Alex de Waal

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Workers carrying sacks of grain in a World Food Program (WFP) warehouse in Abala, Ethiopia, June 2022. Eduardo Soteras/AFP/Getty

The United Nations has assessed that 276 million people worldwide today are “severely food insecure”. Forty million are in “emergency” conditions, one step short of the UN’s technical definition of “famine”. By early this year the combined effects of the climate crisis, the economic fallout from Covid-19, armed conflict, and the rising costs of fuel and food had already caused a sharp increase in the number of people in need of relief. Then the Russian invasion of Ukraine suddenly shut down wheat exports from the world’s breadbasket. For five months, Russian warships blockaded Black Sea ports and stopped grain cargoes from leaving, both to strangle the Ukrainian economy and to destabilize food-importing nations to pressure the US and Europe into relaxing sanctions.…  Seguir leyendo »

Yemenis receive food aid at a camp in the western province of Hodeida, 29 March 2022. The disruption of export flows resulting from Russia's invasion of Ukraine and international sanctions has raised fears of a global food crisis, particularly in Yemen, where famine is also being used as a weapon in the war that has been raging in the country since 2014. © Khaled Ziad / AFP

A hideous contradiction is playing out in war-torn Ukraine. Thousands of Ukrainians are starving in cities besieged by Russian forces. Meanwhile, the country’s grain stores are bursting with food, and the government is begging for international assistance to export Ukrainian grain to world markets.

At the end of 2021, almost 200 million people globally were suffering acute food insecurity. The number climbed after Russia’s invasion and blockade of Ukraine, a key exporter of grains and oil seeds, which disrupted world food markets. This is pushing up food prices and straining aid budgets.

Russia isn’t the only belligerent to weaponize hunger. Most people at risk of famine today live in places afflicted by war.…  Seguir leyendo »

Anna and her daughter Sonya sit inside Syrets subway station which is used as a bomb shelter, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine, on 18 March. Photograph: Roman Pilipey/EPA

The deputy mayor of Mariupol, Sergiy Orlov, describes people sheltering in basements trying to survive without food, medicine or a power supply, and drinking melted snow because the water has been cut off. In Chernihiv, March 16, a line of 10 civilians queuing for bread outside a grocery shop were killed by Russian troops. Ukrainian intelligence reports indiscriminate shelling and targeting of agricultural machinery, fields and grain stores; and civilians are being blocked from leaving besieged towns and cities or killed whilst fleeing. This is a playbook familiar to any monitoring similar starvation crimes in Syria, Yemen, Tigray or South Sudan.…  Seguir leyendo »

Crowds of Sudanese gathered at the army headquarters on Thursday, chanting “The regime has fallen.” Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Widespread peaceful protests have forced Sudan’s long-serving military ruler, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, out of office. But a transition to democracy is going to be far more difficult and will need prompt international support.

During his 30 years in power, Mr. Bashir built a hydra-headed military and security apparatus. On Thursday, a cabal of his henchmen in the military replaced him and took over. Gen. Awad Ibn Auf, Sudan’s minister of defense, appeared on state television and announced the end of Mr. Bashir’s era and the beginning of a two-year transition period during which the army will rule. Though he promised “representation of the people,” many Sudanese will see this as betraying their demand for democracy.…  Seguir leyendo »

Pro-government fighters in Yemen carrying explosives thought to have been dropped by Houthi rebels, around Al Hudaydah, this month. Credit Nabil Hassan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Last-ditch diplomatic efforts could not stop the Saudi Arabian and Emirati coalition’s offensive on the Yemeni port city of Al Hudaydah this week. With no real prospect for peace talks of any kind, the city, a fief of the Houthi rebels who control much of the country and a hub for humanitarian assistance for millions of desperate Yemeni civilians, could fall within days.

If the offensive goes according to the Saudis’ and Emiratis’ plan, promptly after that, the Houthis, who also control the capital Sana, will sue for peace. The maritime blockade in place since 2015 could then be lifted. After that, a vast humanitarian operation could unfold, saving Yemen from a devastating famine.…  Seguir leyendo »

The worst drought in three decades has left almost 20 million Ethiopians — one-fifth of the population — desperately short of food. And yet the country’s mortality rate isn’t expected to increase: In other words, Ethiopians aren’t starving to death.

