Why we need to change the way we think about food

Our world is host to an enormous disparity and contrast in food and nutrition security: At a global level, production of most food has increased faster than population growth and now exceeds the nutritional caloric average requirements. At the same time, there are devastating food shortage threats at local levels, especially in Africa, where many new food safety problems have emerged in Low-Income (LI) and Lower Middle-Income (LMI) countries. As of last year, more than 820[1] million people are suffering from hunger and sub-Saharan Africa is the sub-continent with the highest proportion of undernourished people.

How is it that in a globalized, interconnected world, food security is still such a challenging issue? 
First, we need to keep in mind that food insecurity is primarily a question of access rather than availability. Many components of the global food market are in fact controlled by a limited number of actors and in many areas, small farmers have little access to institutional, legal or financial support and therefore face big obstacles in entering global markets. Second, in several areas, agriculture is the main source of income for local communities and also one of the most vulnerable sectors to unexpected changes such as armed conflicts and environmental shocks. Furthermore, not only is the current system unequal and unjust to small farmers and producers, but it is also based on damaging agricultural practices (soil degradation, water contamination, atmospheric pollution), extremely wasteful, and responsible for an enormous amount of greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, it is socially, environmentally and globally unsustainable.  

In the future, we will be facing an increased population and demand for food. However, in many parts of the world, current agricultural systems will be unable to meet a growing food demand. The challenge of food security is therefore not only to produce enough food but to make it accessible to all, which means combatting poverty and inequality. If things are to change, the world needs to face a complex and intricate dilemma: producing high-quality food in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices, that is equally accessible and has a reduced environmental impact. The solution to this dilemma is a transition to more sustainable food systems. 

What is a sustainable food system? 

A food system includes the related resources, the inputs, production, transport, processing and manufacturing industries, retailing, and consumption of food as well as its impacts on the environment, health, and society.[2] Food systems are strongly interconnected with human societies and, whilst it may be easy to ignore the consequences of our unsustainable food practices now, eventually, the whole world will be experiencing them one way or another.

The disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have further exposed the fragility of people’s access to goods and services and highlighted critical inequalities. Lockdowns and restrictions around the world have put enormous strains on local, regional and global supply chains and whilst developed countries struggled to cope with a sudden surge in demand and empty shelves, market closures across Africa, for example, have cut off vital access to provisions for local communities and sales outlets to farmers. Across the world, food system workers who already face insecurity and low wages are now the most at risk from economic disruption. Not to mention the millions of people who are living permanently on the cusp of hunger and extreme poverty, who are the most vulnerable to the effects of a global recession. 

A transition towards a more sustainable system would not only mean more equitable access to nutritional foods but it would also reduce food loss and waste, minimize the environmental impacts of production and increase the resilience of many food systems around the world. 
Such a transition could make a significant contribution to inclusive development, improve the quality of life of millions of people whilst also creating a viable environment for fighting climate change. In short, it would be a win-win for all.

How can we make this transition?

Food systems are central to the creation of a more sustainable and equitable world. However, each of us has a role to play in this transition. None of these issues is going to be solved merely through a top-down approach. We have a responsibility as a global community to act together across sectors and international borders to ensure a better quality of life worldwide.

On the governance side, concrete policies need to be enacted to ensure the quality of what we eat and the quality of life of all those who are involved in its production. This means allowing land access to new farmers as well as water rights and investing in risk prevention initiatives and social protection floors to safeguard all those involved in the production of food. It also means certifying supply chains and allowing equal access to resources and markets to small farmers to ensure the social and economic inclusion of civil society. 

The private sector needs to invest in new knowledge, technologies (such as hydroculture and vertical farming) and infrastructure which can lower environmental impacts and improve nutrition worldwide. It needs to cooperate with local communities to build a more resilient food system and invest in agroecology, a system that reconciles the economic, environmental, and social dimensions of sustainability. 

And lastly, we must not forget that there is much that can be done from an individual perspective. As consumers, we have the power to decide what choices we want to make, and we can no longer ignore the impact these choices have. Whether it’s reducing food waste, changing dietary and lifestyle habits or making more conscious decisions in our daily life, it is time for us to act now, to act together and to act differently.  


