This is a tactic that has been used in war and conflicts since the beginning of humanity. Cities have been besieged and no one has been allowed to go out and fetch water and food when the resources have run out. Not only large populations have been mistreated this way, and not only in the history. We can look at one of our African countries, Uganda, and the presidential candidate and musician Bobi Wine who was under house arrest during the time of the election in January this year. Bobi was there together with his wife and his baby nephew. They were baby sitting and didn’t have enough diapers or baby food for more than one day.
Imagine the worries for the baby’s parents as they couldn’t come in contact with Bobi Wine and they were not allowed to fetch their own baby. A lot of soldiers were on post around Bobi Wine’s compound and didn’t allow anyone to exit or enter. Bobi Wine’s wife wasn’t even allowed to go out in the garden to fetch vegetables so they would have something to eat. The soldiers were everywhere and they threatened to injure or kill the one who left the house.
As I said before; this is unfortunately a common way of controling people in different kind of conflicts where the military is involved. Surrender or starve, two hard choices of which none of them is more appealing than the other.
International laws say that it is forbidden to obstruct humanitarian aid, to use sieges or blockades and to destroy vital facilities. This includes agricultural areas, crops and livestock, drinking water and irrigation systems. The supply of food must be allowed, as well as the supply of medicines, clothing and shelter materials.
All this sounds good, but theory is one thing and the reality is another. For those who have been following the news about Syriah, South Sudan, Mali or Democratic Republic of Congo you have seen that there is often little respect for the humanitarian aid workers and their lives.
Punishing one or another part for war crimes is not an easy task. Collecting evidence might be easy, but finding and prosecuting those who are guilty takes often a long time. War is not the only kind of battle that people have to go through. Look at our corrupted countries in Africa, for example, where every day is a battle for survival. Deliberate starvation is a method used in war, when the war lords intentionally weaken their opponents. Famine means when the availability of food is or will be seriously limited. Famine is classified as level 5 according to the Integrated Food Phase Classification (IPC). This means that households suffer from an extreme lack of food and other resources to meet their basic needs.
Famine leads to hunger, misery and malnutrition and the mortality rates reach alarming levels. Hunger is considered uncomfortable as long as we feel it during a limited amount of time – like fasting during Ramadan. If hunger lasts longer it will prevent us from a normal, active and healthy life. Undernutrition occurs when we don’t get enough food every day. Malnutrition occurs when we might get some food, but the food is not healthy and it doesn’t give us the nutritients we need. These three ; deliberate starvation, famine and hunger are important to remember because we need, and we must, fight against them.
Let us take a look at our beloved Gambia. You have been free from oppression for around 4 years now. Jammeh left the coffers empty and went away with as much as he could rob you on. It must have been tough for the new government to make some order in the finances. Most of Jammeh’s bank accounts are now blocked and the money is supposed to be given back to the State. His exclusive cars are sold, and that money is also supposed to be given back to the State. How much have we seen of these transactions since the money began to roll in? Where is the transparency we were promised? The only thing that is transparant is the fact that the ones who rule our country are just as corrupt as our earlier government.
There is a lack of honour, of empathy, of a committment to build up a good society for all citizens of The Gambia. Food prices are sky rocketing and the wages, for those who are lucky enough to have a job, are just as low as before. What I have been considering is this: is there an evil plan behind the fact that almost nothing has become better since we got a new president? It seems like that, because the president and his government have done nothing to improve your living conditions. Nothing!
Behind the term deliberate starvation is intent, that someone wants to starve you out to make you surrender. Famine is when you never know if you will have enough food. The Gambia is a lovely country where you can grow food all year round and still a lot of people are malnourished. There is no need for that, but to change this we need a government that has a longterm plan for food sufficiency. So why are people hungry? Who do children go to school on an empty stomach? Why are mothers boiling water at night, pretending that they are cooking and hoping that their kids will fall asleep before they realize that there is no food in the pots?
Why is it possible that food prices go up and down depending on local holidays? How can that be legal? How come that the price of cooking oil is almost the double during Ramadan than before? The prices of all your essential food has gone up; potatoes, rice, onions, sugar, cooking oil. Everything that the businessmen know that you buy more of before every celebration. Why aren’t the prices fixed and controlled? It can’t be a secret that most people in The Gambia are struggling financially. Therefore it is even more important to control the prices and punish those who are taking advantage of poor people’s money. It is shameful!
My conspiracy theory is this: as long as people are very hungry and worried to not ever have enough food they are easy to control. They are too hungry to protest and those who have jobs are too afraid to lose them. There is a hard choice is between not protesting and keeping your job OR protesting and risking to lose it. It is not only in The Gambia where those who rule a country use hunger and religion as means to control the people. There is a huge respect for religious leaders and for those who are believed to lead a country because God placed them in that position.
As long as we have that belief there will be leaders who misuse their authority. They are in control over you and your loved ones. They know how to control your lives and your future. They know how to make you starve or surrender, both mentally and physically. Do you have the strength to fight back?
We know the names of our heroes in The Gambia, these strong and courageous men and women who fought for your freedom. Will there be new names, new freedom fighters who are prepared to fight for your rights to be able to never worry about food anymore?