The United States is not absolved from its role in creating crisis in East Africa. Absent from the conversation is the ongoing U.S. domination of the region along with U.S. complicity with corruption and warfare. Interestingly, the United States-funded Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS) alerted the “international community” at least six times over the last year, all of which were ignored.
The U.S. has financed and backed warfare in the region for years:
Second, foreign aid to the region, typically a drop in the financial bucket, depress local economies and finance warfare in the region. Humanitarian aid from Western nations is really no more than a public relations move to provide cover for U.S. government involvement in perpetuating crisis and instability, no different from a corporation donating to a “worthy” cause to promote a healthy public image. In addition, without accountability mechanisms and an accurate money trail, “foreign aid” is less likely to go towards long-term development investments in health care, education, and other basic services. Furthermore, donor aid is merely another form of colonialism:
Aid to governments often has the net effect of suppressing local economies and initiatives. In Somalia, for instance, [author and former aid worker Michael Maren] noted that food production was suppressed by food aid, as farmers had no incentive to grow their own food. Aid also makes governments less accountable to their own people….
Donor aid also reduces countries’ sovereignty. Aid is the most effective (and cost-effective) way in which foreign donor countries control other countries without being labelled as colonialists. It leads to bizarre situations where a donor country — and even more alarmingly, an international aid agency — sets government policy for a poor country, while presidents, ministers and permanent secretaries look on helplessly.
Of course, Somalia is not unique in this way. For example, the U.S. has financed and backed wars in the Congo for years, gleaning profit from the control and attainment of resources like coltan and diamonds.
Third, inter-governmental organizations like WFP and other non-governmental organizations also divert resources from local NGOs and local groups. IGOs and NGOs are not necessarily located in the region and do not necessarily have access to the region — all of which make it logistically difficult to help folks in the event of crisis and all of which perpetuate poverty at the same time. In addition, these organizations are not immune to corruption and waste. The UN food-for-sex scandal should never be forgotten. Further, Al Jazeera recently reported that the World Food Programme stockpiled stores of food in Mogadishu while the Somali people in the same neighborhood went starving.
It feels good to click a “Donate” button, but be wary. Ask yourself whether checkbook activism is the best way to resolve a crisis and hold those accountable for creating it in the first instance. Holding local U.S. government officials accountable for playing their part in this is a good place to start. Doing so requires raising awareness about international issues and getting folks to wake up about their own complicity in what is happening across the Atlantic. We all have a stake in this.