "Western enlightenment has not penetrated."
Kaplan predicts that the next century will witness a "cruel
process of natural selection among existing states," though
some will survive. Sierra Leone, he maintains, is "beyond
salvage," but Turkey has a culture with "natural muscle
tone" and a manly form of Islam not "hobbled" by
African animism. One wonders, however, how Kaplan can explain
Sierra Leone's successful recent elections, and the fact that
its traditional African institutions helped force its military
regime to step down. Sierra Leone's elections reflect the resilience
of a population fed up with corruption and civil disorder, and
determined to do something about it.
Nevertheless, judging by continuing references in the media, and
some glowing reviews of Kaplan's new book, the "Coming Anarchy"
has achieved wide acceptance. Newsweek said it was "required
reading in Washington." Policy wonks viewed it on a par with
(US political analyst) Francis Fukuyama's End of History
and the Clash of Civilizations by Samuel P. Huntington
(of Harvard's Olin Institute for Strategic Studies), two other
predictive schemes claiming to account for global trends following
the Cold War. Kaplan's previous book Balkan Ghosts, about
the former Yugoslavia, exerted a similar influence in policy circles.
But if Kaplan's predictions are to be taken seriously, we must
examine Sierra Leone, the country he views as a crystal ball for
the world's future. As an anthropologist who has lived there for
20 years, I was struck by his description of that nation, struck
that is, at finding almost nothing accurate in it. Kaplan has
sounded an alarm based on his superficial reaction to a country
he knows nothing about, and based on a relatively short visit.
Had Kaplan decided to evaluate current events in an obscure European
nation, say, Albania, he would, no doubt, have sought a political
explanation. Nevertheless, he tells us that African nations such
as Sierra Leone have no politics. Thus, he relies on what he takes
to be a cultural theory. He views Sierra Leone's woes as stemming
from a weak culture, one lacking "natural muscle tone."
Kaplan is right to say that Sierra Leone had collapsed into anarchy
at the time of his visit in 1993, but his explanation for why
that occurred is completely wrong. To understand Sierra Leone,
one must deal with it like any other country. One needs to ask
what events in its modern political history have to led to its
The story begins with independence in 1961. The British had governed
with the divide-and-rule tactics typical of colonial powers. They
did not build institutions of self-government until shortly before
pulling out. By imposing a new constitution, and then leaving
soon afterwards, they virtually invited corrupt politicians to
change the system to suit their own purposes. Corrupt leaders
found it easy to alter a constitution that never had the time
to acquire the aura of legitimacy political systems need to endure.
Official corruption reached outrageous proportions during the
years of Siaka Stevens' rule, from 1968 to 1985. Stevens made
himself president of a one-party state, and established a "kleptocracy"
in which cabinet ministers were expected to loot their respective
departments. In the late 1970s, he spent the country's entire
foreign exchange reserves on big ticket construction projects,
then took massive kickbacks from contractors. Had Stevens been
a bloodthirsty dictator, he could never have ruled for so many
years, but he was an avuncular character with the honey-coated
charm of an African Huey Long. Whenever possible, he preferred
drawing his opponents into his corruption, rather than imprisoning
them, and, in the end, his worst crime was corrupting his country's
entire political class.
After Stevens handed power to Joseph Momoh, his military commander,
the bottom fell out. Between the years of official corruption
and an economic downturn, Momoh was forced to submit to a stringent
structural adjustment programme demanded by the country's foreign
donors. In the late 1980s, the government stopped paying civil
servants, teachers, customs officials, and even police, and there
were repeated power, petrol, and currency shortages.
Then, in 1990, neighbouring Liberia erupted into civil war, and
Momoh joined other West African nations to try and stop the fighters
of Liberian rebel leader Charles Taylor from seizing power. When
Taylor sent guerrillas across the border, Momoh was forced to
recruit a new army from youths embittered by the long years of
corruption. When he failed to provide them with adequate logistical
support, they overthrew his government.
In April, 1992, young captains and lieutenants formed the National
Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC), and Sierra Leoneans were jubilant.
Since every middle-aged politician had deceived them, they were
anxious to give the youth a chance. But the NPRC ushered in a
period of civil anarchy. When the young leaders failed to set
a standard of honesty, there was no controlling their soldiers,
who turned to looting provincial towns. And instead of cracking
down on indiscipline, the NPRC blamed the atrocities on the Revolutionary
United Front (RUF), the ragtag Sierra Leone guerrilla band initially
backed by Taylor. While RUF was guilty of its own share of atrocities,
government troops were no less involved.
Sierra Leoneans were loath to accept that their new government
had collapsed into anarchy. The situation remained unclear for
many until 1993, when traditional institutions rose up to protect
civilians against government troops. When the paramount chiefs,
the men's secret societies, and the traditional hunter-warriors
faced off with government soldiers, Sierra Leoneans finally grasped
that the problem went beyond the RUF. Some provincial towns virtually
seceded from the government, setting up their own local militia.
The international community pressured the NPRC to step down, but
it was people power that brought elections in early 1996. Civilians
from all walks of life, but particularly women's groups, braved
considerable risks to demand elections. In the first round, civilians
battled soldiers in the streets to protect their ballot boxes.
After that, the military backed off and the second round of the
vote went smoothly. When a civilian president was finally elected
under a new democratic constitution, Sierra Leoneans congratulated
themselves on their own collective courage and determination.
The explanation of Sierra Leone's collapse into anarchy turns
out to be quite simple. Corrupt politicians and a shattered economy
destroyed respect for government. There is nothing new in that;
it is as old as politics itself. There is no need for a new theory
to mesmerise Washington think tanks, no need to categorise Sierra
Leoneans as holders of an inferior culture. In fact, they turn
out to be like people everywhere. When their government disintegrates,
some go berserk. Yet when a mass movement arises to put things
right, many more are capable of extraordinary acts of personal
Some of Kaplan's mistaken notions are amusing. His theory of ecological
crisis, that 60 percent of the country was covered by primary
rain forest in 1961, and that it has all been chopped down, is
pure fantasy. The government's official figure at that time was
less than one percent, and it is about the same today.
But his essay does terrible injustice to some very brave people.
By stereotyping the hunter-warriors and secret societies as "juju
warriors" and regarding them, and the traditional chiefs,
as agents of anarchy, he turns things up-side-down. When their
government began preying on its own people, Sierra Leoneans fell
back on their traditional institutions to protect them. Kaplan
says their culture lacks "muscle tone," but warriors
armed only with muskets and machetes confronted soldiers brandishing
AK-47s, earning the gratitude of otherwise defenceless villagers.
His essay also defames Sierra Leone's urban youth. The youngsters
he calls "skinhead Cossacks" are the most patriotic
element in the population. Raised in the city, they have given
up old-fashioned ethnic loyalties, regarding themselves, first
and foremost, as Sierra Leoneans. In 1993, thousands of these
youths took to the streets to demand a moral revival in their
national life, painting countless inspirational murals with religious
and patriotic themes. One example, by an 18-year-old street boy,
showed moral instruction passing from an elderly grandmother to
a young mother, to a small child, and was crowned by a single
word: MORALITY. Yet these are the people Kaplan dismisses as having
no heritage beyond "the worst refuse of American pop culture."
