Sunday, August 28, 2005

Niger: He Said, They Said

The news has been covering starvation in Niger for the past several months. Now this coverage includes much finger-pointing and analysis of "what went wrong." This coverage is sometimes conflicting, sometimes confusing.
Note the article that appeared in The Economist last week, 'The Worst Is Over', in which it is stated that

"Indeed, Niger's government has been accused of trying to cover up the extent of food shortages in order to save face. It was mounting pressure from opposition parties and local NGOs that finally forced the prime minister, Hama Amadou, as late as the end of May, to acknowledge the "severe food insufficiency" in the country and ask for international help. It only recently started distributing free food..."
The article goes on to say that Niger's government needs to address their handling of crops and distribution of food.
But, according to a Knight Ridder article, published in the Times Union, Niger's government was acting under advice given by organizations that, generally, are supposed to know what they are doing.
Nor was Niger's government the obstacle. Leaders there did not resent the U.N. or IMF. They were following IMF advice -- agreed to by U.N. agencies -- to put the free market economy first, and the starving people second. Even as thousands were dying of starvation in June, the Nigerien government was reducing its grain supplies and imposing a value added tax on such staples as meat and produce. All this at a time when the government should have been giving food away to starving citizens.

Both articles do agree that the media arrived late to this issue, but say that is no excuse for the lack of action by organizations that are supposed to monitor such problems.