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Uganda: Government Quiet as Famine Takes Toll

As drought spreads throughout East Africa, more than three million Ugandans are at risk of starvation. According to a recent Oxfam report, the food shortage is the result of spectacular climate change in the region. Massive floods in 2007 ruined crops and eroded fields throughout northern and eastern Uganda. The current drought, which is also affecting neighboring Kenya, has worsened the food shortage and led to the current crisis. Hunger has claimed the lives of more than 40 people in the northern and eastern parts of the country, and bloggers fear more will die before the government takes notice.

Antipop criticizes the federal government for its attempts to downplay the famine by calling it a “food shortage”:

The famine in Eastern Uganda, Teso to be exact, which has claimed about 35 lives, has taken many of us by surprise. Some of us even first heard of it during the momentary gasps for air as we took a break from stuffing our already bulging stomachs. It is sad and we should be ashamed.

But not as ashamed as Andrew Bageire, Minister of State for Agriculture, and Tarsis Kabwegere, Minister of Relief and Disaster Preparedness who tried to water down this fiasco; Bageire by saying that the people of Teso were paying this heavy price for being lazy spending most of their time drinking ajon (local brew) instead of growing and stockpiling food and Kabwegere by insisting on describing it as a “food shortage” but not famine.

Eizzy notes that the famine is the worst in the north and east, while those in the west are relatively safe from hunger. She wonders if the government's failure to adequately respond to the crisis has to do with the fact that the president is from western Uganda:

As expected, these areas were in the north and east, I say this because where I’m from (the west) people may not be that wealthy, but they always have food to eat. I also can’t ignore the fact that the big shot politicians and people in government (President included) are also from the west. You just can’t help but get the feeling that they don’t care…which is a damn shame and beats the point of having a government! I mean really, if a government cannot deal with basic need such as hunger, then really what are they doing?

Karamoja, in northeastern Uganda, is one of the areas worst hit by hunger

Karamoja, in northeastern Uganda, is one of the areas worst hit by hunger. Photo courtesy of Ruco van der Merwe.

Uganda's Daily Monitor reports that the Minister of Disaster Preparedness Tarsis Kabwegyere is “still seeking medical interpretation as to the actual cause of death” of the famine victims. Writing for Uganda Talks, university student Kyomuhendo-Ateenyi responds:

When reports of massive deaths as a result of the famine flowed to Kampala, the honourable Minister of Disaster Preparedness (in a press conference he personally convened) asked the messengers for proof of their allegation by show of graves!

According to him, this hunger thing was a smear campaign orchestrated by disgruntled opposition hotheads whose major occupation is to sound doldrums even where it is not necessary. He then reminded the people that it was not the duty of government to feed its people and counselled the famine stricken people to grow more mangoes, dry them in times of plenty and save the excess for tough times. He is a Professor of sociology from Makerere University, East Africa’s premier tertiary institution.

“Its been a dry rainy season in East Africa…Last week, newspapers in Uganda reported that 35 people died of hunger in northern Uganda,” writes Josh at In an African Minute. “Ken Banks asks us about the elephant in the room of global poverty. To me, this is it.”

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