Kaplan presents himself as the best proof of his theory based
on his many travels and observations. Moreover, we learn that
he is a broadly educated man of the West, capable of spouting
esoteric facts about European history. Herodotus, often called
the "Father of History," helped inaugurate the Western
tradition when he showed how a person of liberal mind can be broadened
by foreign travel. The customs of Egyptians and Persians were
strange to Greeks, but Herodotus found them sensible enough when
understood from the other man's point of view. It turns out that
Kaplan is the one "Western enlightenment has not penetrated,"
and it says something about human nature that 25 centuries after
Herodotus, it is still possible for a professional commentator
to be so intolerant and narrow minded.
That so many have apparently taken him seriously says even more.
Joseph Opala is currently based in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
He is an Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology,
University College, London.
**Robert D. Kaplan's book -- The Ends of the Earth: A Journey
at the Dawn of the 21st Century -- is published by Random
House, New York, 1996. ISBN: 0-679-43148-9. Cost: $27.50.
The future of food aid
The days of traditional food aid are over. International
organizations are looking closely at their operations on the ground
to see that they get value for money.
"Latest information confirms expectation of a recovery in
cereal output in 1996, but the global supply/demand situation
will remain tight. If current forecasts materialize, cereal output
would be sufficient to meet the expected consumption requirements
in 1996/97. However, the outlook for global food security would
remain precarious for at least another year as the expected increase
would allow only a very modest replenishment of the reduced global
This is how the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization
(FAO) opens its latest report on global food prospects. Not an
encouraging scenario and this is at a time of radical change in
the global food industry. Change which has seen massive hikes
in the price of food already and which is predicted to cause the
end of massive western food surpluses. Against these global trends,
food aid is still perceived as a central resource for disaster
response, but for how much longer?
For many people, food aid is synonymous with famine relief. During
the 1980's and early 90s disaster response agencies have become
used to trucking and distributing huge amounts of food, up to
15 million tonnes some years, and have come to regard it as a
given. As long as you shout loud enough, the food aid will flow.
But all this is changing and changing fast.
Food aid was always a surplus product. Nobody grows food aid,
they grow grain to sell and under the old interventionist policies
of particularly the United States and the European Union, surpluses
needed to be stored or disposed of to keep farm prices up. Hence
the domestic attraction of food aid.
But all that is changing. Agriculture, like the rest of world
trade, is now subject to free market forces. Food for food aid
has to be bought, just like food for commercial purposes.
The creation of a global market in food, under the new free trade
agreement has a number of profound consequences for food aid.
Never again will we see a return to the massive supplies of food
aid available in the mid 1980s. From now on food aid will have
to compete along side other forms of aid to show its worth. It
will no longer be viewed as an additional resource, but will be
seen as part of Official Development Assistance, another use for
The end of government subsidies for agriculture means no more
large surpluses. Food prices, particularly grain prices will and
are going up dramatically, making food aid a relatively expensive
way to use ODA dollars. This means that developing countries will
have to pay more for their food imports. Already the cost of their
imports rose 40 percent in 1996 over 1995.
As food prices become more susceptible to market fluctuations,
they will become more volatile. Food shortages in developing countries,
induced by high world market prices may become more common. And
the food stocks needed to fuel food aid will no longer be held
by Western governments, they will be held by the large grain trading
companies. These companies may not always choose to release grain
for food aid if, for instance, they feel that grain prices are
set to rise thus forcing purchase at a later date and higher price.
As a consequence of this, developing countries may need to rethink
their present strategy of running down strategic food stocks.
Food-aid trends are difficult to forecast. One recent study predicts
that food-aid donations in 1996 will be around 9.2 million tonnes,
reflecting the reduced convention pledges, and that donations
will only rise marginally in ten years to reach 10.6 million tonnes
The study's best-case scenario predicts that total world food
aid needs will increase to 39.79 million tonnes, an increase of
5.29 million tonnes on the most optimistic predictions for 1996's
needs. Worst-case scenarios put the global needs at 48.32 million
tonnes and all this is set against a predicted rise in food- aid
availability of less than 2 million tonnes.
Like all such predictions, it provides useful guidance as to where
we need to watch for changes, but it is also important to understand
the assumptions behind such predictions if one is to use them
If that is how the supply of food aid is going to change, what
does it mean for the agencies that use food aid? Here are a few
- Prediction one: From now on the amount of food aid
available will be determined by a combination of three factors:
need, available ODA budget, and perceived usefulness of food aid.
Result: food aid will be a scarce
- Prediction two: Operational agencies will be expected
to monitor the use of food aid as carefully as they are expected
to monitor and report on the use of cash. They will need to be
more explicit in explaining the additionally that food aid brings
and to be more clear about where it is a useful resource. And
of course they will need to target food aid better.
- Prediction three: Clearly some groups; refugees, groups
with specific nutritional needs at important times in their lives
and the chronically hungry will continue to be targeted, but in
the post-GATT era we may well see price-hype induced emergencies
amongst the poorest and landless with acute food scarcity, if
not famine, being triggered by the workings of the global
market, rather than war or drought.
Under all these pressures it is almost certain that a greater
proportion of world food aid will be used in emergency programmes,
but longer term developmental food aid will change as well. Food
aid may be used in the future more as a catalyst for other development
processes. For instance as an incentive to get children to attend
school or to alleviate the burden on women. This usage of food
aid makes sense but its benefits are difficult to quantify as
they are not immediate and derive not from the food per see but
from the development processes it gives people access to.
Whatever the exact figures, the picture is clear: less food aid,
more concern over targeting and performance, more searching for
alternative solutions. If Live-Aid and food convoys caricatured
the relief business of the mid 1980s then may be the relief business
of tomorrow will be caricatured by Smart Aid and the innovative
Peter Walker is head of Disaster and Refugee Policy at the
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
1Source: FAO/GIEWS. Food Outlook. 06/96
2Source: IFRC Seminar, Geneva June 1996, addressed by Dianne
3Source: ERS, US Dept of Agriculture
Diversifying and targeting can save lives
Devastating floods in North Korea, coupled with a crumbling
agricultural sector, have sparked widespread food shortages. And
in an unprecedented development North Korea has asked for international
relief aid. Progressive food shortages could turn into a famine
if sufficient international aid is not forthcoming. Affected populations
are already resorting to eating wild foods that have not been
consumed since 1951. What can be done to avert such disasters?
Famines relating to natural disasters do not happen suddenly.
They are the culmination of a progressive erosion of assets --
human assets like health and strength, as well as capital assets
in the form of cattle or cash savings. Households cope for as
long as possible, and then they crack. That is when famine leaps
to television screens in developed countries.
