Thursday, December 14, 2006

Horn of Africa

“I am ready to die,” [says] Osama Abdi Rahim, dressed head to toe in camouflage and marching around with a loaded rifle. He is 7 years old.

-- Somalia’s Islamists and Ethiopia Gird for a War, front paged in the NYT on 14 Dec. The article continues:

“I’ll be honest,” said Sheik Muktar Robow Abu Monsur, the deputy security chief for the Islamists. “America is the best friend of Islam. It wakes up the sleeping Muslim.”

Factors behind the hysteria include drought and demographics. A startlingly pessimistic article in The Economist this summer (The Path to Ruin, 10 August) noted:

It wouldn't take much for famine to seize hold of the [Somali borderlands in the Horn of Africa]. Humanitarian action has kept the starving alive, but it has not enabled them to recover their lives. The trend is an ever increasing need for food aid plus ever less money from donors to pay for it. The World Food Programme (WFP) is responsible for delivering most of the aid in the Horn. It says that the number of Ethiopians on its books has doubled since the 1990s, in bad years to as many as 10m. The situation is not much better elsewhere. Some 1.7m hungry people are reliant on food aid in south Somalia—when the WFP can get it to them. And 3m people in Kenya, mostly in the country's arid north, will get some kind of food aid this year.

The Economist article includes a chart of population growth, showing the total number of people in Ethiopia rising from about 75 million today to 144m by 2030, and Kenya from about 35m to 65m over the same period the same time. Somalia's population, says the graph, will grow from about 8m to nearly 20m. Somalia has the highest fertility rate of the three countries (6.8 children per woman) and there are sizeable Somali minorities in Ethiopia and Kenya too.

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