William Easterly, professor of Economics at the New York university, recently posted a piece entitled “Famine Cover-Ups vs. Fake Famines”. The Famine Scam that took place in Niger in 2005 is one of the two examples mentioned in this piece. Although the tone is politically correct, it raises a few questions on the controversial subject of Invented Famines.


The Famine Scam (2008)

Prior to the Niger 2005 Famine Scam, I used to believe what I saw on the news. Although I knew things could be exaggerated to prove a certain point, it never occurred to me that a disaster would be invented so that numerous parties could go in to “save” an unfortunate population.


The Famine Scam (2008)

Today, I am one sad experience wiser and I know that Fake Famines do occur.


On Flat Earth News, author and award-winning journalist Nick Davies takes a deeper look at the newsflashes we are expected to accept as definitive truths on a daily basis. A little while ago, he wrote a post about entitled “The Famine that Never Was” which gives a good summary of the Niger Famine Scam 2005 for those of you who have yet to see the documentary (links to the Youtube version are in the sidebar):

It’s a classic tale. The Norwegian documentary team went to Niger in 2007 and interviewed politicians, health workers, farmers, local residents and others who say that, contrary to claims which were made by the BBC and then recycled by numerous other news organisations: there was no famine in Niger in 2005; there was no drought the year before to cause a famine;  there was no plague of locusts the year before to cause a famine; there were no 3.5 million starving people; there was no significant increase in deaths.

Nick Davies, The Famine that Never Was, Flat Earth News (2009)

I like his take on how fake famines occur:

It’s a classic tale not just because it’s false but because of the way in which different agencies combined with each other and with the media to generate an unstoppable tide of misinformation.

Nick Davies, The Famine that Never Was, Flat Earth News (2009)


Hilary Andersson, The Famine Scam (2008)

One would think there was already so much misery going on around the world and enough critical situations calling for compassion and action, for the aid industry not to need to invent catastrophes or dramatize around the lives of real people who are in true need of long-term, sustainable help. Nick Davies pins the motive of a fake famine down to ignorance, but personally, I cannot settle for that. All parties involved in creating the Niger 2005 Famine Scam have been confronted with the truth, yet none have taken responsibility for their actions.


UN relief coordinator Jan Egeland, The Famine Scam (2008)

Media manipulation, aid politics, food racism and individual megalomania – the Niger 2005 Famine Scam saw it all. Besides taking away people’s dignity, the short-term aid crusade that followed was both disruptive and harmful to the people in Niger. While the country deserves an apology for the untruths that were broadcast around the world and the consequences that followed, the voices who previously thundered with authority have gone silent.


The Famine Scam (2008)

Yet, as long as no lessons are learned by those who invented this famine (and the list of participants is long) and benefited at the expense of others, fake famines will continue to occur around the world. As long as major institutions within the aid industry can continue take credit for saving people from catastrophes that have never taken place, casting blame on those who say otherwise (often the local governments), the poor will be even poorer, as hasty relief campaigns built on untruthful events leave people and societies in lesser-known parts of the world worse off than before the intervention.

There is something gone badly wrong when the world of aid – born out of a desire to help – has become an industry that in its desire for monetary growth is willing to tamper with the truth, not caring for the dignity and independence of the people whom they claim to assist. The more I see, the more economics and aid go hand in hand, which might explain why the modern aid industry looks very similar to the world of venture capital:

So many ideas are brought about not because we believe they will be good for the world, but because they might be an opportunity to make more money, enhance careers, or make better connections. And with the right packaging, the client becomes the excuse that legitimizes us making ourselves the beneficiary of it all.

The Vision Pioneer Blog, Impressing Without the Wrapping (2009)


Copyright Eden Foundation

To help anyone achieve a sustainable life, you must get to know them and find out what their hearts desire. Only when you do, can you work to find a solution that will enable them to lead a dignified life – independent of outside aid. There are no quick solutions to poverty, but there are very simple ones, that will allow them to lead successful lives, outside of our control.