Discussing Famine in Africa on NPR

Reflections about my Interview on NPR on Famine in Africa and Yemen.  

We now live in a time where memories are stored for us by a process of "Remembering Analytica". To that end, Facebook reminds us of things that did in the past that would probably have otherwise been lost for ever, yet even for those things that we would remember, the regular reminders of different anniversaries based on our posts on Facebook, allow us to remember those things in a different way. If Cambridge Analytica, got in trouble for collecting data about us to be used for political reasons, Remembering Analytica may be equally significant but in a more positive way.  One of such memories reminders appeared on my timeline yesterday about  post I shared a year about ago  yesterday regarding an interview I did with WAMU, a NPR radio affiliate based in D.C.  The show was about famine in East Africa and Yemen.  

Appearing on the show with me were two other contributors, Jeffery Gettleman, the New York Times East African Bureau Chief and Carolina Miles, the CEO of Save the Children.  I was quite familiar with Jeffery Gettleman and his writings from his periodic articles about different issues in Kenya and the region. I was excited to have an opportunity to engage him in a discussion about food as I saw him a poster book example of what is wrong with the food system in Kenya, and by extensions the relationship between the West and African in general. Mr. Gettleman does a great job of reporting on African issues, and specifically Kenyan issues, using very old Eurocentric eyes and perpetuating old stereotypes about the continent. I hope to write about one article that he wrote in the next blog post for anyone interested in understanding the issue further. So I did not have much reading to do to prepare for address his positions. Caroline Miles was rather new to me, while i had heard about the organization Save the Children, I was not that familiar with its head woman.  I therefore read up on her work and the direction that she was steering the  non profit organization. 

From the beginning, I had to admit that I had issues with the fact that a topic as central as food security and famine was being discussed on NPR by two white people and one African in 2017. What is the purpose of having educated Africans in the U.S if they can't speak on a topic as crucial as famine in their own counties. Even if none of the East Africans  were available as readily, why not have other Africans or African Americans to offer their views on the matter. There are many people of African decent with enough authority to speak on such issues. There are also university professors in African who are equally if not more qualified to speak on that matter. Is it that they have accents or are not readily available? It hard for anyone to make a case that in this day and time that White experts have to have all the answers for Africa's problems.  The consequences of such thinking is readily available all over Africa and beyond for anyone with eyes to see. 

Either way, I was glad to have been considered as a contributor and I also figured that it may be opportunity to point this out during the discussion, either directly or indirectly. I therefore went on the forum with those trepidations. As a side note, my thought was going through some kind of  crisis and I was having a hard time getting my voice back. I was hoarse and this was a very frustrating feeling. I tried to drink all kinds of concussions that I made but nothing seemed to work. I did however keep my commitment to appear on the show in spite of my voice issues. 

The interview started with a question to Jeffery about his his general experience with the Kenyan people. His answer all made me fly off the chair.  I have to say that having grown up in the village where there was plenty of food and food security as the villagers and family members worked the fields together and collaborated in building a functional environment that was conducive to food security by combining their resources to come up with local solutions to their problems. For example, there were  community cattle deeps, coffee factories  that were communally ran and the like, I was therefore extremely conscious of the the possible detriments that are likely to occur as a result of following wrongheaded government policies, misguided advice from Western experts as well as the gullibility of the local farmers who are naive to the political subterfuge of the multinational corporations. I therefore expected a serious discussion on this topic from the word go. So when I heard the answer from Gettleman, about how friendly the Kenyans are and how they greet each other and shake hands for a long time, I was not impressed. This may have had something to do with issues I previously had with his articles but the simple answer did not help either. 

I did mange to contribute some to the discussion but I did not leave the table feeling like I covered as much as I did.  When I checked the discussion taking place of social media, the picture was different. There was quite a healthy conversation going on and  a number of the points I raised seemed to have come out clearer than I thought. A great number of people noted that it did not make sense that two White people were discussing famine in Africa. A few others complained that I was not getting enough time to talk, while others responded to some of the points they thought were sound. But of all the comments I read, two comments stood out from the rest. The first one was by a professor from Rutgers University, Daniel Hoffma, who does work in several rural areas in Kenya. The first thing I appreciated from his work is that the project is not geared towards exporting food nor using foreign seeds, but towards food security for the locals by using indigenous seeds. He later invited me for a residency at Rutgers University. The second one was by a  Ugandan graduate student from Duke University who happened to be listening to me as he was studying.  He be befriended me on Facebook and we eventually met up for coffee. 

Here is his comments by the Ugandan student, who by the way is named Ceasar Lubanga-Kene. 

Was listening to NPR's 1A program doing a special hour on Famine in Africa. The panel had some notable people.


First, Jeffrey Gettleman- The New York Times East-African Bureau Chief, a Pulitzer Prized journalist who has extensively reported about wars, famine and drought in the East and Horn of Africa.


Then, President & CEO of Save the Children Caroline Miles, the madame president leading this big global Save the Children movement serving and saving millions every day especially in Africa. 


And then alas, a Chef Njathi Wa Kabui, a Kenyan-US Chef based here in Little Durham. 


So, at first I was all wondering what a chef in America would contribute to such a discussion and started whining (I am always whining) about why NPR could not bring other big people from Africa say Academics, Entrepreneurs, Journalists, Managers, Activists or Western African Policy people in this important discussion to match these two big policy-movers on a national public radio.


But trust an African Brother, Jamaa the chef is not your normal downtown Chef always playing with spices in his kitchen and #SaltBae-ing steak. After listening to his first lines, I looked him up...big man, Chef Njathi Wa Kabui is a Food Activist, Anthropologist and Political Scientist, Pan-African of cos


As expected, he almost crashed the panel. He made the most critical contributions through out according to us Africans. Bringing up stuff usually left out in such discussions. He shifted the debate from aid and charities to the plight of Africans and swayed the panelists to focus on the underlying root causes of the stagnation and starvation in Africa. 


He highlighted the unfair trade policies, military industrial complex hand in the armed conflicts, and the exploitative economic system that was set up by and for the benefit of the West, the looming environmental disasters due to heavy pollution again from the West exacerbating climate change and the drought in Africa.


Yes, for now we do need the charities and the hand outs from the likes of Save the Children with 20 million in Africa faced with starvation 1 million of the them children. Yes, we desperately need the media like New York Times and NPR covering Africa fairly. And Yes, most importantly for a long-term solution for Africa, Chef Njathi Wa Kabui is right, we need to revise the unfair trade agreements and deals, neoliberal market policies killing and draining African economies dry, scrutinize Western monopolies and corporations, World Bank/IMF Loans 


Most commentary in Western media about Africa is consciously framed with a 'needy-savior' implicit bias that affects the understanding, actions, and decisions of Western actors usually beginning and ending with the need for more foreign western aid to "save" Africans.