New study cites conflict
as prime suspect in famines
LONDON, Mar 23 (IPS) - A new study
released Wednesday, isolates war and civil strife
as the major causes of famines in Africa and
concludes that food security will only improve in
the region when the issue of resolving conflicts is
Published by the London-based Research Institute
for the Study of Conflict and Terrorism, 'War and
Famine in Africa' is the work of Stephen Riley of
Staffordshire University, who has written
extensively on war and development issues in
While previous research efforts in this area
have focussed almost exclusively on inadequate and
inappropriate government policies towards
agriculture, drought and environmental degradation,
Riley submits that more attention has to be
directed towards the effects of civil conflicts
upon food availability.
The study's conclusion is reached from case
studies of conflict situations in Sudan, Liberia,
Somalia, Angola and other war- ravaged countries in
the region -- both past and present.
In his introduction Riley writes: "The
continuing civil war in southern Sudan, the
conflict in Liberia since 1990, and the conflicts
in Mozambique and Angola have all had damaging
effects upon food supply."
One theme which runs through all the case
studies, is the correlation between war and
conflict on the one hand, and famine, malnutrition
and starvation on the other.
"In African states, such as Angola and the
Sudan, civil wars continue unabated, whilst famine
threatens to engulf their populations," the study
During the last 10 years of civil war in Sudan,
the report says that approximately 500,000 Sudanese
have died from famine, disease, deprivation and war
-- 250,000 died in 1988 alone.
Last August, it was widely reported that 175,000
refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia faced
starvation in northern Liberia as a consequence of
civil war. In Liberia, some 30 percent of the
children suffered malnutrition and 15 died a day as
a result of the war.
Of all the continents, the report states, Africa
has the most refugees -- numbering over five
million in 1992 -- overwhelmingly people who have
fled violent, bloody civil strife.
In attempting to isolate the causes of civil
wars -- which have been a permanent feature in
Africa since political independence in the 1960s --
Riley cites a number of factors, not least of which
are the state system and national boundaries
inherited from colonialism which grouped together
different nations and ethnic groups under one state
"The character of many political leaderships,
their refusal to negotiate or make concessions to
disaffected minorities, and the strength of
irredentist or separatist sentiments, have formed
the background to a series of open civil conflicts
in Africa since independence," the study says.
This proposition finds corroboration in the
attempted secession of Katanga from the Congo (now
Zaire) in the early 1960s; Nigeria's Biafran
secessionist civil war in 1967; civil war in Sudan
since independence in 1958 and many other conflicts
in the region.
Mass civil strife has also been evident in
countries like Chad, Western Sahara, Djibouti,
Rwanda and Burundi and Ethiopia. In other states,
such as Cameroon, Senegal, Mali and Niger, low
level conflicts simmer beneath a facade of
Because very few African states are "genuine
nation-states", Riley maintains, "It is likely that
the 1990s will see more of such conflicts -- unless
political leaderships can buy off separatist
sentiments or suppress them."
The intimate links between war and famine
manifest themselves in a number of ways, according
to the study. War consumes resources that could
have been otherwise spent on food, health,
education and welfare programmes. The destruction
caused by armed conflict on property, food crops
and animals and the communications infrastructure
is also highlighted.
In Sudan, for example, the current military
offensive by the Khartoum government against the
south has destroyed the agricultural base of
southern communities and driven them from their
One direct consequence has been the threat of
famine which presently threatens these communities.
Famine, as an instrument of war, has also been used
by both government and rebel troops in many
conflict situations in the region.
Leaders from Ethiopia's Mengistu, Sudan's
Mohamed Omar al-Bashir and Amos Sawyer and the West
African peacekeeping force in Liberia have all, at
one time or another, tried to starve anti-
government guerrillas into submission by denying
food aid to rebel-held regions.
Deviating from the norm of many similar studies,
Riley also focuses on the situation in many
countries experiencing food insecurity which are
forced by externally-imposed development policies
to export cash crops.
"Export cash crop production reduces the
availability of food in local markets -- with a
classic example being the presence of Ethiopian
food exports in European shops at the time of the
great Ethiopian famine of 1983-85," he writes.
Commenting on the study, Professor William
Gutteridge, director of the Research Institute for
the Study of Conflict and Terrorism, said that it
was one of the most important research documents on
the issue to be published in recent years.
"Apart from climatic factors and International
Monetary Fund and World Bank policies over which
African governments have little control, war is the
single most important factor causing food
insecurity in the region," says Gutteridge.
During 1992, when drought caused famine and
starvation that threatened the lives of over one
million people in Zimbabwe, Gutteridge says that
the government was able to avert disaster by
importing food supplies and properly administering
foreign relief supplies to the needy.
"Such a situation would not have been possible
had a war situation existed then in Zimbabwe," he
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