Famines also do not affect everyone equally. Some people survive
long periods of deprivation; others, even in the same village,
do not. The difference lies in the "coping mechanisms"
available to a household: income that does not depend on rain-fed
farming, access to credit from merchants or ownership of livestock
that can be sold when times get hard.
Thus the greatest tragedy in recent crises affecting countries
like Bangladesh and Kenya is that they should have not be occurred
at all. Natural disasters should no longer turn into famines (see
CROSSLINES 2(3), May-June 1994: Information and vulnerability:
how secrecy kills by Francis D'Souza). Strategic investments
can be made today at the village, national and international levels
to prevent tomorrow's famines.
Strengthening and diversifying coping mechanisms available to
poor communities is one of the keys to famine prevention. That
means famine must be tackled with more than food.
The death toll, a tragic erosion of human resources, is only one
aspect of the problem. Famines in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Angola
have also been characterized by a long-term depletion of environmental
and capital resources, and by massive social disruption, such
a community dislocation (people forced to migrate long distances
to find help), reliance on foraged foods (roots, rodents, leaves),
conflict among neighbours and the breakdown of government services.
Each is the outcome of a lack of appropriate action, not only
at the household level but among governments and the donor community.
Lessons from past crises underscore the priority actions needed
to prevent famine. At the community level, establishing guidelines
or structures for identifying the most needy leads to more efficient
and equitable targeting of development and relief resources. Local
and international non-governmental organizations can play a constructive
role in such initiatives.
The absence of good targeting policies and mechanisms in Ethiopia
and Burkina Faso during the 1980s led to the exclusion of many
vulnerable households from food-for-work projects or free food
distribution, says Professor Thomas Reardon of Michigan State
University. By contrast, according to Sam Moyo of Zimbabwe's Institute
of Development Studies, relatively efficient community-level screening
of recipients ensured that few people succumbed to starvation
in Zimbabwe during the 1992 drought.
A second factor that made a difference between famine and survival
in southern Africa during 1992 was a dynamic labour market. Remittances
sent home to Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana and Malawi by migrant
workers in South Africa enabled a build-up of household assets
prior to the drought and served as an important source of non-farm
income during the crisis. Acute vulnerability to starvation in
Angola and Ethiopia is marked by constrained labour mobility.
Professor Joachim von Braun of Kiel University in Germany says
that to achieve food security in vulnerable economies, understanding
labour markets is as important as monitoring food markets.
At the national level, several crucial steps can be taken to mitigate
famine. First is frank political recognition of a problem. Governments
in Ethiopia, Niger and Sudan were overthrown because they turned
a blind eye to mass suffering from drought and famine. But early
recognition of a crisis, often prompted by a dynamic and uncensored
press, can translate into a more timely public response.
It is also essential to establish cooperation between government
ministries, with clearly defined lines of responsibility and funding,
before a crisis point has been reached. Ethiopia, for example,
set up a National Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Strategy
that establishes guidelines for institutional collaboration aimed
at more effective famine mitigation. Zimbabwe established an inter-ministerial
Drought Task Force during the 1980s, which was already in place
when drought struck in the early 1990s. In Botswana, good bottom-up
communications between local Rural Development Councils and relevant
cabinet ministries, notes Boitshepo Giyose, a Ministry of Health
nutritionist, enables the government to respond quickly to droughts.
However weak initially, such institutions are vital focal points
for early warning and rapid government response. Countries without
such institutional coordination fall prey to ad hoc responses
that cannot hope to fully utilize scarce resources for emergency
On a more practical level, basic infrastructure -- roads, railways,
communication lines, mills, market-places -- is required for the
timely and cost-effective use of resources. Some of this infrastructure
can be developed using labour-intensive technologies (thereby
generating jobs), as is currently done in Zimbabwe and Botswana.
Getting food to displaced Rwandan refugees in northeastern Zaire
in 1994 and to famine victims in northern Ethiopia during the
1980s was not easy, at least partly because those regions lack
usable roads. Airdrops become the costly and less-than-satisfactory
The 1991-92 intervention in Southern Africa, which was generally
deemed a success, cost the US Government more than $800 million.
In the context of strong government support in most affected countries,
this represented good donor coordination and the existence, by
African standards, of a highly developed road, port and rail infrastructure.
Without those facilities, the cost of the intervention would have
been much higher and its impact would probably have been considerably
less. This argues for sound investment in basic infrastructure,
particularly in regions where future interventions are likely.
Local economic diversification may also thereby be enhanced.
Strong coordination across regional groupings is likewise crucial.
West Africa's Sahel region has developed important domestic famine
early warning systems, codes of conduct for food aid use and contingency
plans for coordinated intervention against massive drought. In
Southern Africa, strong regional organization played a part in
dealing with the 1991-92 drought. By contrast, the Horn of Africa
and East and Central Africa have yet to organize successful, well-funded
and active regional bodies that can contribute to famine prevention.
Coordinated agricultural research that boosts productivity is
also a factor in famine prevention. With Africa's huge dependence
on agriculture, improved food security requires a strategy for
agricultural growth that promotes technological change and commercialization
for small-scale farmers.
Per Pinstrup-Andersen, director general of the Washington-based
International Food Policy Research Institute, stresses the adoption
of improved agricultural technology. Technological advances have
the potential to both increase the food supply and raise rural
incomes through employment. Small-scale irrigation (appropriate
to local priorities and technical feasibility), improved seeds
and fertilizer, and mechanical threshing and milling could make
significant contributions to raising land and labour productivity.
Improved seeds have made, and continue to make, an important contribution
to hunger alleviation, and not only by increasing staple food
crops. Growth in the staple food and cash crop sectors are not
mutually exclusive. Both depend on investments benefiting smallholders,
appropriate market and price-liberalization policies, infrastructural
development, access to inputs and credit for the poor, and improved
tenure rights (for pastoralists as well as farmers). Thus, concern
with national food security based on domestic self-sufficiency
could be enhanced by greater attention to the goal of improved
food security and the household level, based on higher incomes
from multiple sources.
Improvements in both food and cash crop productivity depend on
strong investments in agricultural programmes, including training
and extension services, and in agricultural research. And such
investments can have a high economic pay-off, according to a recent
evaluation by the US Agency for International Development of 14
agricultural research programmes operating in Africa since the
1980s. But investment requires a reversal of declining trends
in donor commitments to African agriculture.
The International Crops Research Centre for the Semi-Arid Tropics,
based in Zimbabwe, has worked for many years with national agricultural
research institutions in developing higher-yielding and more drought-resistant
varieties of sorghum and maize. When the drought wiped out the
seed stocks of tens of thousands of smallholders in Zimbabwe and
Zambia, the centre was able to supply large volumes of hybrid
seeds to farmers in both countries so they could reap a harvest
the following year. Countries and regions with limited investment
in agricultural research (such as large parts of the Horn) are
prey to serious shortages of basic seed stock after a drought,
and that limits the potential for future growth.
