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William M. Gumede

South Africa

William M. Gumede is a former deputy editor of The Sowetan, Johannesburg. He is the author of the bestselling Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC. His new book, The Democracy Gap: Africaʼs Wasted Years, will be released in the U.S. in May, 2009. Close.

William M. Gumede

South Africa

William M. Gumede is a former deputy editor of The Sowetan, Johannesburg. more »

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Africa Hungry for Better Leadership

Serious food shortages and inflation, which in some places have spawned unprecedented riots, protests and marches across Africa, are due in part to bad local leadership and lack of democracy. It appears the African and developing countries worst hit by the crippling food shortages are those governed the most autocratically. Some African countries produce staple food for export, yet their people go hungry. This is similar to that phenomenon where some African countries export oil, but their countries' citizens experience oil shortages. In other cases, some African countries produce staple food surpluses, but neighboring countries have shortages. Regional African political institutions have not only been found wanting in dealing with crises such as the meltdown in Zimbabwe, but are also failing to steer food from countries with surpluses to those experiencing shortages. Furthermore, the devastating effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa are also now increasingly stunting food production, and in some countries many small farmers are too ill to produce food. Wars between and inside countries are still stilting African farming, although there are thankfully fewer such wars in recent years.

But even countries such as South Africa, which feeds itself and is a major global exporter of food, have recently experienced rampant food inflation. South Africa has been importing more food than usual the past four years. In South Africa's case, shortsighted leaders have failed to channel food to the most vulnerable. Yet, for many African countries poor land reforms have also resulted in a rapid decline in food production. In some cases, for example Zimbabwe, ruling party politicians or their friends have taken most of the best farming land and left it fallow. In other cases, foreign-owned game farms or non-food producing crops, such as flowers in Kenya, have increasingly replaced food production.

Africa’s small farmers have suffered most: they are not usually connected to political elites, and rarely have government support, access to finance or technology. Yet helping them develop is the solution for African countries that need to feed their citizens.

African countries are undeniably suffering more proportionally from climate change than industrial nations do. Climate change has caused increasingly poor environmental conditions in Africa. Decreasing food yield is just one example of this. The climate change policies of Western countries, for example subsidizing and promoting the rapid conversion of sugar cane, corn and other food into replacement for oil, also fuel the current food crisis in Africa. The IMF and World Bank, currently suffering from a credibility crisis in the developing world, should make fostering and financing sustainable climate change policies their new focus. Nevertheless, better African and global governance and leadership are integral to tackling the food shortages and inflation.

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