[1] “How is COVID-19 affecting food security?”, World Economic Forum, 26th May 2020. 

[2] Food Systems: Definition, Concept and Application for the UN Food Systems Summit, UN.

Mali – is foreign involvement truly for the greater good?

Since the 19th of August 2020, when a military coup forced the democratically elected but unpopular president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign, Mali has been struggling to return to stability. The coup was the culmination of weeks of mass protests against the president who was accused of corruption and mishandling a spiralling security situation in the northern and central regions of the country. However, it was but one of the many symptoms of a crisis rooted far deeper. 

Mali has been in turmoil since 2012, when ethnic Tuareg rebels and loosely aligned terrorist groups seized the northern two-thirds of the country after the fall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, leading France, the former colonial power in the region, to intervene to set them back. In 2013 the UN MINUSMA[1] mission was established to help stabilize the situation. As the government and international actors sought to restore peace in the north, a power vacuum was created in the central region, which soon became a launchpad for jihadist attacks on neighbouring countries. The international intervention helped lead to a peace agreement in 2015, but very little progress has been made since then in disarming rebel groups. An attempt by the government to give the north more autonomy in exchange for disarmament has also proven ineffective, and extremist groups continue to be active in various parts of the country. 

Now, despite a transitional government having been put in place to oversee an eighteen-month period before elections are held, the situation remains highly unstable. Furthermore, an increased number of voices is calling for a dialogue with certain armed groups, in an attempt to reach an agreement. This move has strongly been criticized by external international actors, first and foremost France, and has been seen by many as proof of the growing gap between Mali and the former colonial power. France believes in fact that it is highly unlikely these groups will abandon their ideology and objectives, such as the imposition of shari’a on the state.

A multidimensional crisis 

Due to its geographical position, Mali has become the centre of external efforts to secure the region and counter terrorism, which has inevitably led to increased and consistent international involvement in the area. The fact that the new government is prepared to negotiate with armed jihadist groups, however, should make us question the nature of French and international involvement and whether it is in the country’s best interests. In this context, it is important to keep Mali’s colonial past in mind. 

Falling under French colonial role in 1892, Mali quickly became a country of marginalized subjects ruled by a controlling colonial administration that feared Muslim jihads. The French, in contrast to other colonizers, chose to implement their customs in all occupied territories, a strategy that proved to be particularly difficult in Mali, which was characterized by a diverse multitude of ethnic communities.[2] This resulted in cooperative groups being favoured by the French over others and intensified ethnic divisions. By the time Mali became independent in 1960, the new country was deeply divided. This fragmentation made it particularly difficult for the new Malian political elites to assert their authority over the whole country, which would eventually lead to the marginalization of the north. 

There is no doubt that other factors have contributed to the current situation as well, yet this is another reminder, of how strongly colonialism has affected the state of many contemporary African countries. Of course, there is no changing the past, but perhaps things could be different when looking at the future. 

Rethinking foreign intervention 

It is undeniable that violence in this area has been steadily increasing and that Islamic extremism poses a big threat not only to this region but to surrounding countries as well, with regional as well as international implications. However, the continued presence of international actors has not been as successful as imagined[3]. These powers may have the institutional framework and resources to face particular threats, but does this justify their involvement? At a certain point we need to ask ourselves: is this engagement really for the greater good of the country or is it just a modern form of imperialism?

In light of what we know about Mali’s colonial past, continued foreign intervention could be doing more damage than good. It could in fact lead to the following scenario: an alliance of national forces, including militant groups, with the goal of requesting the withdrawal of international actors. This would inevitably lead to Islamic militias gaining a foothold in the Sahel area[4] for the first time, something international actors are trying to avoid in the first place. It may be time for a change in strategy in view of the long-term goals that could bring stability to the area. 


[1] To date it remains the largest peacekeeping force in the world. 

[2] B. Oletunji Oloruntimehin, “The French Estate in West Africa, 1890-1918,” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 7.3 (1974): 451.

[3] Foregn Policy: “Can Mali Escape Its Past?”, 21st August 2020.

