|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
There are a mixture of strange and conflicting emotions associated with witnessing and reporting on a humanitarian crisis like that currently unfolding across southern Africa.
My first, surprisingly, were cynicism and doubt.
It was pitiful watching the old woman thinly slice a bowl of roots and barbs, dug up to fill the stomachs of the hungry
Was this just aid agencies justifying their own existence by over-emphasising poverty and dressing it up in the clothes of famine - were they simply courting the media and using us to legitimise their business plan?
And was it not in the African governments' best interests to play along and watch rich countries pay for their social welfare?
But like the plough turning over last year's failed crops, you must cut through the surface and peer beneath, to uncover the true scale of this disaster.
People are not dying of hunger, but people are at the stage where they would die if the truck and train loads of aid were not being distributed to those most in need.
The harvest is due in March at the very earliest, May for most, but the small round grass-topped mud huts sitting on stilts that keep the village maize reserves good between harvests are empty - there is nothing to eat.
It was pitiful watching the old woman thinly slice a bowl of roots and barbs, dug up to fill the stomachs of the hungry.
Eight hours of boiling removes the toxins, but also the nutrients - they are merely stomach packing to take your mind off eating until tomorrow.
It was an unusual Christmas morning, arriving in the village of Monjo in Malawi.
The jeeps turned into a little settlement of a hundred mud houses and the children came running - as delighted to see us as they would have been to see their Santa Claus, bringing them the maize and the protein that would stop their little bodies being blown up like balloons and turning them fat from hunger.
Their singing was spontaneous and enthusiastic, the music a fabulous grinning chorus of harmonies.
But the meaning of the words sent a shiver.
This was no Christmas song: "Hunger is all over the country," they sang, "hunger is all over the village, hunger has surrounded all the households", and, "This is the modern hunger, how can we eat?"
The chief was grateful for the food sacks supplied by the aid agencies who had taken us to the village, but he kept talking about a bore-hole, and that when he had that he could irrigate some of the fields and keep the maize growing even if the rains failed.
And that, of course, is the key to tackling this crisis - the aid is a stop-gap to prevent people from dying, but a long term solution is the way forward.
Countries in crisis
Rushing from country to country and spending only a couple of days in each, was a challenge simply to find out the truth under the surface as quickly as possible.
But on reflection, a picture emerges of this hunger in southern Africa.
It is a new kind of famine, the landscape may be lush, but poverty runs deep, and HIV/Aids has robbed communities of the coping strategies that have brought them through drought before.
And each country has its own individual crisis - its own explanation for why it has not been able to cope.
In Zambia, the delayed dispatch of food aid as genetically modified maize had to be removed from the silos, in front of the hungry people, and replaced by non-GM food.
In Zimbabwe, the political crisis playing out through economic collapse and evidence of aid being targeted away from pro-opposition areas.
In Malawi, the selling off of the country's grain reserves just before the drought, the money unaccounted for, the IMF and World Bank accused of giving bad advice and making things worse.
In Lesotho, where 31% of adults are HIV positive, an increasing number of orphans pressure the traditional family group and the whole structure of society is being remoulded.
Unfortunately, my initial cynicism on the famine was unfounded - there is real tragedy here, and while food aid patches it up and keeps people alive, long term planning - irrigation, development and poverty reduction - are the only ways to prevent this from repeating itself every time the rains fail.
From The Observer (UK), 29 December
Kenya sweeps corrupt ruler out of power
Opposition hails 'fantastic victory' after peaceful election
James Astill in Nairobi
Kenyans revelled in a day few dared to dream of in four decades, as the preliminary results yesterday from Friday's elections suggested a landslide victory for the opposition, sweeping away many crooks and cronies of a ruling party that has terrorised and impoverished them since independence. With about a fifth of the poll already counted last night, Mwai Kibaki, a veteran opposition leader and former Vice-President, had won around 70 per cent of the votes. Uhuru Kenyatta, the candidate of the outgoing President Daniel arap Moi's Kanu party and son of Jomo, Kenya's founding father, had won less than 30 per cent, offering Kenya the chance of one of the most peaceful and democratic transitions from 'Big Man' rule in history. 'We are cruising to a fantastic and historic victory,' said Kijana Wamalwa, a key member of Kibaki's National Rainbow Coalition (NARC). 'The mood here is very sombre,' said an official at Nairobi's State House, the centre of a kleptocracy which has forced some 60 per cent of Kenyans into wretched poverty.
