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close this bookWar and Famine in Africa (Oxfam, 1991, 36 p.)
close this folder1. Introduction
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1.1 The international context
View the document1.2 Oxfam's experience in Africa
View the document1.3 A Note on methodology

1.3 A Note on methodology

In writing this report, a lead has been taken from the Kampala Conference. That is, an attempt is made first to examine the factors underlying famine and conflict in Africa and then to relate these to the reality and logic of warfare. Where possible, Oxfam sources used. There is a difficulty here, however. Apart from the question of adequate coverage, country offices differ in terms of their levels of understanding, length of operation, and degree of access. In general terms, the Horn and Uganda have a wider experience in this respect. Rather than a country-by-country analysis, especially given the time constraint, the chosen method of presentation is broadly comparative. A country-by-country approach, moreover, would tend to obscure the similarities and resonances that exist across the continent. It is these similarities which underscore the need for a policy to be formulated.

A profound shift is currently taking place in the way that conflict in Africa is viewed. Green (1987) has pointed out the paradox that the economic and human costs of war are immense, yet only in rare instances have they been a matter for serious consideration and policy response. More frequently, war is seen as a short-term problem somehow distinct from the normal run of events. It is interesting, for example, that war and its effects have not been organically linked to the growing problem of food insecurity in Africa. This report is based on a key assumption. That is, that the relationship between conflict and famine in Africa is best sought by examining the specific elements that characterise African famine. In this respect, the report can be seen as a modest attempt to add to the pioneering work of de Waal (1990) who, in adapting Sen's celebrated entitlement theory (1981) to the existing conditions in Africa, has developed a very useful model.

Briefly, de Waal argues that African definitions of famine allow a far wider range of meaning than the term usually denotes in English usage. These meanings can range from poverty, through dearth, to increased mortality and frank starvation. African peoples normally deal with famine by recourse to coping strategies, including a range of practices such as labour migration or the collection of wild foodstuffs, and the management of assets, for example, livestock or craft skills. Coping strategies are the single most important means by which African peoples deal with famine, and in recent famines (for example, in North Sudan in the mid-1980s), they were much more effective than food aid in keeping people alive. Because coping strategies involve a variety of decisions, including that of going hungry in order to preserve assets, the epidemiology of famines is complex; rather than frank starvation, it usually takes the form of disease crises. In Africa, however, there is also a close connection with violence and famine. Conflict disrupts people's coping strategies, or even prevents them operating at all. In these circumstances, especially when such actions are deliberate, frank starvation is often the result.

This report seeks to add to de Waal's model of African famine in three respects. First, by relating Africa's declining economic performance to an emerging new world order. Second, by arguing that the importance of coping strategies is underlined by the growing instability of semisubsistence. Finally, by analysing the logic and political economy of internal conflict in Africa, which make semi-subsistence and coping systems necessary and inevitable targets, it seeks to make an organic connection with famine and food insecurity. In conclusion, it argues that the international system of public welfare that has emerged to relieve this growing problem requires urgent reform if it is to be adequate to the task.