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close this bookWar and Famine in Africa (Oxfam, 1991, 36 p.)
close this folder6 War and famine
View the document6.1 Structural considerations
View the document6.2 The overall effect of war
View the document6.3 Some basic parameters

6.1 Structural considerations

On the structural or underlying connection between war and famine, several observations can be made. In some respects, internal war in Africa is still partly cast in an earlier mould. That is, it is fought through groups whose existence is based upon different forms of aemi-subsistence. Modern conflict, however, arises not as a process of regulation and adaptation, but from the growing instability and crisis of semisubsistence. This instability has increased since the 1970s. Modern warfare, moreover, proceeds not by resolving tensions but by massively increasing disparities between groups. It does so because the political economy of internal war dictates that systems of semi-subsistence are both targets and points of defence. The polarisation of ethnic groups and the destruction of assets reinforce the instability of semi-subsistence. Conflict in Africa should not be seen as a secondary or separate issue. It is a long-term trend and a defining characteristic in the growth of food insecurity. It is comparable to the negative aspects of economic and environmental change already discussed (3.4 to 3.6). Indeed convict, impoverishment, and drought appear to have become central aspects of a complex, antagonistic, and mutually reinforcing syndrome which has pushed many countries towards widespread food insecurity and political disintegration. In other words, enviro-economic factors are the substructure of African famine, while conflict is its super-structure.

6.2 The overall effect of war

This report has already examined the central importance of coping strategies in attempting to survive enviro-economic famines (3.7). In his useful contribution to defining the specificity of African famine, de Waal (1990) has noted not only the role of coping strategies, but also the prevalence of conflict. The effect of conflict, both indirectly and as a deliberate strategy, has been to restrict or destroy people's means of subsistence and ability to cope. Under conflict conditions, people's vulnerability increases dramatically. If drought is also present, it compounds the vulnerability equation. If one then adds military strategies which actively promote, or in some cases prevent, population movement, or deny the availability of or access to relief food, then frank starvation is often the result, rather than the health crises of enviro-economic famines. Some recent examples of starvation under conflict conditions include Karamoja in Northern Uganda (1980), the worst areas of Northern Ethiopia (1984), Ethiopian resettlement camps (mid-1980s), and displaced Dinka in West Sudan (1988).

The consequences of war relate to the deliberate strategy of selectively destabilising and incapacitating rural groups. These actions are frequently employed by both sides in an internal conflict, although variations in the degree of application are common. In Uganda, Angola, and Mozambique, for example, the government forces, although employing similar tactics on occasion, are generally regarded as more restrained than the groups and movements confronting them. In Liberia, on the other hand, all parties to the conflict are involved in the systematic abuse of human rights (Africa Watch, 26/10/90). The main exceptions, as already mentioned, are Eritrea and Tigray.

6.3 Some basic parameters

The manner in which conflict increases vulnerability and food insecurity is varied and complex. It is difficult to separate the indirect from the direct consequences of war in this respect, since the deliberate act of destroying economic systems and infrastructure, together with the uprooting of entire populations, has long-term effects and multiple ramifications, besides immediate consequences. Deciding where to place a dividing line is difficult and even misleading.

The destruction and dislocation of markets

The destruction of market centres and transport links is a high priority in internal conflict. The Ethiopian government has frequently used aerial bombardment to disrupt the economies of Eritrea and Tigray. In Angola and Mozambique rebel attacks, exemplary terror, and the indiscriminate mining of roads have been used to similar effects. The consequences of such disruption are legion. In Eritrea and Tigray market activities, like agriculture, have to take place at night. In South Sudan, Angola and Mozambique a barter economy has emerged from the disintegration of the formal rural economy. The destruction of markets greatly increases food insecurity in such areas.

Areas of conflict also disrupt the commercial and labour markets adjoining them. People are disinclined to travel, and merchants stay away. Trading and labour migration are important aspects of people's coping strategies. If the insecurity is longterm, then the loss of income-earning opportunities changes the socio-economics of an entire area. This in turn can have numerous knock-on effects. In the case of Northern Uganda, for example, it has been argued that 15 years of war have created the socioeconomic conditions that favour the spread of AIDS. The decline of local markets means that most men are unable to earn enough money to pay the extremely high bridewealth now demanded. The result is growing numbers of informal marital arrangements, which frequently break down. In addition, the impoverishment of families with AIDS sufferers, through their declining ability to cultivate, has forced more and more women into brewing and prostitution (Uganda, 5/89-6/90).