Fearing a repeat of the violence that claimed thousands of lives before previous elections, Nairobeans barely ventured out over Christmas, except to vote. But as radio stations broadcast the unofficial results from polling stations around the country, small, disbelieving crowds emerged. 'No violence and no more Kanu, no more Moi - it's too much, a gift from God,' said Josiah Owade, one of a group of youths hunkered round a radio. After 24 years of misrule, Moi was constitutionally obliged to step aside. Yet many Kenyans feared that he planned to rule on through Kenyatta. 'Choosing Kenyatta was all about self-preservation for the old man and his family,' said one diplomat in Nairobi yesterday. 'But the trick hasn't paid off, because Kenyans wouldn't be fooled.' Even more remarkably in a country where every vote has traditionally had its price, many of Moi's most notorious cronies lost their seats. They include Vice-President Musalia Mudavadi; Justice Minister Julius Sunkuli; Moi's crony-in-chief Shariff Nassir; and John Haroun Mwau, a Kanu vice-chairman. 'This is a glorious day for Kenya,' said John Githongo of Transparency International, the watchdog which ranks Kenya among the world's most corrupt nations. 'All the evidence suggest Kenyans have taken bribes across the country, and then voted with their consciences.' At a military parade yesterday morning to mark his passing, Moi shrugged off the first results. 'That's democracy,' he said. 'As long as Kenyans are united, I am satisfied.' At the time, Moi's thuggish son Gideon - one of the most feared men in Kenya and Kenyatta's likely choice as Prime Minister - represented Kanu's only victory. He stood unopposed after opposition candidates mysteriously withdrew. NARC's likely victory took on added significance in western Kenya where the sun wore a halo on Friday. Meteorologists said the phenomenon was caused by light refracting through ice. But the Luo tribe, one of Kenya's poorest, celebrated it as propitious and more than 90 per cent of them voted for NARC.
As Kenya's likely new government, NARC looks only fairly auspicious. It was formed when many of Moi's leading cronies deserted Kanu, after being passed over for Kenyatta. United only by hatred of Moi, it has no ideology, no concrete policies and could crumble over the division of spoils. With many of Kanu's most violent politicians now in NARC, Kenyans have been spared the politically stirred tribal clashes that claimed more than 3,000 lives before two previous elections. On polling day, the threat of rioting lurked in Nairobi's slums, where NARC's candidate - and likely Prime Minister - Raila Odinga claimed two million voters had been disenfranchised (though NARC had insisted on the regulation that caused this), and threatened to lead a million-man march on State House. But NARC's campaign was better characterised by Kibaki, virtually bedbound for the past three weeks after a car crash. On Friday, the man who promises he will 'Save Kenya' was so frail he had to cast his vote from the back of his Mercedes. NARC's campaign was mostly peaceful, disjointed and lethargic, counting entirely on the poor's desperation for change. Indeed it was they - and not Kibaki's slick London PR consultants - who supplied NARC's real slogan: 'Unbwoggable' - the made-up title of a hit pop song, meaning 'unstoppable'. NARC also boasts Kanu's most accomplished thieves, so Kibaki's promise to fight corruption rings hollow. Yet NARC is also introducing a handful of distinguished activists to politics - notably Wangari Maathai, a celebrated environmentalist - and, most importantly, since Moi began constructing his patronage network Kenya has changed. High rates of literacy and an energetic press are closing many of the tribal divisions Moi abused to divide opposition. The Western donors who allowed Moi's cronies to steal their loans during the Cold War demand change too. Kenya's aid was frozen four years ago because of the corruption. If Kibaki wants the half billion pounds pending to restart Kenya's shrinking economy, he will need to offer stiff guarantees. Already he has promised to pass two anti-corruption Bills. One ensures that all politicians declare their wealth.