I’ve studied famine and humanitarian relief for more than 30 years, and I wasn’t prepared for what I saw during a visit to Ethiopia last month. As I traveled through northern and central provinces, I saw imported wheat being brought to the smallest and most remote villages, thanks to a new Chinese-built railroad and a fleet of newly imported trucks. Water was delivered to places where wells had run dry.…  Seguir leyendo »

Sisi Goes to Addis Ababa

On one of the last occasions an Egyptian president visited Addis Ababa, he got no further than the road from the airport: In 1995 the motorcade of President Hosni Mubarak came under fire from Egyptian jihadists. Mr. Mubarak was saved by his bulletproof car, his driver’s skill and Ethiopian sharpshooters.

After that, Ethiopian and Egyptian intelligence officers worked together to root out terrorists in the Horn of Africa, contributing, along with pressure from the United States government, to Osama bin Laden’s expulsion from Sudan in 1996. But that was the limit of their cooperation.

Egypt and Ethiopia have otherwise been locked in a low-intensity contest over which nation would dominate the region, undermining each other’s interests in Eritrea, Somalia and South Sudan.…  Seguir leyendo »

There is an opportunity to halt South Sudan’s slide into war and state failure, but it must be seized within days or it will be lost. This requires the leaders of South Sudan to rise above narrow, tribalistic, zero-sum politics and develop a national program. President Salva Kiir and other members of the country’s political elite — in government and in opposition, inside South Sudan and in the diaspora — must respond to this challenge now or go down in history as having betrayed their people.

Nine years ago, on Jan. 9, 2005, the Sudanese government and the southern-based Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) signed a historic peace accord that brought an end to more than 20 years of war between northern and southern Sudan.…  Seguir leyendo »

When France decided to send soldiers to the Central African Republic on Nov. 26, it did the right thing for the wrong reason.

France, the United Nations and the African Union dispatched some 4,000 troops soon after the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, warned that the C.A.R. was “on the verge of genocide.” Yet the country doesn’t face genocide; it is experiencing state collapse and limited intercommunal killings after a military takeover by a coalition of undisciplined militiamen known as Seleka.

Last week, flying home from the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, President François Hollande of France stopped in Bangui, C.A.R.’s…  Seguir leyendo »

The use of nerve gas in Syria is abhorrent, and those within the Syrian military command who ordered it are war criminals. But it is folly to think that airstrikes can be limited: they are ill-conceived as punishment, fail to protect civilians and, most important, hinder peacemaking.

The use of chemical weapons should be punished. No country should remain neutral when human beings are gassed. This is one thing on which the United States, Russia and Iran can agree. But the most convincing punishment would come through an international war crimes tribunal outside Syria.

Syrian civilians deserve protection from murder, but bombing won’t deliver it.…  Seguir leyendo »

Mali faces a deep crisis that demands a political strategy toward a long-term settlement. What’s on offer today, namely sending a multinational force to reoccupy the Malian Sahara and fight terrorists, while negotiating deals with the cannier rebel leaders, promises only temporary respite. The reason: West Africa and the Sahara functions as political marketplace in which loyalties are for rent. Government leaders, rebels, drug traffickers and even terrorists, are all bargaining for profit and power.

Mali was a fragile democracy that imploded when Tuareg fighters, released from service in the Libyan Army after the fall of Muammar el-Qaddafi, returned home and overran the northern desert half of the country, declaring the independent state of Azawad.…  Seguir leyendo »

The death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi deprives Ethiopia — and Africa as a whole — of an exceptional leader.

We both knew him from his days as a guerrilla in the mountains of Tigray, northern Ethiopia, fighting against the former Communist government in Addis Ababa. “Comrade Meles” (he was christened Legesse but took the nom de guerre Meles in his early revolutionary days after a colleague who was killed) rose to become first among equals of the rebel fighters who took power in 1991.