In the long run, it will be successful development activities
-- as opposed to emergency relief interventions -- that eradicate
famine. Success will depend on removing food insecurity from millions
of vulnerable households across Africa. But administrative and
financial capacities in the public sector for coping with and
investing against famine remain weak in most of Africa, especially
at regional and district levels. The same is true of capacities
in the private sector. Thus, the transition from famine to prosperity
will be fragile for years to come.
Success also requires strengthened cooperation between the public
and private sectors, and between national and international agencies.
As recognized in the upcoming World Food Summit (to be held in
Rome in November 1996), action is required to meet both today's
food crises and the burgeoning gap between food supplies and the
number of people without access to food. Such action will depend
on policies and programmes grounded in a better understanding
not only of the dynamics of the rural economy (the capacities
and constraints of rural smallholders), but also of the lessons
of past experience. And the most important lesson of all is that
investment today is the key to freeing Africa from the spectre
Patrick Webb is with the World Food Programme in Rome.
walking the famine tightrope
Ever since the height of Somalia's human-instigated famine
in 1992 the result largely of war, looting, banditry, and other
forms of greed and abuse by the warring factions the civilian
populations of this Horn of Africa nation continue to face an
uncertain struggle for survival. With a long-term political solution
as elusive as ever, Somalis are still very much at the mercy of
warlords intent on power and wealth.
While numerous representatives of the international humanitarian
community have pulled out of Somalia, some in utter disgust at
the pointlessness of continued relief, others, including the United
Nations, European Union and United States, have persisted in their
efforts to prop up the country by providing varying forms of assistance.
Yet is much of this aid simply causing an unhealthy dependence
on outside support thus ruining the country's chances for self-sufficiency
making it even more difficult to stave off the ever-present threat
Does food aid discourage local agriculture in Somalia by depressing
prices? My question stemmed from a United Nations report on Somalia's
recovery from drought and famine in 1992 and 1993. But as is often
the case with journalistic work, I never got a good answer. Instead,
I learned a lot about how things work in Nairobi's "food-ocracy",
the collection of aid organizations devoted to the long-distance
care and feeding of Somalia.
I learned that famine in the Horn of Africa is as much a spectre
today as it was four years ago, or even ten years ago, when Somalia
had deficits of about 150,000 metric tons of cereals a year. I
learned that the two super aid powers, the European Union and
the United States, cooperate on one level but disagree -- or is
it compete? -- on another; and that both depend on food statistics
which are practically meaningless, since there is still no national
government. Basic numbers such as Somalia's current estimated
population range from four million to eight million people.
Most intriguing of all, I learned that the European Union stands
ready to sell -- "monetize" is the word used in aid
circles -- 37,000 tonnes of commodities to Somalia in the coming
year, six times the annual size of a similar programme being closed
down by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). "After
March '95 (when the UN pulled out its last troops) everyone in
the international community got sick and tired of helping Somalia,"
said Laura Garagnani, rural development adviser in the Somalia
Unit of the European Commission. "But this is not the case
for the European Community. We're not here just for the emergency."
With an initial (but since scaled down) goal of selling 80,000
tonnes a year of oil, sugar and wheat flour to Somali traders
and ploughing the income into rehabilitation projects, the European
Union appears to be settling down for the long haul. They have
opened new offices around Somalia, including on the north coast.
They recently took reporters on a trip to Kismayo, supplying them
with press kits and key chains (and getting shot at because of
a protocol gaffe with Somali clan chiefs, according to press reports.)
They produce a slick magazine in English and Somali to report
on their efforts to help Somalia, and on topics internal to the
European Community. "It's very important that the Somalis
know what we are doing," said Sigurd Illing, the European
Commission's special envoy to Somalia.
Although food monetization and food aid are only part of the overall
international effort to rehabilitate Somalia, they are the lynchpin
to Somalia's economic recovery a fragile system undermined by
the lack of banks, local and national governments, roads, wells,
extensive agricultural cultivation and insecurity. After triggering
the UN's involvement in 1992, the Somali famine was defeated by
emergency feeding programmes and decent local harvests in 1994.
Wrongfooted by violent looting in the beginning, food aid officials
switched their strategy. Free food is now offered only to targeted
groups, such as mothers and infants, or to local areas where famine
But Somalia still walks a famine tightrope, experts say. That
is why economists and food experts in Nairobi continue to monitor
food production and food prices. Like doctors treating an infectious
patient through robotic arms, they collect information upon which
donors make decisions. The monitoring task is carried out by the
Food Security Assessment Unit, funded largely by the European
Commission, which provides $1 million a year, with support from
USAID and the UN's World Food Programme (WFP). It employs about
In September 1995, the unit predicted a 170,000 tonne shortage
-- a figure which EU officials said prompted their stepped up
food engagement. WFP and USAID said the figures were inflated,
since they were based on disputed population and food consumption
figures. WFP estimates total annual cereal consumption at 500,000
tonnes. "Our current view now is that there's probably enough
food available to muddle through this year without starvation,"
said Ronald Ullrich, director of USAID's Somalia Unit.
Not surprisingly, the donors also differ on how to cure the economy.
If there's a bumper maize crop in Somalia's breadbasket area around
Baidoa, WFP uses Somali traders to buy and support prices. But
CARE, which worked closely with WFP in the USAID-funded programme,
consider it a bad idea, says Nigel Nesbitt, CARE's monetization
Food has been used to pay medical workers, ditch diggers and school
teachers. Last year, the EU wanted to pay local police with food,
too. US officials objected, however, maintaining that it was wrong
for a foreign government to pay the salaries of local officials
because it robbed the fledgling local governments of their incentive
to organize taxation schemes. The US put pressure on WFP not to
carry out the EU scheme, a move which resulted in WFP's being
cut out of the EU's proposed new monetization scheme, officials
said. CARE got the contract instead.
"I've never understood the American position," Illing
said. "The Americans supported the idea of local police but
didn't want to pay them! They said local governments must raise
their own money. I said, `No, we must help them'." While
admitting that budget cutbacks in Washington had curtailed spending,
US officials argued that it is time for Somalia to stand on its
own; that Somalia needs more technical assistance for farmers;
and that food-for-work programs fail to stimulate commerce. They
also said paying local officials would simply repeat the dependency
created by the UN in 1992, when it began paying high salaries
The most recent food-related proposal in Nairobi would see the
EU launching its new monetization programme after USAID ended
its programme in June (1996.) Aid workers caution that monetization
-- the selling of "upmarket" food commodities to Somali
traders -- has little to do with feeding hungry people. Rather,
it helps stabilize market prices, deters hoarding, and generates
income to support development schemes.
