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Somali Famine Was Preventable

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There are many things in life that can be prevented before they escalate out of control. The recent famine in Somalia is an example for KUNC commentator Dr. Pius Kamau. While the world community should have been prepared for what’s happening now – he says those involved need to take responsibility too.

Because of my impotence to do anything meaningful – I find the current famine in the Horn of Africa gut wrenching. For unlike most Americans, it has a personal significance to me. I know where the thousands of Somalis pouring across the border into Kenya are going and the terrain they have to traverse just to survive. It’s dismaying to me because it’s yet another of those predictable and mightily preventable disasters that await Africa at the turn of every decade. Unless we decide to take a proactive stance now – history will continue to repeat itself.

For years the world community knew that a famine of epic proportions was in the offing. But we managed to keep our heads buried in the sand until TV images of emaciated and dying babies woke us up from our indolence. Of course climate change, global warming and this once in a century drought haven’t helped. Poor Somalis, like many other Africans depend on unpredictable rains. And governments that are at best shadows in empty rooms and at worst men with guns shooting at each other or the citizens they’re supposed to protect.  This is particularly true of Somalia with its weak, Western supported Central government confined to a small part of Mogadishu. Decades of interclan fighting has turned Somalia into a lawless rubble strewn No Man’s land. 

In an anarchic terrain many are to blame. But as we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Al Shabaab, an Al Qaeda affiliate, not only dominates South Somalia – it has stopped attempts at feeding the starving. I am surprised that Saudi Arabia and other neighboring Muslim countries haven’t played a leading role in offering aid to Somalia. The same is true of Muslim charitable organizations who are so far absent from the famine’s epicenter.  

Looking at today’s Somalia and at past African crises and shortcomings I believe that Africans themselves must also own the problems of the continent:  the poverty, the ever-encroaching desert and drying up lakes and rivers. If the African Union won’t take a lead in managing predictable problems and other African ailments, how can we blame the West for its indifference? The famine in Somalia and Zimbabwe show that without a unified approach and an attitude of self-help, the continent will continue to unravel.       

I don’t by any means want to suggest that Americans and the West should not assist in the Horn of Africa. We should. What I think we need is perception, understanding of tomorrow’s African problems followed by a proactive solution. We are wealthy but need to cooperatively work with others to tailor long-term solutions to many problems of the poor. If we do so there will not be another Somalia famine. I know my check will buy a child’s meal for several days, but it’s only a band aid in a situation that requires major surgery.

Born in Kenya and trained in Spain, Pius Kamau has been in surgical practice in the Denver area for three decades. He was a columnist for The Rocky Mountain News and has written for The Denver Post. Kamau’s commentaries have also been featured on NPR, in the Huffington Post and other national magazines and newspapers. He’s also contributed to several books and recently finished his memoir.
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