Sound the Horn

"Sound the Horn: Famine in the Horn of Africa" was hosted by the Program in Infectious Disease and Social Change; Department of Global Health & Social Change at Harvard Medical School, Committee on African Studies at Harvard University, and the Weatherhead Center For International Affairs at Harvard University, and Harvard Undergraduate Council. The lecture was considered to be Harvard’s response to the Somali famine after United Nations officials declared the official end to the crisis. Specialists such as Professor of Political Science at Davidson College Ken Menkhaus and Harvard affiliates Paul Farmer, Caroline Elkins, Salmaan Keshavjee, and Robert Paarlberg shared their assessments of the situation.

One of the key points underlined at the event was understanding the discursive difference between the terms famine and natural disaster. As Weatherhead Center for International Affairs Associate Dr. Robert Paarlberg said, “just about everything about famine is man-made.” This is can be seen in the failure of local governments to delayed international community responses to early famine warning systems. However, an international response that did make an impact, as noted by Dr. Menkhaus, was the financial engagement of the Somali diaspora from abroad. The aid sent to Somalia by the diaspora in the form of financial remittances was found to help relieve some of the impact of hunger for pockets of communities affected by the famine. Presenters also touched on other ‘man-made’ aspects of the famine that were present in Somalia. Dr. Menkhaus continued to explain how certain regions under Al-Shabaab leadership experienced more food aid restrictions in comparison to areas that were outside of the group’s sphere of influence.

Thus, the reality for many impacted populations in the region includes slow crop re-growth, decreased numbers of herding animals for harvest, and humanitarian assistance dependency. These features of the Somali famine importantly reminds us of the challenging road to recovery that one third of the population still faces.

“The difference between famine versus not famine for most Somalis is a distinction without a difference.”

--Ken Menkhaus, Professor of Political Science at Davidson College


Mr. Michael Delaney, a representative of Oxfam


Professor Caroline Elkins, a Professor of History and Chair of the Committee on African Studies at Harvard, and Dr. Paul Farmer, a Professor at Harvard Medical School and founder of Partners in Health


>Dr. William Masters, Friedman School of Nutrition, Tufts University

FileSound the Horn on Famine 3 (Masters)


>Dr. Kenneth Menkhaus, Davidson College


>Dr. Robert Paarlberg, Wellesley College/Harvard Kennedy School



See also: Global Health