[4] This term refers to the semi-arid stretch of land just south of the Sahara desert which includes Mali, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

US meddling in Africa and the Middle East: Does foreign intervention make sense?

It has gone down in history as the most rapid mass slaughter ever recorded: The genocide in the African state of Rwanda in 1994, where up to a million people were slaughtered by ethnic Hutu extremists[1] while the outside world watched what was going on – and did almost nothing to stop it. And yet out of that catastrophe, impetus arose for a new concept called „R2P“ – the “responsibility to protect”. The principle states that, when a state is failing to protect its own people from crimes against humanity, other states have a moral responsibility to protect the vulnerable and use military force if necessary.

The United States have a striking record when it comes to foreign interventions – especially in Africa and the Middle East. But is it sensible to intervene in foreign political affairs? Or does it only add fuel to the fire?

A long history of US interventions in foreign political affairs

Somalia 1992, Afghanistan 2001, Iraq 2003, Libya 2011: Just to name a few events in Africa and the Middle East that show how the US has fiddled with foreign political affairs for years. Even though the reasons for these interventions were not always the same – the conclusion one can draw from all of these interventions, definitely is: Wiping away pre-existing governing structures has always set off civil conflict and the detrimental impact of these interventions is still visible in every single one of these countries today. 

Why? Because the attempt to forcibly democratise a society with military means almost always created a power vacuum which was then filled by violent groups. The result: state decay and militia rule. 

US intervention in Libya: More Harm Than Good?

Let’s take America’s intervention in Libya as an example for the R2P concept: In 2011, Libyan rebels (propped up by a multi-state NATO coalition including the US) toppled their head of state Muammar Gaddafi, who had ruled the country for more than 40 years. In the US, he was considered a very controversial leader under whom freedom of speech was said to have been “severely curtailed”[2] and cases of abuse, torture, and killings by the state were also reported.

But just because Gaddafi was out of the picture, things didn’t get better. Now, almost 10 years after the intervention, Libya is still mired in a violent, domestic conflict: The country finds itself faced with a catch-22 as it is left with warring militias, an economy in tatters, and an infrastructure torn asunder. The icing on the cake: In the wake of the chaos that ensued after 2011, two rivalling administrations emerged in Libya. Khalifa Haftar, warlord and commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) backs one of them: The House of Representatives. The other administration is known as the Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and is internationally recognised.

The US had been silent about the subsequent chaos for years. But then, at the end of his term, former President Barack Obama finally admitted that the US intervention in Libya had not really been as successful as he thought it would be and that he simply underestimated the sweeping scope of unintended consequences that had flowed from the intervention. When asked about his worst mistake, Obama replied with „probably failing to plan for the day after, what I think was the right thing to do, intervening in Libya.” [3]

What the Libyan tragedy has explicitly shown is that acting within the framework of the “responsibility to protect” concept is not always the right way to go. Critics have come up with the principle of the “responsibility to rebuild” – which should definitely be taken into consideration if the US should decide to conduct a regime change in a foreign country again.

Because yes, wanting to protect citizens from atrocities is commendable and yes, humanitarian intervention has the potential to help meet global problems. But the US government’s expectations should be realistic, and ambitions should be bounded – because history has clearly shown that foreign-imposed regime change rarely leads to democratisation. The US should abandon its persistent fantasy of reordering the world – America should not be the world’s police.


[1] BBC: “Rwanda genocide: 100 days of slaughter“, 4th April 2019.

[2] Human Rights Watch 2010 report on Libya.

[3] The Atlantic: “The Legacy of Obama’s ‘Worst Mistake’  15th April 2016.

A stain on our post-colonial world: The western world’s condescending attitude towards Africa

When we hear the word “racist”, most of us probably think of an overtly aggressive, extremely prejudiced person – maybe a far-right protester marching through the streets with a «refugees not welcome» sign or a person insulting someone with a racial slur.