At first glance, the concept seems absurdly redundant. Why not
just put money directly into programmes, instead of transporting
products from the donor countries? The most obvious answer is
that it allows donors to support their local farmers. But it also
stimulates commerce, economists stressed. Hardly a new concept
in international food programmes, what makes monetization unique
for Somalia is that there is no central government to coordinate
market studies and economic statistics. Food economists in Nairobi
said the timing and pricing of products are sensitive issues which
can have dire effects on the economy if done incorrectly. Also,
in the wake of the violence after the UN's withdrawal in March
1996, WFP has been forced to resort to offshore trading with Somali
merchants who must hire ships willing to transport the goods to
temporary ports in Somalia. These ports may have to close when
the trade winds shift, normally in mid-year, aid officials said.
The EU plans to test its new programme in the Gedo district, using
overland routes through Kenya to bring food to the Somali border,
before proceeding with the 37,000-tonne plan. During USAID's three
years of monetization, only 18,000 tonnes were made available.
Critics say the EU's programme could destroy the little progress
made in the Somali economy, is driven by the desire of the EU
to use up European surplus food, is motivated by the EU's need
to establish an identity separate from the United Nations, and
is intended to embarrass the US and UN for failures in Somalia.
EU supporters dismiss the criticism as sour grapes over dwindling
US finances and as turf wars with the United Nations. No one has
overtly suggested that there are geopolitical considerations,
but the question should be raised since it does represent a shifting
of the sands on the Horn of Africa. Certainly, the ironies of
food support for Somalia include the fact that it is exporting
twice as many animals as before the civil war, to Saudi Arabia
and other Gulf states; that exports of fruits and vegetables have
picked up; and that Somalis spend about $300,000 a month on the
drug "khat", imported from Kenya, food aid officials
"Africa is a culture which used to be much more self-sustaining
in the past, when there was no United Nations," said Gekard
van Dijk, Somalia country director for WFP. "Now, with the
development of towns and [misguided international aid programmes]
both are destroying that self reliance."
Pat Reber is a freelance writer for American newspapers, including USA Today. Formerly based in Nairobi, she has now moved
Hunger in the United States:
a failure to administer the cure
The real tragedy behind hunger in the United States is that
at least 30 million men, women and children are plagued by a problem
that exists for no apparent reason. Not only is the United States
famine-free, but food is in such plentiful supply that, nationwide,
US households waste enough food to feed the population of Canada.
Christine Vladimiroff of the Chicago-based Second Harvest, America's
largest domestic hunger relief agency consisting of a network
of 181 food banks, comments on what many consider to be a problem
that only plagues Third World nations.
Hunger in the United States is a problem that looms large, but
it also is largely hidden. Too many people in the United States
think hunger is a problem that exists only in foreign countries.
Their perceptions are shaped by the memorable scenes of famine-stricken
lands shown on television. In everything from 30-second television
ads to 30-minute infomercials (information commercials), US viewers
routinely are bombarded with heart-wrenching images of emaciated
people in poor nations. Listless children with sparse, discoloured
hair, gaunt faces, distended bellies and skeletal limbs stare
at viewers through vacant eyes and capture their hearts. The plight
of these pitiable children is sad, touching and comfortingly remote.
The causes of widespread hunger abroad are explained as television
cameras pan either flooded farmlands, or the cracked, parched
and unyielding earth of drought-stricken countries. Cameras show
the hunger of displaced families cut off from basic food supplies
after fleeing the battle zones of their war-torn nations. Viewers
learn of overpopulation, poor living conditions, limited resources
and the general deprivation of peoples living under oppressive,
corrupt or bankrupt governments. These powerful and increasingly
familiar images evoke sympathetic responses from American viewers,
as well they should. But these same images may make it difficult
for Americans to recognize the face of hunger at home.
Hunger in the United States is insidious, preying on one out of
nine Americans, including more than 12 million children and 3
million elderly people. It also means low birth-weight babies,
the second-highest highest infant mortality rate among the world's
20 largest industrialized nations, and 40,000 infants who die
each year before reaching their first birthday. Hunger in the
world's richest country is a malnourished toddler who may never
achieve his or her full mental potential, a child who is small
for his or her age, a student who cannot learn, and an adolescent
whose chronic health problems suggest a shortened life span.
At the same time, hunger in the United States implies malnutrition
-- not having enough of the right foods to maintain good health.
Chronically undernourished children are beset by lethargy as nature
sets triage priorities that, according to the Tufts University
Center on Hunger, Poverty and Nutrition Policy, require conserving
the body's energy, first for the maintenance of vital internal
organs, next for physical growth and, finally, for mental development.
Malnutrition may begin when a single-parent family or other working-poor
household attempts to stretch the food budget by adopting a more-affordable,
high-starch diet -- a diet that may leave them overweight, undernourished
and chronically short of energy.
Hunger also is found among the elderly and disabled. Faced with
the difficult choice of "heating or eating," retirees
living on fixed incomes may subsist on meals of tea and crackers
in order to pay the winter heating bill. This type of hidden drama
is replayed for even higher stakes when the "choice"
is between buying food or prescription medication. In addition,
hunger affects America's newly unemployed, whose ranks have swollen
in recent years as more white-collar (office) workers fall victim
to corporate "downsizing."
Hunger also afflicts the long-term unemployed, people with untreated
mental illness, homeless people, alcoholics and substance abusers
-- those the judgmental would call the "undeserving"
Overall, hungry Americans are more mainstream than previously
thought, according to the groundbreaking 1993 National Hunger
Study commissioned by Second Harvest, a nationwide network of
food banks focusing on hunger relief. The study, involving personal
interviews with more than 8,000 clients of soup kitchens, food
pantries, shelters and
other emergency feeding programs, reveals:
- · nearly 95 per cent of these clients live in the same
county as the programme from which they receive food;
- · more than half (51 percent) of food recipients are
- · most (60 percent) of the clients are high school graduates
or have educational training beyond that level;
- · 54.5 percent of clients did not foresee needing emergency
food assistance as few as three months before they were interviewed;
- · 66.5 percent of the unemployed client respondents are
looking for work;
- · 23.5 percent of food recipients are recently unemployed
(three months or less), and
- · 43 percent of food recipients are children.
What these statistics indicate is that hunger in the United States
is affecting our friends and neighbours -- many of whom are educated
and hard-working. These are real people with problems not unlike
our own. We ourselves could be in similar straits should divorce,
widowhood, illness or unemployment jeopardize our financial stability.
Among the inestimable costs of hunger is the loss of human capital.
Will the next Bill Gates, or the person who could give the world
a cure for cancer, be lost because that child lacks adequate nutrition
during the critical first two years of life when the brain grows
to 80 percent of its adult size? Can we afford to let the light
of hope dim in the eyes of more than 12 million US children?
Dorothy Day, a leading proponent of social justice, once said,
"When I feed the hungry they call me a saint. When I ask
why they are hungry, they call me a communist." There we
have the problem in a nutshell: hunger in the United States has
both a moral and a political side. Everyone knows that food is
the solution to the problem of hunger. Since the United States
clearly has the food resources necessary to eradicate domestic
hunger, it can only be assumed that hunger persists because the
nation lacks the moral passion and political will to end it.
