Analysis: The failure of Rome

The reality is that blame should be placed squarely on the shoulders of the political leaders of the developing world.

The three-day summit held in Rome by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization this week has highlighted all that is wrong with the United Nations, the international community and the way developing nations mask their political shortcomings. The purpose of the summit was to discuss spiralling food prices and reduce international hunger. And yet, the FAO saw fit to invite a host of political leaders who have systemically destroyed their countries. Among the dignitaries was Robert Mugabe, the man responsible for bankrupting Zimbabwe and causing widespread poverty and hunger. However, not to allow Mugabe to attend would have incurred the enmity of leaders from the developing world. Somewhat ironically, the Rome Summit concluded with a draft declaration calling for greater food production, an increase in investment in agriculture and a demand to reduce trade barriers. Nothing was said of the political shortcomings and the lack of democracy and accountability in many of the countries that are experiencing food shortages. Instead, FAO officials, UN World Food Program members and others turned an accusing finger to the Western world for the plight of the world's poor. The reality, however, is that blame should be placed squarely on the shoulders of the political leaders of the developing world, and how incompetence, corruption, avarice, megalomania and their ability to escape all forms of responsibility has ensured that the number of people facing famine will increase. This was seen a few days ago, when Ignatious Chombo, the Zimbabwean minister for local government, ordered all food deliveries (including those provided by NGOs) to be controlled by his ministry and carried out by official structures. This means that food distribution is under the control of Mugabe and his ruling party and used as a political tool to garner support in the lead up to June 27's presidential runoff. According to FAO figures, around 850 million people face famine worldwide, with the figure set to rise to around a billion, but the FAO, instead of linking the dire situations in the developing world to political abuse, chose to focus on blaming the West. The reality however, is that by demanding the removal of several corrupt and power-hungry leaders, as well as enforcing the peace in several other countries, one would save hundreds of millions of people. A change in leadership in Zimbabwe would help the 12 million people there, of whom more than 70 percent live below the poverty line (2004) and the approximately 4 million people who rely on food aid. There is also a drastic need for a change in the North Korean leadership, which repeatedly places its population of 23 million on the brink of mass starvation. Other examples of countries where political change would help millions are the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan. The former, with a population of 66 million, endures regular bouts of internal warfare (between 1999-2002 around 3 million people lost their lives during the Congo conflict), while Sudan, with a population of over 40 million has around 40% of its population living under the poverty line. Similar figures appear in Ethiopia, Niger, Mauritania, and so on. Freedom House, a nonprofit, nonpartisan independent organization that promotes freedom, noted in its latest report that in 2007 there was a major setback to global freedom, the second consecutive year that this has happened. The FAO and other such organizations must realize that only through the promotion of political freedom and democracy will poverty end. Allowing Mugabe and others of his type to attend international conferences emphasizes the arrogance of international civil servants who view the developed world as a bottomless cash-machine. The time has come for world leaders to either demand accountability or close the machine. Dr. Isaac Kfir lectures on international relations at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya