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Last Updated: Friday, 12 August 2005, 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK
Niger famine denial: Your reaction
Children in Niger during the drought
Niger's President, Mamadou Tanja, has denied that his country is experiencing a famine.

He told the BBC that "the people of Niger look well-fed" and said food shortages were not unusual for Niger. The president said that the idea of a famine is being exploited for political and economic gain.

The UN estimates that almost a quarter of Niger's 12 million people are suffering severe food shortages.

What do you think of the president's comments about the situation in Niger? Have reports of a famine been exaggerated?

Have you or anyone you know, witnessed the effects of drought in the region? If you have and are willing to speak to the BBC News website about your experiences, please include your telephone number. It will not be published.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

If it wasn't for the international media, I don't think anyone would know about this
Hassan Amidhozour, Tehran, Iran
I find the president's comments to be quite disturbing. There are millions of people who are at risk of disease and death. Doctors with out borders, along with many other international organizations are rushing to Niger to help out. If it wasn't for the international media, I don't think anyone would know about this. It's because of this ongoing media coverage that everyone is aware or just becoming aware of this famine. To deny it is like stabbing his own people in the back, as far as I'm concerned.
Hassan Amidhozour, Tehran, Iran

I think it's time leaders stopped talking and began to take responsibility. People are dying and whether or not it is a national crisis should take a secondary place as far as importance goes. What should be a priority for Niger's president is saving lives. If he can't do it then perhaps people should try and make changes on their own. Diplomacy is not working and it is in the hands of people who care enough to take constructive and decisive action.
Jessica, Baltimore, USA

The Niger president's reaction only goes to show what I have said for a long time, let Africa sort its own problems out. If they cannot admit they have a problem they cannot be helped. To help would only make sure despotic rulers will continue to blight the world.
Jim, York UK

The president should know the situation in his own country, and if he's not honest then he only has himself to blame. We should redirect aid to those that need and welcome it.
Chris, UK

It is very difficult to help a government who doesn't see a problem where one exists
Zeh, Cameroon
If the Niger government is in denial then it may be difficult to resolve the current situation or prepare for similar situations in future. The people of Niger will suffer because it is very difficult to help a government who doesn't see a problem where one exists.
Zeh, Cameroon

He's denying the famine but at the same time he wants 40 million US$? If there's no problem why would he need the money? I'm sure all the people he sees are well fed if he never leaves his palace(s).
Marc L, Antwerp, Belgium

It is not up to us to judge whether Niger's President is in denial. He might choose to see what he wants after all it is his country. Or we could have overreacted as we are not used to seeing famine. It is not important whether the President is in denial. The issue is how are we able to work together with the African government to solve the issue if there is any. It is pointless for us to be upset over certain remarks. We have to move on from our anger if there is any and be proactive in helping.
Christina Spybey, London, UK

I think the lack of reaction by the world's wealthy nations to the starving people of Niger is disgusting. The hypocritical right wing in the US worries about taking the lives of embryonic stem cells while sitting by and letting countless people die of famine. Unfortunately, it's our governments, not we powerless citizens that control the situation.
Bill, Springfield, Virginia, USA

Mr Tanja should be ashamed to be called a leader
Alan Archibald, Troon - Scotland
My kid's today gave £10.00 each - of their summer holiday's pocket money after seeing the pictures of starving children - Mr Tanja should be ashamed to be called a leader. What do I tell my kid's now ?
Alan Archibald, Troon - Scotland

Of course, I agree with the president. All well-fed children look just like the children in these pictures- with sunken cheeks and bellies filled with air, crying out in pain. What more does this man have to see to believe that his people are dying without food?
Karen, Colombo, Sri Lanka

If Mr.Tanja is ashamed of being the president of a nation of malnourished people, then it would wise for him to come with a sound economic policy that would better the lives of his people, but for him to deny the naked truth about the famine in his country is a clear indication of how irresponsible he is.
Uche, Nigeria

He should be truthful to encourage donors and individuals interested in helping his country to redouble their efforts
Lynette Whyte-Mensah, Accra, Ghana
Mr Tanja is being unfair to his people. How can he say that his people look well fed when pictures and videos show they are dying of hunger? I guess he says this because his family and people in his government are not affected by the famine. He should be truthful to encourage donors and individuals interested in helping his country to redouble their efforts.
Lynette Whyte-Mensah, Accra,Ghana

It is impossible for outsiders to analyse the words of the president. For all we know he could be under serious pressure from international companies or the World Bank to create a 'stable ground' for investment. Famine does not sound good to stock holders. The politics behind the actions and statements of a president are much more complicated than ignorance or arrogance. If he is in fact guilty of either of these it has no doubt been exploited by someone else for their political agenda.
Brian Halloran, Sao Paulo, Brazil

His comments are proof that Mr Tanja never leaves his capital. The only truth in his words is the fact that the whole of Sahel is affected. Send the man to one of the stations where the relief organizations try to save the lives of starving children as this teach him something.
Susu Koch, Germany

Saying 'they look well fed' is covering the truth and hiding behind his power
Anna, Loughborough
This man obviously walks around in rose coloured glasses with his nose in the air. If he bothers to look with his conscience he will see quite clearly the effect of his lack of love, compassion and money to his people that he should be raising up to a higher standard. Saying 'they look well fed' is covering the truth and hiding behind his power.
Anna, Loughborough

