Sign Up

Africa: A Massive Tragedy That Could Be Avoided

The issue of the intense connection between corruption and violence fails to secure the attention it deserves.

April 29, 2017

The issue of the intense connection between corruption and violence fails to secure the attention it deserves.

Approximately 20 million people face death from starvation in four African countries this year. Their deaths reflect the failure of the international community to act effectively to counter the twin curses of corruption and violence in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

Whenever there are very high levels of corruption, there are high levels of violence. In extreme cases, such as in Afghanistan, South Sudan and Yemen, right now this means prevailing conditions of war without any near-term prospect of peace.

According to Transparency International and the Vision for Humanity Foundation, publisher of the annual Global Peace Index, these countries are among the most corrupt and most violent in the world.

International community’s indifference

The World Bank and the United Nations are striving to find ways to relieve the evolving African starvation tragedy. The Bank’s chief executive officer, Kristaline Georgieva, told me that the two institutions are going to be working together to try and find ways to rescue those who are facing famine.

The Bank will be providing a special $1.8 billion grant program for this purpose, she said.

The international community as well as the most powerful Western nations have not only failed to act to bring stability with justice to countries plagued by corruption and violence, but not even made it a priority. And the challenge right now is enormous.

In Nigeria, the current intense threat is due to the chaos and insecurity created by Boko Harom.

Boko Haram is a terrorist organization that built its strength as a direct result of the sprawling government and military corruption that embedded mass poverty with vast youth unemployment in Northern Nigeria.

Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia

In Yemen, an intense civil war since 2015, plus ceaseless bombing by Saudi Arabia, is making it exceptionally difficult to bring vital food aid to most of the population. Even though food aid is getting through to many people, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network reports:

Yemen continues to face the largest food security emergency in the world, with large populations in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4) acute food insecurity, the latter of which is associated with an increased risk of excess mortality.

In South Sudan, the situation is no better and possibly worse. A recent story in The Washington Post stated that a reporter found more than 70 checkpoints on the road in South Sudan between the town of Juba and Unity state:

Soldiers would often demand bribes or food from aid workers and the government refuses to let the United Nations operate flights that could drop food supplies over at-risk areas.

Somalia is in every respect a failed state, with the country under the rule of warlords and home to the El Shabah terrorist group, that, like Boko Haram, is terrorizing the population.

Time to address the refugee crisis

The leaders of the West have not put the plight of the 20 million Africans at the front of their international priorities. This is a man-made crisis, not a natural disaster.

​If relief efforts could be mobilized on a major scale, then millions of lives could be saved.​

​Yet, this poses profound difficulties for Western governments, especially those in Europe, who are already struggling to absorb refugees from Syria and from sub-Saharan Africa.

These refugees are people, who in their desperation, as they flee from the violence and economic hardship in their countries, strive to travel great distances to reach the Mediterranean. They then risk their lives as they take small boats to reach Europe. ​

​The challenges now emerging so starkly may continue for years to come and force Western nations to recognize that they must forge comprehensive long-term strategies to aid Africa’s migrants and those in Africa where politics is creating corruption and violence that leaves millions of dead in its path.

If European governments fail to address the core problems, then the number of refugees seeking to enter Europe from Africa will become a tidal wave.

African Union needs to step up

President Trump has not talked or even tweeted about Africa. ​His Administration is determined to block refugees from entering the country. ​His budget proposals to the U.S. Congress call for ​large cuts both in U.S. foreign aid and in support of the U.N.’s humanitarian work. There could not be a worse signal of Western indifference.

An increasing number of non-governmental organizations across the globe are striving to play a constructive role in this crisis, but the violence that abounds is so great that their opportunities to help are limited.

The African Union should come to the rescue and establish a military force sufficient to ensure that food aid is delivered to save many of those who are now acutely at risk.

​But, it has neither volunteered to take the lead, nor been pressed hard enough to do so by African governments or Western governments. ​

More generally, the issue of the intense connection between corruption and violence fails to secure the attention it deserves.

The corruption-violence combination

Too many people in government, multilateral organizations like the U.N. and World Bank, and in academia live in their silos, focusing on corruption or on violence, but not on both at the same time.

​Violence comes in many forms, from the horrors of war that we see in Yemen and South Sudan, to far-reaching human rights abuses that are a constant feature under authoritarian and highly corrupt regimes.​

The U.S. Government has paid a huge cost for this failure in terms of the deaths of soldiers and in cash in Iraq and Afghanistan (for example, a large part of the $110 billion in U.S. reconstruction aid to Afghanistan ​over the last dozen years is not fully accounted for).

Both countries received massive U.S. economic and military aid. In both countries, the level of corruption increased, as did the violence, and ​they combined ​to add ​to instability ​while undermining ​the U.S.’s security objectives.


​Violence comes in many forms, from the horrors of war to far-reaching human rights abuses.

Afghanistan, South Sudan and Yemen are among the most corrupt and most violent in the world.

The plight of 20 million Africans isn't one of the international priorities of the leaders of the West.