The Secret Nation: How an Economic Boom Occurred Amidst Plague and Famine

The Secret Nation: How an Economic Boom Occurred Amidst Plague and Famine

Paul Fischer


Professor Katlyn Morris

Assistant Professor Jeremy Romanul


The Secret Nation: How an Economic Boom Occurred Amidst Plague and Famine

The nation of Somalia lost over 250,000 people in 2011 to starvation (McVeigh). In the last couple of years the rate of death has increased and the median age stands at 17 years old, a phenomenon not seen in Vermont since the 1820s. In Vermont parents moved West in search of riches; Somalia has lost the older generation to the altogether more sinister specter of death. Historical precedent and medical background of the epidemiology of oppression and deprivation must be explored to establish a successful route out of what has been described by some as a nightmare on the wrong plane.

Cholera: Neglect and Willful Exacerbation

Cholera, once contracted is deadly and inefficient or ill informed methods of treating the disease can be less effective than inaction, as was seen in a Russian outbreak during which doctors saw 1097 of 1968 patients pass away. In one report of this incident, common in European countries throughout early urbanization, it is stated that, “It will be seen that in private treatment the deaths under the Allopatric or ordinary method were 39 per cent, and under the Homeopathic little more than 9 per cent; and that in hospitals it was 56 per cent” (Wilkinson, 6). In addition to inadequate measures to fight the epidemiology of the disease, failure to diagnose it meant that the sick were frequently not brought in until they were “violently” diseased and heavily dosed with medications.

Many of the epidemiological and technical difficulties faced by such early, both rural and urban outbreaks of the disease are also present in African countries such as Somalia. Cholera is a fast acting disease and just one of several diseases that have broken out in the region in recent years. The primary means of infection are through drinking water, though once hosted, the disease can be very contagious and can spread through any droplets so the contagion can easily spread to many regions if not effectively controlled, making obstruction or inefficacy of aid efforts all the more infuriating and dangerous. The fear experienced by a young girl who awakes in a town affected by a deadly form of cholera is explicit in The Secret Garden, a novel written during the height of colonial choleric outbreaks, reading, “the cholera had broken out in its most fatal form and people were dying like flies … others had run away in terror. There was panic on every side, and dying people in the bungalows” (Burnett, 4).

Diarrhea is followed by dizziness, pain, dehydration, and ultimately mortality. Modern treatment is effective, and clean water can make a world of difference to assist in recovery. In regions affected by the worst poverty a combination of lack of resources and political structures conducive to quagmire such as Al-Shabaab, a militant group with a history of refusing access to international aid organizations, has impeded mitigation or improvement attempts (McVeigh).

Prominent among these are lack of effective treatment techniques and training as well as policies or political struggle that sets the efforts of international organizations to assist back. Such efforts are also exacerbated by lack of access to basic commodities including nutrition in a nation that has suffered an increase in the Consumer Price Index of 20% since already inflated prices following a costly civil war (FEWSNET). The causes of this situation despite falling oil prices must be further explored.

Starvation and Co-ordination with other Avoidable Harms

With drought comes food deprivation and attempts to make what little supplies are available last, including through the adulteration of clean water with potables or other contaminants. In this way, lack of access to clean water or adequate foodstuffs can initiate other public health crises including biological incidents (McVeigh).  In addition to direct mortalities, nearly 10 percent of the population of Somalia has been displaced.

Central to price fluctuations that have been demonstrated in the region has been civil conflict and sanctions imposed by Saudi Arabia. Regions inclusive of parts of Somalia such as Somaliland have seen a resurgence of economic growth, but the general region including Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia represent millions more in or near starvation and mean that neighboring assistance is not likely. Wage depression means that price fluctuations are felt more acutely now than before in combination with the forces of inflation (FEWSNET).

Direct assistance of the sort provided in the film by the Love Army is not effective, by admission of the interventionists themselves. Even though a tonne of rice only costs a fraction of the millions of dollars raised, protecting any resources costs significantly more. In the capital city of Mogadishu robberies, car bombings, and shootings are but a few of the violent encounters that have become everyday affairs.

Addressing the Issues: Root Solutions

Multiple interventions have been tried in Africa, and in Somalia international intervention dates back to the days of dictatorship. The Structural Adjustments Programs during the 1980s were interventions that appeared effective in nature, but ended up bolstering established businesses while hitting small farmers near the point of starvation the hardest (Muangi). By privatizing veterinary services, the services became out of the price range of others.

Sometimes technology can be the best tool to distribute, and the one most difficult for local intimidation factors to rob and sell back for more instruments of war. Distributed technology rights and patents also circumvent issues of distribution, of the sort that now ensures ⅓ of sub saharan children are malnourished. One example of a way this can make money appear out of seemingly overcapacity farmland is by treating animals for disease appropriately and breeding them with maximum efficiency.

To put this example in play, one can take a Boran livestock, that many Africans today breed for the purpose of using the strongest and most prolific or highest-yield livestock. A strong body is customarily associated with hardiness. In reality, however, this is not the case for the cattle, and many die as a result of infection. By breeding using modern technology to avoid early termination of such infected cattle, higher yields can be produced using smaller amounts of land. Even with the spread of this technology and others, however, there is still much work to be done and while livestock provides food and sustenance for 60% of Somalia’s population, the increase in cattle production has not satisfied the hunger demands in the country or region such that the average worker can only afford 7-12 kg of foodstuffs per day’s labor, a 10% decrease from the amounts during mass starvation (FEWSNET).

The secret nation is the unrecognized state of Somaliland. Many reforms there have been successful, most notably removing violence from the political process. By enforcing free and open elections, despite the effect of “wahhadists”, the state has given a template for success that has not been appropriately investigated. Without approval from neighboring states, the functional region does conduct independent trading with large nations such as Saudi Arabia. There are also public services that are not available in Somalia that have contributed to a relative sense of success in the area.


Burnett, F. H. (2002). The secret garden. Macmillan.

FEWSNET (March and April, 2017). Somalia Livestock Price Bulletin. Famine Early Warning System Network.

McVeigh, Karen (3 February, 2017). Somalia Famine Fears Prompt U.N. Call for ‘Immediate and Massive’ Reaction. The Guardian.

Muangi, Thumbi (26 April, 2017). Better livestock policies pathway out of poverty. The Herald.

Wilkinson, James John Garth (1855). War, Cholera, and the Ministry of Health: An Appeal to Sir Benjamin Hall and the British People. Clapp.

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