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May 04, 2008

Poor leadership is cause of Africa’s food crisis

by Enock Muskem*

In recent weeks, we have seen the whole world lament the unprecedented escalation in food prices. There have been reported cases of violence in some of the lowly ranked countries on the UN’s Human Development Index, a world barometer of social development.

The unusual aspect about the whole scenario is the prominence of African countries on the list, right from the unstable Somalia, to poor Senegal, not to mention the already starving. Even Kenya has a looming food crisis to deal with.

A lot of explanation has been offered, with the World Food Programme seeing the problem in shift in the use of petroleum fuels for automobiles to biofuels, especially by giants Brazil and China. These countries buy maize, a raw material basic for the manufacture of the biofuel, which for some strange dietal reason, make up the staple food for the most of the Third World.

The million-dollar question is: Why is it that African countries, whose primary economic activity is agriculture, are always perennial victims of famine and food shortages? Is it a case of Black defeatism, or this is the scar that is Africa on the world conscience that Tony Blair once talked about? Maybe it is a Bantu problem, as a friend of mine would put it, since most of the countries affected have the Bantu population.

However, it’s imperative to mention that the African society and leadership are all to blame. Quite astonishing is how locals make their consumer choice. Logic requires that any current decision made should promise a future worth looking forward to. Amazingly, this fundamental requirement of common sense is apparently absent in our people.

Down in the villages, you will find individuals, during the rare rich days when maize is harvested selling the very precious commodity at cheap prices to finance purchase of the less basic need, bread.

What makes total nonsense is the frequent excuse used to support the irresponsibility to the effect that, it is by selling maize that the people will be able to afford some little luxury. Where is the wisdom in a little bread now and totally no food tomorrow?

Basic economics requires us to rank preferences in order of priority. Really, bread cannot take precedence over ugali in our society. The society is totally lost as far as food security is concerned, to the extent that individuals can exchange their future ability to feed themselves for a loaf of bread.

It goes without saying that failure of leadership has enslaved most of Africa. Leadership should influence people and create a following that will support and share in an idea that is championed by the leader. It is supposed to elicit passion and create hope and confidence in the people.

Sadly, Africa has only managed to produce leadership that excites self-passion and hope to loot and siphon money from public coffers. A leadership that is at its best when it is inciting people to steal a little and burn a lot of the very food they badly need.

*University of Nairobi.

Daily Nation

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