Today the global spotlight is once again on Somalia as Prime Minister David Cameron hosts what is being called the “London Somalia Conference”. It is over six months since famine was declared in Somalia and as the UN declared famine over earlier this month, today is an appropriate time to reflect on the emergency of last year and to regroup for the challenges ahead.
In a summer that saw riots across London, the economic crisis in Europe and scandal on fleet street – the images of starving in Somalia were almost lost in the deluge of panic. They seemed to be images from another time, not the Africa we know today. Our response F-famine, deemed “shocking” and too political for TV, was a collective outcry that such an obscenity could occur in the 21st century.
It is commendable the UK is building on this leadership by hosting the conference today. The conference must help build a lasting solution to the causes of instability in Somalia which in turn undermine development and food security. It can also help boost longer term efforts to rid the world of the causes of famine hunger and malnutrition.
When opening the conference David Cameron recognised that it’s not enough just to give emergency aid. Whilst the 750,000 famine deaths averted last year is a wonderful humanitarian achievement, we also need to provide “long-term agricultural development assistance that will help them not only survive the lean season but actually put themselves and their families on the path to sustainability and self-sufficiency.”
There is much the international community can do to achieve this end. Investing in farming, ensuring safety nets are in place to protect the poorest people, and learning from mistakes to ensure early warnings are heeded. These issues should be prioritised at global meetings throughout 2012; at the G8, at the Olympics, the Africa Union Summits, at the G20 and of course, as we build towards the UK hosted G8 in 2013.
In Somalia, more than anywhere, we are reminded that famines are not caused by drought alone. Any lasting solution to famine in the region must include a political solution. As the attendees of our Horn of Africa Diaspora discussion pointed out last summer, African voices must be given a platform to advocate for solutions that will stick. In Somalia there are many great leaders at a grassroots level across the country whose stories are often unheard – and we should look to them for leadership. All the people of Somalia should be consulted about their dreams and aspirations.
David Cameron should be commended for hosting this conference, and for his effort to look beyond the crisis towards long-term solutions. While there’s a long list of ambitions for the conference, a future free of famine must be a top priority. As the L’Aquila commitments for agriculture reach their deadline this year, and we celebrate the tenth anniversary of African leaders’ Maputo Declaration to invest 10% of their budget in agriculture, today’s conference should also start a serious international effort to tackle the causes of famine, hunger and malnutrition across Africa.
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