Children and the elderly account for half of the chronically hungry
people in the United States. If the measure of a just society
is gauged by how well it treats its most vulnerable citizens,
then the moral imperative to help the old, the young and those
who cannot help themselves, is clear. As for the rest, they may
require help to overcome the chronic hunger that robs them of
the health and stamina they need to help themselves.
People who recognize the face of hunger see the fallacy in the
old adage that says, "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for
a day; teach him to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime." If
we are to teach people to fish we must first give them fish to
eat, so that they will be equipped to learn. This is today's reality,
while the politicians give mixed signals.
So far in this presidential election year, politicians have called
for massive welfare reform and have threatened funding cuts for
food subsistance, nutrition and government commodities programs
-- the potential effect of which is to push more Americans into
the ranks of the hungry. On the other hand, prospects are bright
regarding congressional support of an increase in the minimum
wage standard, which would give the working poor a livable salary.
One thing is certain, if strong, bipartisan government support
is partnered with private efforts, hunger in the United States
can be eradicated -- as it very nearly was a few decades ago.
In 1967 the Field Foundation sponsored a study by a team of pediatricians
who examined thousands of poor children in the rural South and
reported to the US Congress: "Wherever we went...we saw children
in significant numbers who were hungry and sick, children for
whom hunger is a daily fact of life...They are visibly and predictably
losing their health, their energy and their spirits. They are
suffering from hunger and disease and directly or indirectly they
are dying from them -- which is exactly what `starvation' means."
Afterwards, CBS television aired an emotional documentary titled,
"Hunger in America," and then- President Richard Nixon
called for an end to domestic hunger and formed a special White
House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health made up of private
citizens. Government food assistance programmes, including School
Lunch, Food Stamps and WIC (Women, Infants and Children) programmes,
were enhanced and extended to those in need throughout the 1970s.
When a second Field Foundation pediatrician team revisited the
same areas in 1977, they reported tremendous progress during the
intervening decade, and attributed it to the federal food assistance
programmes. They concluded: "...There are far fewer grossly
malnourished people in the country than there were 10 years ago...This
change does not appear to be due to an overall improvement in
living standards, or to a decrease in joblessness in those areas...But
in the area of food there is a difference."
The Field Foundation model is one all hunger-relief organizations
must strive to emulate in order bring about an end to hunger in
the United States. By providing a clear definition of a national
problem, Field Foundation researchers were able to garner significant,
thoughtful media coverage which, in turn, spurred public outcry
and gained government attention. Then, through public/private
alliance, remedial action was instituted.
The problem is that the job of ending domestic hunger was never
completed, but because there was significant progress and initial
success, many people concluded that there was no more work to
be done. The challenge now is to keep the issue of hunger foremost
in the mind of the public and to continue looking for that defining
moment that will once again thrust the issue into the media spotlight.
Second Harvest responds to this challenge by assuming a leadership
role in public education and advocacy on behalf of chronically
hungry Americans. In addition to feeding 26 million people this
year, the food bank network is raising public awareness of the
nature and solutions to the problem of hunger, confident that
the nation cannot remain silent if it knows about the effectiveness
of federal food and nutrition assistance programs, such as the
WIC programme for pregnant women, nursing mothers and infants.
WIC has the potential to prevent the 20,000 infant deaths per
year that a Baylor College pediatrician, in a US Senate hearing,
attributed to poor prenatal nutrition and care. Further, a government
study cites Medicaid savings of up to $4.21 for each WIC dollar
The problem of hunger in the United States has been clearly defined.
It is a problem without adequate cause, but with ample solutions.
What greater injustice will it take to again inspire the moral
outrage and political action that led President Nixon to vow to
"End hunger in America for all time"? Every day, 30
million Americans are being consumed by hunger, and we have the
antidote. How long must they wait before we administer the cure?
Christine Vladimiroff is executive director of Second Harvest,
an agency which promotes the distribution of surplus food to hungry
people by helping community food banks obtain donations from food
producers, processors, and retailers for distribution to local
charities. It also seeks to educate the public about the nature
of and solutions to the problems of hunger.
Contact: Second Harvest, 116 South Michigan Avenue, Suite 4, Chicago,
Illinois 60603-6001, USA.
Tel: 1(312)-263-2303. Fax: 1(312)-263-5626.
Creative radio for development
For four days in May, radio broadcasters from twenty countries
gathered in Birmingham, England, to examine how radio can be used
more extensively in humanitarian crises throughout the world.
Entitled "Creative Radio for Development." the conference
was concerned not with radio's reporting role, but with its ability
to convey life giving basic educational skills such as child health,
farming, coping with environmental and human disasters. The participants
were united in believing that radio has great potential in this
field , and they started making plans to campaign for its greater
use worldwide. In the following articles, CROSSLINES looks at
some of the issues raised in the Conference. First, Gordon Adam,
deputy editor of CROSSLINES and coordinator of the Conference,
considers its outcome and how the "creative radio" initiative
can be carried forward.
The premise for the "Creative Radio for Development "
conference was that the aid community has largely ignored radio
as a means of reaching millions of the most disadvantaged people
on earth, despite its unrivalled reach and its cost effectiveness.
This is against a background of greatly increased numbers of people
being faced with humanitarian crises and needing access to impartial
information, a rise from 11 to 75 million people in the past 30
years, according to the International Federation of Red Cross
and Red Crescent Societies.
The conference heard a number of case studies which proved beyond
doubt that high quality radio could have a remarkable educational
impact. But often where radio is being used in developing countries,
it is not educationally effective because of poor programmes or
lack of resources. An additional problem is that the few radio
practitioners who are making original programming are usually
working in isolation, and to some extent re-inventing the wheel
in their individual attempts to overcome common difficulties.
Gathering together eighty broadcasters from 20 countries in one
place for four days had the benefit of defining at least some
of the problems, and coming up with potential solutions. The timing,
it seems, was right: in the words of Britain's Minister for Overseas
Development, Baroness Linda Chalker, in her address to participants
and funders, it was "a nettle which needed to be grasped."
Lady Chalker is not alone in thinking that the malevolent use
of radio in Rwanda "helped to bring into sharper focus"
the possibilities of a more positive use for this medium. She
stressed that in future "we must make sure the positive is
in action before the negative."
That is an ambitious objective, but one which Britain's Overseas
Development Agency (ODA) seems to be backing, with a strong hint
from the Minister that a Media Adviser would shortly be appointed
to help coordinate best practice in development communications
projects. The US Agency for International Development (USAID)
has similarly indicated that it will be formulating a radio communications
strategy following a hearing of the Senate African Affairs Sub
committee, at which the pro-active use of radio programming for
development was scrutinised. Two major international broadcasters,
the Voice of America and the BBC World Service, are laying new
emphasis on their educational, as opposed to their traditional
news and current affairs, role.