The destruction and dislocation of subsistence agriculture

Attempts to discourage or prevent opposing groups from cultivating are common. The Ethiopian government has destroyed crops and herds in Eritrea and Tigray. Cultivation now takes place at night. In Angola, UNITA has indiscriminately mined wide areas of countryside. For this reason, Angola has the highest incidence of mine-inflicted injuries in the world. It is also food-insecure, and yet is potentially a rich and fertile country. In Mozambique random attacks and exemplary terror by the MNR discourage cultivation. In South Sudan, government soldiers have attempted to restrict cultivation in some regions to areas surrounding government-held towns. Several examples have been cited of the systematic looting and destruction of peasant/pastoralist assets. Even in areas where insecurity may be less intense, farms are reluctant to cultivate at any distance from their villages. In Western Sudan, peasants have sold camels, a valuable transport animal, for fear of attracting raiding parties. War and conflict depress the level of subsistence agriculture, and reduce the asset-base in rural areas. Combined with the destruction and dislocation of markets, vulnerability and food insecurity are greatly increased.

The dislocation of populations

The effect of war has been to create a massive problem of refugees and internally displaced people. In Mozambique, there are over four million internally displaced people, with a further 1.2 million living as refugees in surrounding countries. Angola has 1.5 million displaced within its own borders and 0.6 million refugees outside. In South Sudan, more than one million people have been displaced internally ant to North Sudan, while a similar number are living in neighbouring countries. Within a few months of the outbreak of the recent fighting in Liberia, almost half of the country's total population of 1.5 million had been displaced, a quarter of these as refugees in West Africa These examples serve to show that the most visible consequence of internal conflict is the massive displacement of people. Such populations are extremely vulnerable, due to the loss of their livelihoods and assets. They are also vulnerable to food denial and human rights abuse. The mandate of the UNHCR does not cover the internally displaced. Even with regard to certified refugees, however, the financial crisis currently facing the UNHCR means that it is not always able to discharge its mandate effectively. The displaced and refugee populations face further economic and social marginslisation through lost opportunities for employment and educationactors which are recognised as increasing their food insecurity.

The effects on the family

Internal war in Africa has had a devastating impact upon family, generational and gender relations in Africa. Besides the dividing and bereavement of families, war has magnified and greatly accentuated trends already discernible as a result of enviroeconomic factors. The case of Uganda mentioned above indicates how war can lead to new and unstable marital relations. The extreme, but all too common, occurrence is the widespread rape and abuse of women in conflict situations. The burdens and exposure of women, already increasing, are greatly magnified by war. Generational changes are also accentuated. The 'child soldiers' of Liberia, Uganda, Mozambique, and Angola are another example of the extremes to which internal conflict is pushing African family and social relations. The reappearance of slavery in Sudan and Mozambique is also relevant here. The immensely traumatic effect of these events does not appear to have attracted widespread attention.

The destruction and dislocation of social infrastructure

The destruction of schools, or the unwillingness of teachers to work in insecure areas, mean the loss of education for children on a massive scale. Education is an important strategy by which families attempt to escape poverty. In Sudan, Uganda, Mozambique, and Angola entire generations of children have reached adulthood with little or no formal eduction. For many, violence may be the only future waiting for them.

Insecurity disrupts health services and reduces already low levels of care at a time when growing vulnerability increases the risk of heath crises. In some countries diseases such as malaria, for example, once believed to be under control, have reestablished themselves in many areas. Conflict and insecurity have curtailed veterinary and pest control services. Because the threat of locusts, for example, crosses borders and battle lines, their control in the Horn has been significantly weakened. In South Sudan, the collapse of veterinary services has greatly added to the loss of cattle in the region. Such services were never comprehensive, but their disruption certainly contributes to pastoralists' vulnerability.

Contribution to economic decline

The overall effect of the destruction of infrastructure, the loss of production, the multiple disruptions and the diversion of scarce resources towards the purchase of arms has had a major and incalculable economic impact on many African countries (Green, 1987). Outside perceptions of insecurity and conflict have also been an important factor in the collapse of foreign direct investment since the 1970s. Internal warfare must now be regarded as an important factor promoting long-term economic decline.