Hunger in the north should be national shame

History will remember that merely two weeks before he left office, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration received food aid from the United States government. More than one million Kenyan children are malnourished.

The media has documented cases of death from starvation. Samantha Power, the head of USAID, called on the so-called international community to send more help to avoid a “hunger catastrophe.”

That more than 60 years after independence, we are still receiving food aid should make all of us want to hide under a rock. Yet that is not what we do. Often, the president and senior government officials proudly flag off food aid to drought-stricken areas without a scintilla of irony. We have no shame.

A country that cannot feed itself is not truly sovereign. This is for two reasons. First, generalised extreme food insecurity occurs in countries governed by undemocratic and incompetent elites lacking self-respect or a sense of duty.

Such elites typically do not have the national interest at heart but act as mere “native chiefs” presiding over client states in the far-flung peripheries of major global powers. Otherwise, the shame of seeing their fellow citizens die of hunger would drive them to action.

Not action focused on stealing all the money meant for dams and irrigation schemes, but on boosting agricultural productivity, perfecting the logistics of food storage and distribution, and cushioning the most food insecure citizens.

Second, only the weakest states lack the levels of policy sovereignty and state capacity needed to implement a robust social protection program to avoid famines. Such Potemkin states tend to heavily rely on foreign material and policy assistance. We have revealed ourselves to be among this number.

The ongoing famine in the north shows our historical lack of seriousness when it comes to making durable developmentalist policies that are people focused. That is why the current administration spent a decade splurging on overpriced white elephants only to receive food aid in its closing days. We are better than this. 

-The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University

Twitter: @kopalo