What's now needed are better communications between development
radio practitioners, more advocacy for radio's use amongst funders
and aid policy makers, and an initiative on training radio professionals
both in the North and the South in the specific skills needed
in creative radio for development. In addition, it is clear that
there is a special role for radio in conflict areas, both as a
provider of basic education and as a means of promoting peace
A significant step in improving networking has been taken with
the Internet mailing list for radio practitioners being set up
under the umbrella of the International Centre for Humanitarian
Reporting (ICHR) as part of a new project to be known as the Radio
Partnership. The mailing list should prove to be a valuable tool
for collecting information on best practice, which will be fed
into advocacy efforts to promote the use of radio in this field.
Funders, however, tend to be convinced only by results: a start
was made in the Conference presentation to Lady Chalker, where
a number of successful projects were summarized; to take just
three contrasting examples:
In Kenya, the Johns Hopkins Centre for Communications Programmes'
AIDS awareness broadcast "The Youth Variety Show", resulted
a shift of 39 percent to 71 percent of young people attending
the sexually transmitted diseases (STD) clinics saying they came
after hearing the show.
In Mali, a pilot project by Cranfield University's Disaster Preparedness
Centre working with an Oxfam-funded local radio station "Daande
Dwentza," concentrated on informing villagers how best to
protect the young shoots of naturally regenerating trees. After
the programmes, 42 percent of villagers asked were marking the
shoots in the recommended way, compared with just 6 percent before
In Afghanistan, the BBC Afghan Education Drama Project's three
times weekly radio soap opera "New Home New Life", is
followed by millions of listeners, mostly women, children and
young men. It seems able to influence women's understanding of
vital life-skills, which is of particular value as women in Afghanistan,
as in many other developing countries, are difficult to reach.
One example: the need to give new-born calves their mothers' colostrum
-- understanding of this rose threefold as a result of listening
to "New Home New Life".
Underpinning these, and most other success stories, is painstaking
research of the issues prior to the broadcasts among the target
audience. The use of participatory research techniques to discover
the listeners' agenda -- what their major problems are in everyday
life -- is the key to producing programmes which are lively and
relevant. People listen to the programmes, remember them, discuss
them and perhaps even act on them, making them an educational
But there are difficulties in defining "success." In
radio-led development communications: should this be simply a
calculation of the numbers of people whose behaviour has changed
due to the broadcasts, or some wider definition? Proving behavioural
change as a result of radio listening is often not possible. A
conference working group provided a helpful starting point for
a wider definition of "success": that impact could occur
at any stage in the broadcasting process from research and pre-testing
through to training, interviewing and intersectoral collaboration.
One example of this is the partnership with the British NGO Health
Unlimited who sponsored the conference and runs a media-led health
education project in Cambodia. The emphasis here is on-the-job
training with a core group of local broadcasters.
These difficulties are particularly acute in conflict areas where
radio has a proven role in providing essential health and other
humanitarian information, as Radio Agatashya has shown in Rwanda.
This Swiss-managed radio station was set up in August 1994 within
six weeks of the Rwanda crisis unfolding, and with UNHCR funding
it continues to use accurate reporting to combat the partisan
information of other local broadcasters.
A related challenge is to provide effective programming for conflict
resolution. The BBC Afghan Education Drama Project has just held
a workshop with a British conflict resolution NGO "Finding
Common Ground" to plan the integration of a conflict resolution
storyline into the "New Home New Life" soap opera. Among
the themes for inclusion are outsiders profiting from in-fighting,
the role of women as peace makers, and the frustrations of the
stop-start process which frequently characterizes mediation attempts.
As Clare Pointon discusses in her article on page 33, Paul Richards'
idea of emphasising "smart relief" rather than "bulk
relief" evoked great interest both at the conference and
subsequently. His argument is that radio programming is -- or
should aspire to be -- fair and all-inclusive: access to radios
is very considerable in the developing world, with an estimated
53 million sets around. Bulk relief such as food is, of course,
essential in emergencies, but its long-term provision distorts
the market and frequently causes conflict because it is exclusive
-- some communities are perceived to benefit at the expense of
others. Appropriate radio programming could, by countering rumour,
help reduce tensions and foster reconciliation.
For some journalists, this emerging role for radio in humanitarian
crises poses ethical problems. What is the dividing line between
enhancing listeners' choices and supplying propaganda? This is
discussed further by Loretta Hieber. The arguments are likely
to continue, and it is right they should. But what is emerging
is the great potential role for radio in humanitarian crises,
a growing willingness by international broadcasters and aid agencies
to explore the possibilities.
This is a task in which the ICHR, with its new Radio Partnership,
plans to be closely involved. After all, ICHR was set up to facilitate
the responsible coverage of humanitarian and development stories.
The concept of promoting the creative use of the media on behalf
of those living in areas of humanitarian crisis, is the other
side of the coin, and it lies at the heart of the ICHR Radio Partnership's
Gordon Adam is Deputy Editor of CROSSLINES Global Report.
Small wars and smart relief
Nowhere is radio more vital than in areas of conflict, when
there is no electricity to run TVs, newspapers can't be circulated,
ground communications are often disrupted, and radio is typically
the only way of countering rumour and keeping people informed.
In his presentation "Small Wars and Smart Relief", Professor
Paul Richards of University College London went one step further.
"Peace is a process and must be facilitated...there are no
magic solutions," says Paul Richards, Professor of Anthropology
at University College, London. In his speech to the conference,
Richards outlined his vision of using radio in brokering peace
in conflict zones. In his view, it is all about empowering people
from the region, themselves, to use the airwaves for peace.
For Richards, it is often not enough to give relief in the form
of food and provisions in a war or conflict. He calls this "bulk
relief," which creates a sense of patronage, and a clientele.
By helping one group, an agency can effectively be excluding another.
This kind of aid, he argues, can end up exacerbating tensions.
What is needed instead, he maintains, is "smart relief,"
a form of aid which does not create relationships of dependency
on one side or power on the other.
Radio broadcasting can be used as "smart relief," argues
Richards, because it has the potential to signal incorporation
rather than exclusion. As an example he points to the civil conflict
in and around the town of Bo in Sierra Leone. With the need to
draw the rebels into the peace process, radio is now the most
obvious medium to speak to them. It is too early for face-to-face
talks, he suggests: a group of women who went to meet the rebels
in an attempt to broker peace were slaughtered. Armed units on
the ground are too nervous and unpredictable. Radio, however,
is just the kind of remote contact needed.
In a situation where the rebels have radios and listen avidly
to the local FM station, Richards says, there is powerful potential
to get across clear messages of peace. But this is something which
must be done from inside the community itself. "As outsiders,
we've no magic solution that can trigger a peace process,"
he says. "People have different contributions to make to
allow a community to learn more quickly what has happened to itself
and help lift the fog of war. But if they don't want to, there
is nothing an outsider can do..."
