Parched planes expose political failures

Map of drought in the Horn of Africa

10 million people are currently threatened by starvation in the Horn of Africa – which includes Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Somalia – due to a drought, potentially the worst for sixty years. In these areas an humanitarian crisis has been declared by the UN, apart from in parts of Somalia which are experiencing full-blown famine. But why is Somalia coping so much worse than other equally drought-stricken countries?

The short answer is: Somalia is a so-called failed state. Just as in other failed states (such as Yemen), the official government has little or no control over vast swathes of the country. This makes any co-ordinated aid mission impossible, reduces the domestic governments ability to do anything, and stops preventative measures being carried out. Therefore Somalis were in a worse position than others from the Horn before the drought struck and the effects had a more imediate – and more dramatic – outcome. This explains why Somalis are heading in their hundreds of thousands over the border into Kenya in search of the enormous, over-crowded Dadaab refugee camp.

Somalia is a failed state for two reasons:
1) It does not actually exist. Somalia as a single entity collapsed in 1991. Two northern areas, Somaliland and Puntland, declared a kind of quasi-independence that year and are relatively stable – if not internationally recognised. Southern Somalia is officially governed by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), but again, this hardly exists. It has some control over parts of Mogadishu, the capital, but that is about it. Crucially, the TFG has very little support in Somalia, and is kept alive by foreign military and financial assistance. Quite frankly, there is going to be trouble when the legitimate government is not really legitimate.

2) The majority of the areas that the TFG does not control is instead held by al-Shabab, an Islamic militant insurgency. It also holds a big area of Mogadishu, making it impossible for the TFG to implement law and order. Al-Shabab has imposed a strict brand of Sharia law in its areas and had until recently banned foreign aid. The worst areas of famine are al-Shabab districts.

Until Somalis have a functioning state they will feel the adversities of their climate much more than their neighbours. There does not seem to be much hope for the country which is biterly poor. Military action by internationa bodies would only cause more havoc and there is not a government for money to be given to. The only glimmer (small and barely perceptable) of hope comes from the authorisation of aid by al-Shabab. For months and years to come, Somalis will be praying for rain.

UK residents can donate through the government’s Disasters Emergency Committee at 

The worrying lack of news – apart from that of the World

The headlines are still dominated by the phone-hacking saga, which is now dragging on a tad. This author welcomed the resignation of the News of the World’s former Editor and CEO of News International, Rebekah Brooks, but is now getting bored. Well, I was, until the Met’s chief commissioner resigned on Sunday. I did not see that coming – not so quickly anyway. In his resignation speech the commissioner said that the up-coming public enquiries would take up too much of his time for him to do his job well. That is probably true. However, the question arises as to whether he is simply getting out early – i.e. are there more revelations to come out of the woodwork relating to police officers taking bribes from journalists? Then the deputy commissioner, John Yates, also resigned and tones sobered – the saga had now decapitated the Met. Today I woke to the alarming headline ‘Hacking witness dead’ on the front of The Times. The police said the death of Sean Hoare, who claimed that Andy Coulson was involved in the hacking, was unexplained but not suspicious.

The main point of this post is not to examine the phone-hacking scandal – newspapers and broadcasters are already picking it apart. Indeed, I would much rather document the news not making it onto the bulletins or front pages.

There were unconfirmed claims that Egypt’s ex-President, Hosni Mubarak, had slipped into a coma, although his doctors later denied this. Later it was announced that Mr Mubarak had suffered a period of very low blood pressure. However, his lawyer continued to say that the coma was real – two weeks before Mr Mubarak is due to stand trial on charges of corruption and ordering the firing of live ammunition at protesters in January. It appears, therefore that Mubarak is prepared to try anything to avoid justice. If he succeeds, Egypt’s fragile progress may skid to a halt. This would have serious consequences for the morale of those inspired by Egypt’s successes.

In Manchester, an NHS hospital has become a crime scene after three patients died when their saline drips were deliberately contaminated with insulin. Eleven other patients are said to have been victims and are being treated accordingly, and will serve as important witnesses. Security at the Stepping Hill Hospital has been increased; with a visible police presence due to an ongoing investigation. Staff and visitors are being questioned in the hope that someone saw something suspicious, but nothing has yet come to light.

A bitter humanitarian crisis has been declared in the Horn of Africa, where rain has not been seen for almost three years. Hundreds of thousands of families have been left without food as crops and animals have died, meaning that the majority of children are suffering severely from malnutrition, as are many adults. The worst affected, mainly in Somalia, are now flooding to huge refugee camps inside the borders of Kenya and Ethiopia where some aid is available. The recent influx of people has overwhelmed the camps, and aid agencies are warning that they can not cope. In Britain, money can be donated through the DEC at or by texting HELP to 70000 which gives £5. More analysis of this story soon.