Saturday, July 10, 2010

Famine and Foreigners: Ethiopia Since Live Aid (Peter Gill)

Ethiopia Since Live Aid, Part III: On Africa, aid, and the West
From OUPblog - Thursday, July 8th, 2010:

Peter Gill is a journalist specialising in developing world affairs, and first travelled to Ethiopia in the 1960s. He has made films in and reported from Gaza, Lebanon, Afghanistan, South Africa, Uganda, and Sudan, as well as Ethiopia. He recently led BBC World Service Trust campaigns on leprosy and HIV/AIDS in India. His new book is Famine and Foreigners: Ethiopia Since Live Aid, which is the story of what has happened in the country since the famous music and television events 25 years ago.

This third and final part of our ‘Ethiopia Since Live Aid’ blog feature is an original post by Peter Gill, in which he discusses the West’s view of aid and Africa. If you missed it, on Tuesday we read an excerpt from the book, and yesterday we ran an exclusive Q&A with Peter.

This 2010 ‘Summer of Africa’ has been promoted as a moment of transformation – an acknowledgment that the continent may at last be on the move, that it may be beginning to cast off its image as global basket case, ceasing to be a ‘scar on the conscience of humanity,’ in the phrase of former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

It was 25 years ago in July that a great Ethiopian famine and the Live Aid concert which it inspired underlined the physical and moral enormity of mass death by starvation. These events defined popular outrage at the human cost of extreme poverty and began to build an extraordinary consensus around the merits of aid. A generation later, in the teeth of financial gales in the rich world, this consensus is under increasing scrutiny.

Of course aid works and it works at many levels. Charity is an essential characteristic of social relationships. It saves lives and it helps individuals, families, sometimes whole communities to improve their existence. What the big aid flows – from governments and charities – have not done is to change the face of poor societies, to overcome the disgrace of extreme poverty.

Now the western world may have missed its opportunity to fix the problem. It may no longer have the means. It is also far too preoccupied with addressing the processes of how best to deliver aid, and has failed to sort out whether it had the right strategy in the first place.

What went wrong, I believe, is that we kept seeing Africa in our own image – as we would like it to be, rather than as it was. The colonial period may have become history, but the colonial mindset of ‘we-know-best’ has surely persisted. We compounded the error by allowing our hearts to rule our heads in how we spend the aid money. We have been more troubled by the symptoms of poverty than to see where our help was most needed.

Our fortunate way of the life in the West – prosperity allied with liberal democratic forms of government – may be the envy and the aspiration of many in the poor world, but did that give us the right in the name of ‘good governance’ to insist that there are quick and easy steps to achieving it? In the decades after Europe’s helter-skelter decolonisation, was it realistic to ignore the lessons of our own tortured political evolution and demand swift democratic reform as a condition of aid?

Our rich world sensibilities have, rightly, been offended by deaths from preventable diseases and we have, again rightly, poured money into ever more ambitious health initiatives. But we have made little corresponding effort to help African women plan their families by plugging the huge gap in contraceptive needs. Aid expenditure on family planning has actually fallen in the past decade and for 2010 the United Nations is projecting a paltry $414 million in Sub Saharan Africa compared with $16 billion for HIV/AIDS, 40 times as much.

As in so much, Ethiopia is the iconic example. At the time of the great famine in 1984-5, the population stood at 40 million. It is now 80 million and the demographers say it will double again within the next 25 to 30 years. This increase is barely sustainable.In recent years the Ethiopian government has made big efforts to bring modern contraceptive techniques to rural areas, but there has been no corresponding leadership from the West and that in turn has discouraged the Ethiopians from making population into the political priority it will have to be.

The West has been similarly negligent in the field of agriculture development. In a continent where up to three quarters of people are dependent on agriculture for survival, we have poured billions into getting children into rural primary schools, but have made little provision for the fact that too many of them come to school hungry, too many drop out within a year and that there are too few jobs beyond the land if they do finish school. In the 20 years after the Ethiopian famine aid to African agriculture collapsed by almost two thirds, from $3 billion to $1.2 billion.

A generation on from Live Aid there is now an alternative model of development emerging from the East. The Chinese have raised several hundred million of their own people out of poverty and are beginning to offer the lessons to Africa. There is less of an accent on charity and welfare, more attention paid to trade investment, technical inputs and, most of all, to infrastructure projects, including the roads to get an agricultural economy moving forward.

