Ethiopia appeals for humanitarian aid every year and has been doing so for over twenty years, but down my street and on my way to work are Syrians in Ethiopia appealing for aid. To Syrians, Ethiopia is a place of refuge, and Ethiopians are welcoming and compassionate to Syrians in their border, although, they do not announce it to the world.
For Ethiopians it is important to assist people in need with dignity without announcing to the world. My cab driver Sisay literarily breaks down in tears and he slows down to contribute to the them from his meagre resources.
Ethiopia appeals for humanitarian aid every year and has been doing so for almost twenty-one years, yet Ethiopia is hosting close to a million refugees and has been doing so for a decade, while the United States Texas has declared publicly that the state would be turning refugees away.
Ethiopia is finding solutions for its Internally displaced peoples’ (IDP) crisis by exploring options for returning and resettling internally displaced people. The United States calls its internally displaced people `homeless peoples’, criminalizes them and makes it unlawful to be homeless.
Humanitarian aid? Now who is aiding who?
The aid-giver and aid-receiver are not about needs and the ability to give, it is about national identities, it is about responding to and feeding national stereotypes.
Giving aid or receiving aid makes a statement: it is vested on, and in stereotypes of potentials and possibilities, stereotypes of lack of ability and capacity. It is not about what a nation has or does not have to give.
The United States is currently facing a food crisis driven by crisis in the farming community across the country, but the US is not calling for food assistance. Agricultural challenges in the US yields a national solution of a bail out of farmers to sustain and protect their livelihoods. Agricultural challenges in Africa would yield a national solution of food aid most likely from the United States.
Despite its farming crisis worth over US$500 billion the US is still the highest donor to food aid programmes across Africa, and it is the world’s highest donor and world’s highest debtor concurrently.
The US has built its identity as a donor and upholds that identify not because it has much to give but because it has to give to feed an identity, and to uphold a status. The US has to borrow to be generous because it has an image to uphold.
The assumption is that the United States has the capacity to owe more than any other parts of the world. It doesn’t matter if it takes the US 20 years to address its food crisis the assumption and perception that the country has the capacity is all that is required.
What entrenches Africa into aid dependency is not our challenges, but our belief, fed by history of exploitation, our obsession with external solutions to our challenges, even when those solutions have not worked for half a century, or do not even come.
Africa does not have more crises than other parts of the world. Africa’s capacity to address its crises is not less than any other parts of the world. The fact that the West donates to Africa’s aid appeals does not mean the west has more to give and Africa lacks. It is all about feeding national status, identities and stereotypes.
Australia has been ravaged by raging fires for weeks that has left many dead and tens of thousands displaced - Australia has not been able to contain this disaster and our hearts go out to the families of those who have lost their lives. This is a true disaster, but the country has not declared an appeal. To the contrary, Australia has asked the world to refrain from sending aid as it disrupts the national plan of action to address the fire crisis.
Like Australia, many other countries have publicly rejected external assistance especially when these assistance or aid come with public announcement, because they know that the giver and receiver of aid makes a statement about national characteristics, identity and pride.
“The main problem arises with food aid's negative impact on domestic production. Imported food aid can flood markets, lower prices and put farmers out of business. US imports of food aid have had huge impacts on local economies in Africa” (ActionAid UK)
Nigeria accepted Western-driven food aid and presence in the country from mid-2016, allegedly upon the request of the Nigerian Government. The initial plan was to provide targeted food security and nutrition assistance to conflict-affected populations in the northeast. But plans are underway to expand the international food aid programme across the country, with the expectation to, hopefully, phase out international food aid programmes in Nigeria by 2022.
Apart from the fact that a food aid programme in Nigeria is shocking in the first place given the country’s agro-economic capacity and potential, Nigeria should remain concerned about joining other African countries who got on the food aid wagon and have not been able to disembark, are now stuck and, or are addicted.
While food aid lifted Western countries out of food insecurity, it has entrenched, and is entrenching African countries and the continent into food aid dependency. Thirty of the forty-six countries with food aid programmes are in Africa and many of these countries have been receiving food aid for over 2 decades. These African countries are Algeria, Angola, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
South Korea, France, Belgium, Austria, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Cyprus, Turkey, Poland, and former Czechoslovakia were one-time recipients of the US-run food aid programme. Today these countries are now contributing to food aid and other humanitarian assistance to African countries who started receiving food aid before them.
Relief or emergency food assistance was intended for cases of war, sudden onset/natural disasters, etc., where food is distributed for free. But African countries have settled for using this short-term response mechanism to meet long term and permanent food needs to the detriment of the agro-economies of the recipient countries.
The United States is the top donor to world food aid. But it must be noted that the food aid from the United States is mainly through in-kind donations. According to the United States, `The food commodities that USAID sends around the world come from many states in the United States as well as from local and regional markets abroad.’
The USAID website states further: `We do not provide assistance when it is not requested.’ This would mean that the 30 African countries have been formally requesting and appealing for food aid to feed its’ citizens every year for decades. In the case of Nigeria, we would then assume that the government of Nigeria has formally requested food aid for its citizens affected by the northeast insurgency and is planning to roll out food aid across the country.
Many have argued that the US commitment to food aid is a strategy to bolster its agro-economy. As Frederic Mousseau, from the Oakland Institute noted in Food Aid or Food Sovereignty? Ending World Hunger in Our Time, in the 1950s, “the US was open about the fact that food aid was a good way to fight communism and for decades food aid has mostly gone to countries with strategic interests in mind. The domestic interests have somewhat shifted in recent decades from supporting the whole American agriculture sector to the interests of primarily the following groups: (1) A handful of large agribusiness, crop and food lobbies (Wheat, rice, soybean oil and milk powder producers and exporters), (2) US shipping companies and (3) NGOs and relief organizations.”
According to the NGO ActionAid, the provision of food aid to developing countries has been controversial in the last two decades. `In theory, the provision of lifesaving food should be a positive step towards meeting people’s right to food. The main problem arises with food aid’s negative impact on domestic production.’
ActionAid notes further that Imported food aid can ‘flood markets, lower prices and put farmers out of business. US imports of food aid have had huge impacts on local economies in Africa. Some maintain that by undermining recipient nations’ domestic economies through food donations, the US has served to ensure market dominance for its exports. Certainly, the dumping of subsidized surpluses on to Southern markets can no longer be viewed as “aid”.’
In other words, the growth of the agricultural sector in many African countries has been stalled to sustain the growth of the agricultural sector in the United States. If this is the case, Nigeria must be a very attractive location for the food aid programme. Another country that has been the recipient of food aid for over two decades is Ethiopia the second largest population to Nigeria in Africa. Today Ethiopia and Nigeria are recipients of the food aid programme. With a combined population of at least 300 million, both are attractive locations, destinations and countries for a US national-interest driven food aid programme.
Given the above, Africans and friends of Africa working in humanitarian agencies must guard against creating pseudo justification, rational and mandates for food aid intervention, after all, humanitarian assistance should do no harm. The sad fact is that food aid has become a `narcotic’ for many African countries dependent on it, we must make sure we are not humanitarian pushers.
Nigeria is one of the newest recruits into Africa’s food aid recipient countries. Nigeria should have thought twice before getting on board the food aid train, it certainly must ensure it gets off as planned by 2020 if not before.