So, what role can international NGOs play in this process? Richards
believes that, where there is a civic momentum for peace in a
community such as Bo, outsiders should work as facilitators. Rather
than taking to the microphone themselves or even directing the
messages put across, NGOs should be encouraging local people to
do it for themselves -- whether by scattering radios for rebels
to pick up or by helping train journalists on the ground.
In the debate which followed Richards' presentation, participants
in the conference explored a number of more general ways in which
broadcasters can contribute to peacemaking. There were suggestions
that broadcasters should consciously see themselves as mediators,
giving as much airtime as possible to those involved in the peacemaking
process, rather than focusing, as is often the case, on those
responsible for the conflict. And the idea was floated of highlighting
the economic benefits of peace in an attempt to counter the perception
among large sectors of the population that they have more to gain
economically from war. However, there was also the argument --
powerful among many journalists -- that the purpose of reporting
is to reflect rather than to change society.
But before any of this new effort can start, the question remains:
how to assess the need in a particular part of the world, especially
one in conflict? The conference gave participants the chance,
in one of the workshops, to discuss this issue. Those involved
agreed in the main that, where a conflict is at crisis point,
the needs will reveal themselves, while in a situation of more
long-term conflict it is appropriate and important to carry out
a thorough investigation before sending people and aid into the
There was a general consensus that greater co-ordination is needed.
Aid agencies considering entering an area should have access to
information gathered by those already on the ground, and there
should be some form of resource documentation containing a record
of strategies and best practice as well as lists of expertise
and experience to match specific needs. The workshop also discussed
the importance of good co-ordination with the media.
Among the ideas put forward for using radio as a tool in areas
of conflict was the training of local journalists in the precepts
of impartiality and neutrality -- a project already undertaken
by CARE UK in Rwanda. The use of radio soap operas to transmit
specific messages was also highlighted and the importance of comedy
as therapeutic relief for those living in conflict zones.
But one of the most challenging questions raised -- and one not
wholly resolved at the workshop -- was how far it was possible
to anticipate conflict and work to prevent it happening in the
first place. Radio monitoring, it was pointed out, is a key part
of that equation -- and one that could also be used to help answer
the question of where and when to send in aid.
Clare Pointon is a radio journalist working with the BBC
Education or propaganda?
As the previous article discussed, the role of the radio
journalist in a conflict was a hotly debated subject. Some of
those at the Conference also needed convincing that the "creative"
element of radio programming was relevant in making an educational
impact on listeners. Among them was a radio journalist formerly
with Swiss Radio International.
As a radio journalist I have produced features on development
projects in various parts of the world. I presumed that radio
in development meant the production of news programmes and magazines
devoted to development issues. Instead, in Birmingham, I was introduced
to a different type of development radio, one in which fictional
Nepalese tribal chiefs compete to hold the most lavish weddings
and fictional places with names like Soul City come alive as its
inhabitants cope with real life hopes, aspirations and fear.
As I listened to the radio producers in Birmingham discuss design
teams and needs assessment, images of my own past reporting assignments
kept springing to mind. How often had I reported from countries
where similar radio programmes could have had an important impact
and in some cases, even saved lives?
One example: the remote mountainous region of inland Yemen. For
years the Swiss Development Corporation has sponsored a reforestation
programme designed to save Yemen's last indigenous forest. One
day in November 1992, I accompanied the Swiss Field Officer Martin
Herzog and his Yemeni staff on a trek to a remote village: the
men were sitting on the ground, Indian-style, puffing away at
ghat-filled pipes, radios blaring in the background. We stayed
just a half-hour -- enough time for Martin, through a translator
-- to spread his reforestation message. Then we began the long
descent back down the mountainside.
In Birmingham, I realized how much easier and cost-effective it
would have been to broadcast radio programmes to this population.
In this part of Yemen, a soap opera drama style programme would
have reached a captive audience, one which clearly would have
enjoyed a diversion in their daily lives.
Another, more tragic, example of where radio could have had an
important impact was in Somalia in spring 1992. Aid workers were
desperate to spread the message to the countryside that Somalis
should not attempt to walk to the capital Mogadishu to seek food.
Yet each day, thousands of starving Somalis would arrive in there,
exhausted and in a weakened state, only to find that no food was
available. Radio could have, and should have, been used in this
crisis situation to prevent suffering and loss of life.
Why hasn't radio been used more effectively in development projects
and in crisis situations? Perhaps the answer lies with the question:
who should produce these programmes? The journalist/broadcaster
is, after all, an impartial provider of information. He or she
is not a social worker, nor a development specialist, and certainly
not a purveyor of messages designed to bring conflicts to a peaceful
resolution. This lies squarely within the Anglo-Saxon notion of
journalism and one which I had until recently willingly adopted
as my own. The question of the role of journalist vs. development
worker was one I grappled with during the conference and the best
answer I have yet to find is this: we may carry the title journalist
or producer but in effect, we are all communicators.
The messages we communicate -- whether hard news programmes, or
soap opera dramas -- should be judged by the impact they have
on the audience. In a world where powerfully negative forces have
understood the power of radio, as in Rwanda, it is shortsighted
to shrug off development radio as just another form of propaganda.
The skills of experienced and creative producers are needed to
ensure the success of development radio programmes or radio programming
in crisis situations. Is this advocacy rather than journalism?
Perhaps, but I believe journalists have a responsibility to provide
audiences with the information they need, not just the information
we want to give them. It just makes good sense to provide this
information in a format which fully captures the attention of
the listener and is entertaining. Drama works on an emotional
level and it is precisely on this level that people in a crisis
situation are most susceptible to influence. If the aim is to
change the behaviour of the listener, for his or her benefit,
then drama would indeed be the most effective way to achieve this
goal. Excellence of story telling crosses all frontiers.
As an example, during the conference we heard a clip of a Jamaican
couple lamenting a future without grand-children. Their son had
become infected with the AIDS virus. From the looks on the faces
of the other conference participants, it was clear this message,
transmitted through radio drama, was extraordinarily powerful.
It is doubtful that a more traditional means of communicating
AIDS awareness could have had the same impact.
The Birmingham conference convinced me as an international radio
broadcaster that international radio, in particular, could profit
by becoming more actively involved in this field. Radio soap operas
such as "New Home New Life" produced by the BBC World
Service's Pashto section have attracted faithful audiences of
millions. This remarkable success comes at the same time that
other international stations are constantly seeking new ways to
attract a waning international audience. Often these stations
attempt solutions such as increasing satellite transmissions,
or rescheduling news programmes to better time slots. It seems
likely that focusing on issues which directly impact listeners,
and doing so in an entertaining way, might go a long way to help
counter the decrease.
I left determined to create a radio drama drawing creatively from
Rwanda's tragic past and conflict-ridden present in order to help,
even just a bit, create a more peaceful future for that country.
This isn't at odds with my journalistic vocation. It is, rather
a reaffirmation of why I chose this profession -- to have an impact
on those who listen to my programmes.
Loretta Hieber is an American radio journalist based in Switzerland.