Africa has problems that make it difficult to be optimistic

Saturday March 4 2017

Libyan Red Crescent volunteers recover bodies of 74 migrants that had washed ashore on February 20 near Zawiyah on Libya’s northern coast. PHOTO | MOHANED KREMA | AL-ZAWIYAH BRANCH – LIBYAN RED CRESCENT | AFP

Libyan Red Crescent volunteers recover bodies of migrants that had washed ashore on February 20 near Zawiyah on Libya’s northern coast. PHOTO | MOHANED KREMA | AL-ZAWIYAH BRANCH – LIBYAN RED CRESCENT | AFP 

By CIUGU MWAGIRU
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A look at Africa reveals rising problems that make it difficult for citizens to be optimistic about their immediate future, even as the continent registers a hiatus from elections that normally fuel challenges.

For starters, the refugee crisis that has for years become the bane of the continent has worsened in recent times, with more and more mass drownings in the Mediterranean Sea as disillusioned Africans try to reach Europe.

Ironically, the same Europe has become averse to opening its doors to desperate African immigrants, and has ratcheted up measures to send them back to their countries if they survive desperate journeys across the sea.

So indifferent to the predicament of desperate African immigrants is Europe. In fact, in recent times, European countries have been offering financial inducements to African nations so that they can keep their people within their borders.

The internal refugee crisis within the African continent itself is no less complicated, and has recently led to mounting xenophobia in countries like South Africa, where in the past three weeks there have been numerous indications that foreign nationals are under serious threat.

Fuelled by mounting unemployment in the country, the rabid xenophobia has resulted in a flare-up of attacks on foreign-owned residences and businesses in different locations around the country.

Even more disturbing is the recent registration of South African First, an explicitly xenophobic political party, and the staging of an anti-foreigners march in the capital Pretoria by so-called “concerned citizens”.

CAMPS 'OVERSTRETCHED'

There have been media reports that refugee camps in Tanzania are “overstretched” as a result of an influx of thousands of Burundians, who constitute over three quarters of the refugees in Tanzania.

The Burundian refugees have been fleeing the insecurity in their troubled country, and with reported daily arrivals of a staggering 600-1,000 people, it is expected that the Tanzanian refugee camps will be overwhelmed by April if the current daily arrivals continue.

The alarming refugee crisis in Tanzania comes amid reports by the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières that a health crisis is looming in the massively overcrowded refugee camps located in the western part of the country.

Refugee problems aside, many African countries have in recent times had to contend with prolonged droughts that have left millions starving and sometimes dying from hunger.

According to a recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, some 153 million people, comprising 26 per cent of the sub-Saharan Africa population above age 15, reportedly suffered severe food insecurity in 2014 and 2015.

The same report, which was launched in the Sierra Leonean capital Freetown on Thursday last week, reveals that in Africa, during the same period, four individuals above 15 years “were hungry and did not eat or went without eating for a whole day because there was no enough money or other resources for food”.

FOOD INSECURITY

The report further revealed that Africans represent the highest prevalence of severe food insecurity in the world, and its authors were quick to point out the urgent need for African governments to invest and implement policies that promote an increase in food production.

In addition, the report cited the main factors fuelling food insecurity in Africa and elsewhere in the world.

Among them was the overexploitation of natural resources, political instability, civil unrest and climate-related disasters such as the widespread droughts currently ravaging Africa.

So serious is the continent’s drought crisis, in fact, that Somalia last week declared drought a national disaster, amid reports that in neighbouring Kenya the government has doubled relief food rations to feed three million people facing starvation.

Recent reports from South Sudan indicate that the food insecurity situation in the country is so desperate that some people have resorted to eating lilies.

Sadly for the starving Sudanese people, their problems have been compounded by the fact that farming activities have been disrupted by more than three years of armed conflict.

To make matters worse, the conflict has resulted in the destruction of food stores and forced people to flee recurring attacks, even as crucial relief food shipments to the most affected areas have been deliberately blocked.

With such daunting crises still making life hellish for millions of Africans, it is little wonder that the Mo Ibrahim Foundation said last Tuesday that there was no suitable winner of the 2016 Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.

The announcement marked the second year in a row that the foundation had not deemed it apt to honour any former African head of state and government with the $5 million award.