Anyone for lobster?
It’s three meals a day at the summit in the sumptuous surroundings of St Petersburg. Food is high on the agenda. Is there enough within reach, now and in times ahead?
Donor fatigue is a worry and delegates speak of Russian help in Africa – development, investment and continent’s future food security alongside ever present worldwide food deficits.
Intended to strengthen Moscow’s strategic influence south of the Sahara, the Russia-Africa talk-fest has been blighted by the war in Ukraine and Western weapons going to Mr Putin’s foes.
His people accuse the West of leaning on African leaders not to attend. Zimbabwe President Mnangagwa was one of the early arrivals. Far fewer showed up on Day One – 17 clocked in against 43 at the last Africa solidarity gathering hosted by Russia in Sochi in 2019.
Putin has promised to make up for his decision to end the UN brokered agreement allowing Ukrainian grain exports free passage through the Black Sea. Admittedly, the grain has gone mostly to countries outside Africa that can afford it.
Food handouts have been cut back everywhere and the trouble spots of Sudan, Yemen and Myanmar have been left without the humanitarian aid they so desperately need. Amid rising living costs and commodity prices exacerbated by the war, donor fatigue has worsened.
(Emmerson Mnangagwa, in his trademark scarf in the Zimbabwe colours, stands in the back row beside Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni.)
Gone are the days of donor priorities in Africa – or Yemen and Myanmar. Who remembers Bob Geldhof and “We are the world, we are the children’’ raising money for the starving in Ethiopia 40 years ago? Children, heading for middle age and now world weary, raided their piggy banks to donate to the pop stars’ cause.
Chokingly amusing, Geldhof assured us that every penny raised would go into a hungry mouth and no part of it would be swallowed by bureaucracy. Not one penny would go towards big cars, houses, swimming pools and golf clubs for aid personnel stationed in the tropics.
Since Geldhof, cries for cash have been described as a ‘bottomless pit.’ Mismanagement and cooking the books on both sides – by recipients and donors alike – have created suspicion and stalemate.
Author Graham Hancock, in his ‘Lords of Poverty,’ hammers do-gooders who cream it and waste money on ill-planned giveaways.
Unfortunately you can’t just drop food from the air onto a famine. It has been tried in too dangerous conflict zones; starving people gorged themselves on the ‘manna from heaven’ and literally exploded in vomit and feaces, a theme graphically explored in Luis Buneul’s surrealist 1973 film La Grande Bouffe in which a handful of manic, wealthy diners resolve to eat themselves to death.
So it’s back to the old idea: Don’t give a man a fish, teach him to fish.
Somalia has the second longest coastline in Africa after South Africa but nomadic Somalis rarely eat fish. Out in the desert no part of a camel – it’s meat, it’s milk, it’s skin for tents, it’s bones and hooves for tools, soap, resins and glue – goes to waste.
A few shoreline Somalis had leaky boats when the Swedes came along and gave them a fleet of nice, small fishing vessels.
But Somalis preferred to chew their narcotic khat and go out onto the water only when they pleased. The Swedish seafarers returned home disappointed.
The famine-prone Somalis wondered what all the fuss had been about. Fishing was lounging around, dangling your feet over the side and occasionally pulling something out of the water for the cooking pot.
What will you do when you retire? an ageing Swede was asked. I’ll be able to go fishing when I feel like it, he said. Whenever I want to. Precisely. You’ll go fishing the Somali way.
At that time Russian trawlers were dragging rich bounties of fish and seafood – squid, lobster and crab – to refrigerated factory ships in international waters off Somalia, their catches going through the middle men of the Straits Fisheries in Singapore to the finest dining tables of Europe.
Good luck in St Petersburg.
In the meantime, anyone for lobster?
Or a crayfish bisque made with a touch of garlic and white wine?
(Africa rests on a backdrop of the national emblem of the Russian Federation.)