However, there is also a more subtle form of racism, which is not as obvious: Whether that’s white parents telling their kids to “eat up and think of the poor, starving kids in Africa”, or white, western celebrities pleading for donations “for Africa”. There are numerous ways in which we can see how a generalising and condescending perspective on Africa has taken hold in the western world.
By generalising that all Africans are poor people from an underdeveloped continent in desperate need of help, while all white westerners are rich, kind, and benevolent, we continue to uphold a deeply problematic world view. But why is it, that now, in an allegedly post-colonial world, this patronising attitude towards Africa continues to hold sway?

The White Saviour Complex: What it is, where it comes from and why it is problematic

“White Saviour Complex” describes the phenomenon of white people feeling the need to help people in, for example, African countries. This might not sound problematic at first glance, but it leads to an understanding of Africa as a barren and bleak wasteland, full of poverty-stricken, helpless individuals. The White Saviour Complex is also heavily contested because it can be traced back to European imperialism, one of the main reasons that some African countries grapple with economic instability today.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Privileged people wanting to reach out to the underprivileged – even when the privileged are white and the beneficiaries aren’t – is not inherently bad. But at the very least, the privileged should view the underprivileged as individuals and not one colossal entity. Alaso Olivia, co-founder of the “No White Saviours” advocacy campaign, put it this way: It is not about getting rid of white people, but about raising awareness of the fact that Africans are not helpless. She said: “We are trying to give our children a better education. We are developing our countries. We need aid, but it must not come with strings attached. We are saying that if you want to help, first listen to us and provide what we need – not what you think we need.”[1]

The White Saviour narrative can point to a dangerously backward way of thinking by depicting Africa as one place, uniformly full of dread and fear – which does an enormous disservice to a giant continent with huge linguistic, cultural, and religious diversity. So-called “white saviours” also seem to ignore the fact that some African economies are making rapid progress. In 2018, for example, Ethiopia and Egypt were under the fastest-growing economies worldwide and therefore didn’t have to rely on white westerners to step in and “help”.

Racial colourblindness and its interconnection to the White Saviour Complex

People who do not regard the White Saviour Complex as a problem tend to argue “Who cares whether you are a black or white person helping in Africa? As long as you do good – so what! Skin colour is irrelevant anyway.” But this mindset can also be problematic. Even though well-intentioned, thinking “I don’t see race – I just see people” does not help solve the problem of structural racism.

Think of it like this: Imagine you are walking past two houses in your neighbourhood and you see that one of these houses is burning. Saying “I don’t see a burning house – I just see houses” would be of no help at all, because the house continues to burn even if you are frantically trying not to see it. If you simply ignore the fact that one of the houses is on fire, you are choosing the easy option: To ignore the problem, because it would take a lot of effort to find out where the fire comes from, why the fire started in the first place, who is in the burning house and think of concrete ways in which you could help. And while you ignore all of these things and claim that you don’t see the burning house, the fire is getting worse and worse.

This “no race, no racism, no problem” mindset doesn’t solve the problem of racism. In creating a ‘colourblind’ public sphere, a metaphorical tiny plaster is put on a wound that is actually a deep and bloody one. The problems that accompany the social construct of race do not simply vanish because the category has been removed from public discourse. As the British author Reni-Eddo Lodge once said: “We must see who benefits from their race, who is affected by negative stereotyping of theirs, and on whom power and privilege is bestowed (…) Seeing race is essential to changing the system.”[2]

So, what needs to be done?

We must work together to eliminate Eurocentric as well as Americentric world views from our minds in order to dismantle established power structures in the long term. A beginning can be the continuous engagement with world affairs outside of Europe and America – just as much as reflecting colonial history and connecting it to current circumstances. We need charities that give a greater say to Africa’s trained individuals with the motto “African solutions to Africa’s problems”, as well as – and this is probably the hardest problem to tackle – a profound mentality transformation in the western world.


[1] The Guardian: “Charity at heart of ‘white saviour’ row speaks out”, 3rd March 2019.

[2] The Guardian, “Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race”, 30th May 2017.

African art restitution – a vital step towards decolonisation

In a post-colonial world, the issue of colonialism and its consequences may seem to belong to the past, as society has moved on and everyone generally agrees that colonialism was a very dark chapter in world history that should never be repeated again. However, this does not in any way mean that this complex issue has been resolved, as is exemplified by many different matters, including the issue of art restitution.  