In the West the Chinese are commonly criticised for exploiting Africa’s natural resources and mocked for disregarding human rights in the name of ‘non-interference.’ But if we are truly interested in eliminating extreme poverty it is surely sensible to pose the question whether the West or the East is likely to have the better answer. Man of course does not live by bread alone, but it is an essential start. [end of copy]

Hat tip: Sudan news from The New York Times

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Ethiopia Since Live Aid, Part III: On Africa, aid, and the West

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Monday, July 05, 2010

New York Times Correspondent Facing Arrest over Child Soldier Interviews Flees Somalia

New York Times Correspondent Facing Arrest over Child Soldier Interviews Flees Somalia / Even in Times of Crisis, Government Has Duty to Uphold Journalists’ Rights, Says IPI
Source: International Press Institute (IPI)
MOGADISHU, Somalia - July 5, 2010 via APO:
Mohammed Ibrahim, New York Times correspondent and Programme Coordinator at the National Union of Somali Journalists. File photo

A Somali correspondent for the New York Times, Mohammed Ibrahim, told IPI by phone on Thursday that he had fled the country following death threats and attempted arrest by government security forces.

On 15 June, the New York Times ran an article headlined “Children Carry Guns for a U.S. Ally, Somalia,” under the byline of the newspaper’s East Africa bureau chief, Jeffrey Gettleman. The piece included information from interviews conducted by Mohammed Ibrahim with child soldiers.

The Somali government has since denied that its army employs child soldiers.

In a later New York Times article, foreign backers of Somalia expressed concern over the allegations.

In response, the Somali government began hunting down anyone involved in the child soldier piece, said Omar Faruk Osman, who heads the National Union of Somali Journalists – for which Ibrahim also works.

Members of the Somali security services began contacting Ibrahim shortly after the story ran, he told IPI. He received an email from the director of communications at Villa Somalia, the presidential palace, asking him to appear for a meeting with security chiefs. The communications director assured Ibrahim that he would not be harmed.

“It was like a trick,” Ibrahim said. He never showed up.

On 24 June, the government held a press conference during which it again denied that it used child soldiers, Ibrahim told IPI. According to Ibrahim, the government had detained the child soldiers interviewed for the piece, and forced them to recant their story.

On the same day, security officers attempted to arrest Ibrahim while he was eating lunch in a restaurant. According to Ibrahim, he was set up by an acquaintance from the government-run Radio Mogadishu who has ties to Somali intelligence. Thanks to a tip from another source, he was able to leave the restaurant before security personnel arrived. Ibrahim reportedly later spoke to witnesses who said that over twenty police officers arrived to arrest him, some of whom were spotted with Mohammed’s name written on their palms.

On 26 June, Ibrahim said, he spotted police officers looking for him in the Trebiano area of Mogadishu, where he had gone to purchase a plane ticket.

“The guys were the same guys who attacked me at the restaurant on 24 June…. and I immediately noticed that they were in search of me and left the area immediately,” Ibrahim said in an emailed statement. He left the area immediately. Ibrahim said he realized then that he could not leave the country through the airport – which is controlled by the Somali government.

Ibrahim travelled by bus for three days to reach Nairobi. Now, he is afraid that he will not be able to return, for fear of reprisals by security officers, including arrest and brutal interrogation.

“It was horrible,” he said. “They are angry and these security forces might kill you.”

Others involved in reporting the story were also threatened, according to New York Times East Africa Bureau Chief Jeffrey Gettleman. “Somalia’s transitional government was outraged by our story on its use of child soldiers and has threatened all the local people who helped us report it, including Mohamed; another translator; and even the owner and staff of the hotel where we stayed when we reported that story,” he wrote in an email to IPI.

“I tried to tell government officials Mohamed had done nothing wrong and that there was a large body of evidence about this issue – the UN recently issued a report listing the Somali government as one of the most flagrant users of child soldiers in the world,” Gettleman wrote.

IPI Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills said: “The International Press Institute is gravely concerned at the allegations that Somali government security services threatened, and were seeking to arrest, Mohammed Ibrahim because they were angered by the interviews he conducted with alleged child soldiers in the Somali army. We urge the Somali government to respect the right of journalists to report on anything that is in the public interest, without fear of arrest and physical harm.”

Meanwhile, despite the fact that Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed has announced the launch of an investigation into the possible existence of underage soldiers in the Somali army, other officials continue to deny the allegations. Government spokesperson Abdi Kadir Walayo contended that the story was fabricated, in an interview with Voice of America, published on 29 June.

The Somali government, currently locked in a violent conflict with Islamist insurgent groups in southern and central Somalia, is backed by the United Nations and is an ally of the United States in its war against terrorism.

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