Page 2 of 2   <      

In Kenya, 'Why Does This Keep Happening?'

A man walks with his donkey hauling water from the only working well in the town of El Wak. At least 40 people have recently died of malnutrition-related illness in northeast Kenya.
A man walks with his donkey hauling water from the only working well in the town of El Wak. At least 40 people have recently died of malnutrition-related illness in northeast Kenya. (By Antony Njuguna -- Reuters)

"If we don't talk about underdevelopment, we may just carry on with these cycles affecting herding and farming households every few years," she said. "These families are poor and live on the edge. Their wealth is dependent only on their livestock and crops. They have to diversify that."

Kibaki has asked the international community for more food aid. The U.S. Embassy, which contributed 62,890 metric tons of relief food last year, said it was eager to help again.

Too much food aid, however, can cause the price of locally grown food to fall, leaving farmers without enough income to purchase seeds for the next season, experts say.

"Making food available for the farmers, though welcome, is short-term and short-lived," said Tom Kagwe, who writes about famines and development in Africa for the Daily Nation. "It cannot provide the long-term solutions to the country's food shortage."

There are many reasons for food shortages in Africa. Sometimes war plays a role. In rebel-controlled eastern Congo, for instance, thousands of banana and mango trees produce more fruit than local people can consume. But the excess food never makes it to markets or drought-stricken regions because the roads are destroyed and armed militiamen loot the supplies or tax them heavily.

In northern Uganda, people displaced by fighting between the government and the Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel group, languish in camps, looking out at the land they used to farm. Fields that once produced abundant amounts of yams, peanuts and corn are barren.

In Kenya, a peaceful and stable country, development has been hindered by corruption and mismanagement, according to Transparency International, a watchdog group that ranks Kenya as one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

Ole Koissaba, the Masai leader, said he was furious that the president turned the herders away from his residence. Even former president Daniel arap Moi, an authoritarian leader who ruled for 24 years, allowed the Masai to graze their cattle near the state house during a drought of 2002, Ole Koissaba pointed out.

"The new leadership cares more about politics than pastoralists, and now it can't do the correct things to save the lives, long term, of its own citizens," he said, adding there should be more international pressure on African governments to develop sound agricultural policies. "No African wants things to stay in this cycle of dysfunction."


<       2

© 2006 The Washington Post Company