Since the 1960s many African countries have been advocating the restitution and legal transfer of objects and artifacts that were stolen during colonization and are now displayed in many European museums. However, this request has been mostly ignored by European governments and cultural institutions, who argue that restitution is unnecessary, complicated, and legally challenging. 

Many have claimed that the artworks in question would not be safe in these countries, as they lack the infrastructure and resources to safeguard these precious objects. Others have used the “How far back will you go?” argument, underlining that many items in Rome were also taken from somewhere in Greece or Ancient Egypt, thereby normalizing these kinds of actions. 

It has been estimated that 90 to 95% of Africa’s heritage is held outside the continent.[1] The British Museum in London alone contains about 73’000 objects from sub-Saharan Africa, whilst France holds at least 90’000, most of which were stolen during its colonial rule over a big part of this region.

One item in particular that has been at the heart of the restitution debate is the Benin Bronzes, a set of unique plaques in wood and ivory that were looted from the Kingdom of Benin by the British in 1897. These artefacts, which where revered and reserved for ancestral altars, are now a constant reminder of a violent past and a stolen future. There are countless other examples.

Empty words and promises will not solve the issue 

Despite French President Macron’s promise in 2017 to “allow for the temporary or definitive restitution of African cultural heritage [held in French museums] to Africa”[2], three years later not much has changed. The situation in many other European countries is not very different, with many actors barely acknowledging the issue. 

So why are we still seeing so much resistance in recognizing Europe’s dark colonial past?

Accepting the need of returning African artifacts would reignite the conversation on the many structural problems African countries face today because of colonialism, a topic that still makes many European countries uncomfortable. The many structural and economic disparities between the two continents can in many cases be directly led back to colonialism. By delivering empty promises and general statements on the issue of restitution, they can seem morally correct, whilst everything more or less stays the same. 

By denying restitution these institutions are continuing to support a narrative that depicts Europe as more progressive and Africa as less developed, thus indirectly justifying colonization and dehumanizing non-western cultures. In today’s post-colonial context this narrative is no longer acceptable. Africa should be given a right to reclaim and define its cultural heritage, and Europe has an obligation to support this. 

Responsibility needs to be taken and art restitution is the first step towards this. Words are not enough – it is time European governments and institutions take concrete action in a crucial step towards turning a page on their troubled relationship with colonial history.


[1] “France urged to return looted art and amend heritage laws”, CNN, 2018. 

[2] Speech made by the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron at the Université Ouaga, November 29th 2017.

Angola – where the Cold War still is a silenced reality

Those who like investigating the meaning of countries’ flags will certainly be fascinated by the flag of Angola. The latter presents two parallel and horizontal stripes (red and black) which serve as background for the iconic, golden symbols of communism: the hammer and the sickle shown with the support of a star. 

On the one hand, it is quite easy to imagine that Angola, a colony of the Portuguese Empire until 1975, was directly involved in the Cold War between the communist block and Western society during the late 70s and throughout the 80s. On the other hand, it seems harder to understand the reason why Angola’s flag still possesses communist elements nowadays. 

However, this aspect becomes clearer if one considers the socio-political situation of Angola in the last decades. In the country, the Cold War between sustainers of communism and supporters of the Western model never ended and since the very beginning, it turned into an authentic civil war between the two opposite sides.  

Even though in the biennium 1990-1991 the Soviet Union collapsed and hostilities between the communist bloc and Western society ended, in Angola, the civil war did not finish and continues to negatively affect the life of the Angolan population, which suffers from brutalities, extreme poverty, and hunger. 

It is certainly possible to find many on-site criminals from this sad history. Nevertheless, it is particularly important to point out the following argument: the deplorable situation of Angola was and is completely ignored by the international community. No international actor sincerely stood up for Angola and warned the world of the Angolan catastrophe. Everything was covered in 2002 by a fake end of the civil war and now everything is concealed by the silence of the international community. 

This silence must finish now, the Angolan crisis must become central in international debates immediately! The international community must intervene to stop the spiral of hatred and violence that is destroying Angola and its population.