Social Contract and Deterring Famine: First Thoughts

Authors


African Rights, 11 Marshalsea Road, London SE1 1EP.

Abstract

The links between certain kinds of political systems and protection against famine are investigated in this paper. The starting-point is a critique of Amartya Sen's observation that famines are unknown in countries with a free press and competitive elections. This holds true only in India because of a unique political history in which freedom from famine became a right, upon which political legitimacy was founded: an anti-famine ‘social contract’.

The rise and decline of anti-famine systems in Africa is charted. Major reasons for decay include neo-liberalism and the international humanitarian system, both of which undermine relationships of domestic political accountability that underpin effective famine prevention. A number of politically regressive tendencies in ‘actually existing humanitarianism’ are identified that work against any nascent anti-famine social contracts in Africa. This is possible because famine prevention has not been established as a right in Africa.

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