His ascendancy was due to force of intellect: In those days of collective leadership of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, Meles was best able to articulate a theory linking state power, ethnic identity and economic policy, making Marxist-Leninism relevant to the demands of winning a guerrilla war.…  Seguir leyendo »

Once an abstract obligation, stopping genocide has become a political project. Building on the humanitarian interventionism of the 1990s, a vast anti-genocide movement, largely U.S.-based, is stirring students and movie stars alike. Its figureheads are Gareth Evans, a former Australian foreign minister and the architect of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine, and Samantha Power, the author of “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” who is now at the National Security Council. It enjoins “us” — that is, the United States and the United Nations — to lead the response to mass atrocities.

High from last year’s interventions in Libya and Ivory Coast, Evans wrote triumphantly in Foreign Policy last December that those missions brought “an end to most of the confused debates” about humanitarian intervention.…  Seguir leyendo »

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain will convene a big international meeting on Somalia on Thursday. The tasks: stopping piracy in the Indian Ocean, uprooting terrorism, relieving a famine and ending a civil war. The approach: Western ships, U.S. drones, African soldiers and international money for the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu.

This is all very laudable, except for one thing: It won’t work.

The transitional government, established in 2004, has no credibility, in part because it could not exist without foreign backing. In fact, many Somalis don’t want a central government. Or, to be exact, they are so embittered by their experience of centralized power that they would rather have no government than the type that their African neighbors and the West have designed for them.…  Seguir leyendo »

South Sudan was born as an independent nation on July 9, 2011, with good will and a bounty. Three hundred and fifty thousand barrels of oil per day provided the government with $1,000 per year for each of its 8 million citizens.

But the only pipeline to market runs through northern Sudan, giving the government in Khartoum control over South Sudan’s economic artery. And on independence day there was no agreement on the terms of pipeline use.

When Sudan was still one country, 50 percent of the revenue from southern oil went to the central treasury, comprising 40 percent of its budget.…  Seguir leyendo »

When Nato concedes a draw in Afghanistan, it will be because of its failure to understand the country's politics. But a deeper failure will lurk in the background. As I argue in more detail in an article in Prospect, in the past decade, the west has launched a huge experiment to build capable states in the world's most difficult countries. Troops, technical advisers and aid budgets are the tools of choice.

The problem is that Nato and the UN are terribly bad at patronage politics. Their operations are run from green-zone ghettos and their representatives are risk-averse, obsessed with procedures and rarely interacting with their hosts.…  Seguir leyendo »

After seven months' deliberation, the judges of the international criminal court finally issued an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, this week. Their appeal for retributive justice, in the form of charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur, was solemnly echoed in European and US capitals, and universally by rights organisations and activist groups. Within hours, however, the Sudan government showed that the court and its backers were powerless to defend or feed the millions of Darfurians in whose name justice is being sought. It summarily expelled the biggest international aid agencies, seized their assets, and closed down Sudanese human rights organisations at gunpoint.…  Seguir leyendo »

Is the International Criminal Court losing its way in Darfur? We fear it is. Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo's approach is fraught with risk -- for the victims of the atrocities in Darfur, for the prospects for peace in Sudan and for the prosecution itself.

We are worried by two aspects of Ocampo's approach, as presented to the U.N. Security Council early this month. One concerns fact: Sudan's government has committed heinous crimes, but Ocampo's comparison of it with Nazi Germany is an exaggeration. The other concerns political consequences: Indicting a senior government figure would be an immense symbolic victory for Darfurians.…  Seguir leyendo »

Imagine you are a U.S. Special Forces officer and you get a call: You are being posted to Darfur. Your job is to protect African villagers from marauding Arab horsemen and to show the Sudanese security chiefs that their bluff has been called -- at last, the international community is standing up to their evil schemes.

What can you expect? According to news reports, a sort of slow-motion Rwanda in the desert. What will you find on arrival? A reality that's complicated and messy. A Darfur that has more in common with Chad, southern Sudan and -- dare we say it?…  Seguir leyendo »