Travels in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea

The book is a descriptive account of the African governments that were instrumental in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of individuals during the 1980’s. The author discusses how Western media, diplomats and relief officials basically ignored what was actually going on, blaming weather as the culprit instead of political policies. Kaplan describes very dark pictures of the often fatal cruelty of the Ethiopian soldiers in resettlement programs as well as the famine relief programs.

He also briefly discusses the Sudanese civil war giving accounts of inhumane acts he has witnessed. Kaplan writes how it is the African elites and Carters policies on human rights that are to blame and action is needed. Robert Kaplan is a journalist that is a writer for Atlantic Monthly. With this book he has been able to blend his personal travels into stories that give political as well as the history of places he has encountered. First published in 1988 this newer edition gives a look at Eritrea a country that declared independence in 1991 from Ethiopia.

The main theme of the book was how the world believed the drought caused the devastation and famine in eastern Africa. I’m sure the draughts were partly a factor, but in reading this book and from recent events in the news I see how the African policies and war in that region had a major impact on the situation. The book is not in chronological order it gives the reader an overview of the authors travels through these war torn countries. Kaplan does give his own twist of views on the politics and events that he saw giving the reader a better understanding to his perspective.

In developing countries war leads to hunger and reduced food production. In the places the author traveled it was the food wars, where hunger is weapons that gave him reason and drive to write the book. Kaplan discusses how since colonial times, the seizure of prime pasture reserves and water sources has been one of the key factors leading to the progressive weakening of the pastoral system and to the ever increasing migration to urban centers.

The lack of adequate policies, the author insists, and of investment in services and infrastructure in rural areas that also undermined the capacity of people to manage livelihoods in the challenging ecology of the region. As the cumulative impact of this negative policy environment has grown, choices have and will continue to diminish. The population in this region is in a state of sustained social and economic crisis. The dire socioeconomic conditions and the feeling of marginalization have created discontent and grievances that have led to conflict.

Drought has struck eastern Sudan many times in the past century but the resilience of the pastoralists to withstand it has also steadily decreased over time Kaplan writes. But Kaplan does not agree totally with others who believe this as being the main factor in the cause of the drought that hit the region in the mid 1980’s that degenerated into a famine of disastrous proportions. The international response arrived too late, the end of 1984, when the conditions of starvation and mass migration were already set and the focus was only on the distribution of relief food aid.