Ethiopia, Somalia should form ‘food army’ to help the hungry

Monday October 17 2022

Somalia is staring at a humanitarian crisis as drought ravages the country. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

It is the season from hell again in many parts of Africa. Around 20 percent of people in Africa — nearly 280 million — are facing chronic hunger, compared with 10 percent globally. Closer home, a loaded report noted that Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia make up two percent of the world's population, yet the three are home to 70 percent of the world's most extreme food insecure.

By September, 20 million people in these countries faced extreme food insecurity. At the end of August, the International Red Cross reported gloomily that "on the ground…people are already dying from starvation. Yet the crisis has struggled to attract the attention and funding it desperately requires."

Beyond emergency funding to deal with the crisis today, last month, at the AGRAF Summit in Kigali, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) released the 2022 Africa Agriculture Status Report, which told of how big the money Africa needs to put food on the table for all its people is. The report noted that to achieve food systems transformation, Africa needed to get and sustain investments ranging from $40 billion and $77 billion every year from the public sector and up to $180 billion in private sector funding. The wait could be long.

The hunger crises in the Horn and parts of Kenya are partly a result of climate change, which has turned some of the lands into dust bowls. South Sudan is struck by hunger too, but for the opposite reason. So far in October, floods have affected 909,000 people — more than double the number who were affected in September.

Other parts of the continent, including Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria, have been wasted by floods. Most of northern Nigeria, the country's bread basket, has been underwater for weeks. Already besieged by bandits and extremist rebels, Nigeria could go into elections next year on empty stomachs. You couldn't have ordered a more explosive mix.

This points us to one of the significant risks, which is not spoken about much, that the hunger crisis poses to the very existence of many African states. Some parts of Africa are fertile and could feed millions but are unfarmed, or if they are, crudely, thus not yielding much.


You have dry regions, not too far from countries with more generous landscapes. And you have flooded areas, with people squeezed on hilltops, next door to more forgiving lands.

It is not sustainable, for example, that people in Kenya's northern regions should die in a drought when in other parts of the country itself or in Uganda and Tanzania, they would find sanctuary to farm and live happily on fertile land. The reverse is also true because enterprising Kenyans could create bountiful harvests in the low flood lands from which the South Sudanese have fled.

So, again, we have a problem with the borders and the kind of states that have been created inside them. Suppose no creative pan-African solutions are offered in the near future. In that case, I think Ethiopia and Somalia, for one, should put aside their differences, create a massive food army, and invade some fertile regions southward and feed their people.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3