Monday, July 03, 2006

Hunger in Africa

A rather flaccid article on Comment is Free about hunger in Africa, Malawi in particular, that points out that, even though there is no longer a 'food shortage' there is still a great deal of hunger. The only reason offered is that the country is chronically poor. I have every sympathy for Malawi and Malawians. They are still recovering from the economic mismanagement of Hastings Banda, and have in any event always been poor.

But there are specific reasons why Southern Africa remains not only poor but starving. The most immediate and dramatic is the AIDS epidemic. It's the cruellest disease in Africa, though malaria kills more, because it takes the adults at their most productive, leaving orphans and grandparents. Shorn of the hard-workers, the basic inadequacy of African agriculture is left cruelly exposed. This inadequacy is rooted in two causes: one cultural and one political.

The cultural problem is that land tenure has always been either communal, or strictly inherited. Nothing so very bad in this, perhaps, but the outcome has been for an average plot size of an acre or less: just enough for a patch of mealies and few bloody goats.

This is exacerbated by the political problem. Most African Governments are either still avowedly Marxist (Mozambique, Zimbabwe) or quasi-Marxian in their land policies. The effect is that security of tenure of land is almost non-existent (it is illegal to own land in Mozambique and Zambia: all done on leases). Africa has never been surveyed for this, and as a result, no-one can use their land as capital, and even if they could there is little incentive to improve it, as there is no guarantee that it will be yours for the long, or even medium term.

By all means abolish the CAP, that really does more than anything to make meaningful African growth impossible, but be aware that a good deal of the underlying problem is domestic, and the only people who can resolve it are Africans themselves. Pith helmets worked OK last century, but aid workers make unconvincing and ineffective imperialists.


Blogger Devil's Kitchen said...

AIDS also, of course, destroys the next generation since it often passes on to the children.

I read an article in The Speccie a couple of years ago in which it was predicted that, at the rate that it was progressing, Malawi would be the first country to be entirely depopulated by the disease.


3:07 pm  

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