Over population on marginal land leaves countries very vulnerable to famine. The only long term hope is population control and competent government. The prospect of either is remote in most of the third world.
Stephen, London

We are all blaming this president. To him his people may look well fed but to us outsiders they are malnourished. It is a relative thing. If the president has not got a yardstick for starvation or malnutrition, how on God's earth do you expect him to know when his people are hungry?
Ayo Awoyele, Peterborough, United Kingdom

It doesn't matter whether it's called food shortage or famine if you're the one who's starving! The simple fact is people have died and will continue to die for lack of food.
John, UK

I'm sorry we have such short sighted leaders. Africa has a very long distance left to walk to freedom. Why don't the leaders allowed outsiders to lead them then if they can lead themselves?
Munge James, Nairobi, Kenya

To allege that his people are starving is to insinuate that his government is not the best thing that ever happened to Niger
Biola Okpechi, Cape Town, South Africa
Mr Tanja's indignation at reports of famine in his country are understandable. To allege that his people are starving is to insinuate that his government is not the best thing that ever happened to Niger. This infringes on his fundamental human right to rule that country forever. An emergency to the average African government means that there isn't enough money in government coffers to take care of the whims of the ruling class. The mere loss of human lives does not count. So please aid agencies, ease up!
Biola Okpechi, Cape Town, South Africa

This is a perfect illustration that a major cause of the grinding poverty experienced by millions of Africans is the indifference and/or complicity of their own governments. We in the West are often fond of blaming ourselves for the plight of poor people around the world, when often the real causes are the political and economic systems in the countries concerned.
Christopher Smith, Pewsey, Wilts

I have no doubt that the numbers of starving are not exaggerated but also believe that the president's statement has a germ of truth to it. The shortage in Niger (and many other countries in the region) is not so much that of food but that of affordable food. The markets have fruit, vegetables, rice etc but the poor cannot afford them. This is not necessarily the fault of the administration which by all accounts is good by Saharan standards, but is partly the result of international trade rules. To secure IMF assistance countries like Niger are pushed to reduce or abolish food subsidy on the basis that it provides advantage to producers. Of course subsidised grain also helps the poor to feed themselves during times of shortage. As usual the poor and disenfranchised are the victims of a world system that pays them no attention until a TV crew wanders in and shows us they are now dying. Misery existed long before starvation set in and yet we worry more about the cost of fuelling our SUVs!
David, London

I think the Presidents remarks are misleading and false. The President should have been the first person to have declared the famine a natural disaster and galvanised action to stop the death of thousands of people. We have all seen the faces and heard the cries of the many people who are hungry. I think it is cowardly and shameful for the President to have said what he said. Thank God for all the aid agencies who have come to the aid of the people of Niger, God Bless You All
Sonia Gakuru, Nairobi, Kenya

Pictures tell the truth more than a thousand words
Firozali Mulla, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania
The picture of the children starving is clear evidence of the food shortages. Pictures tell the truth more than a thousand words. Niger's President, Mr Tanja is trying to protect his integrity. Niger is in starvation.
Firozali Mulla, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania

Mr Tanya is wrong to say that the people of Niger are well fed and there is political exaggeration of famine in that country. Does this mean the pictures that we see in the media are fake? As Africans lets condemn untruthful statements such as this otherwise we will remain victims of Mr Tanja.
Munkanda Maxmilliam , Windhoek, Namibia

Clearly Mr Tanja is speaking truthfully about the food supply available to him, his family and friends. I wish I could understand why he blames the aid agencies. Why does he appear to hate them so much?
Helen, Croydon

President Tanja is obsessed with his post and position. These are times when he has to get to the ground level and be with his people who are starving and dying. The world wants to help. For heaven's sake take the help with pride and love for humanity.
Aniruddha, Bangalore, India

Fault lies also with the world community's latent moves to combat it
Kristen P Patterson, Fianarantsoa, Madagascar
I was a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger from 1996 to 1998, and worked there for 5 months in 2004. The effects of the poor harvest and locust invasion were already being felt by people in December, 2004, two months after the harvest. Tanja was focused on his re-election campaign last fall, and was faulted by opposition leaders for not paying enough attention to the locust invasion. I only wonder how my dear friends in Sabon Gida, the village where I lived as a volunteer, are handling the 'hungry' season this year (normally July to September). Yes, we must fault Tanja for downplaying the scope of the crisis, but fault lies also with the world community's latent moves to combat it. Nigerians are simultaneously the poorest and most generous people I have ever known; how can the world abandon them in their time of need?
Kristen P Patterson, Fianarantsoa, Madagascar

I am surprised to learn that President Tanja thinks that his country is not being ravaged by famine. What are all these horrific pictures we are seeing on TV? That is typical of an African leader. So long as they have enough to feel their stomach, they won't think of others. Despite his insensitive comments, I encourage the international community to continue to provide humanitarian aid.
Daniel Deng, Denver and Dallas, USA

For the best part of last week, the representatives of countless aid agencies were busy blaming the tragedy on draught, locust, foreign governments, the UN, or anything else they could think of. Any suggestion that poor governance might have even contributed to it was dismissed with contempt. Now that the big man himself has spoken, I wonder what their response would be. Whoever said the aid agencies are not a big part of our misery.
UE, Kent, UK/Nigeria

Famines like this are the result of over-population which is itself the result of well-meaning but short-sighted aid projects which have focused on preventing the diseases that used to limit population but have paid scant regard to the matter of sustainability. The fact is that poor, semi-barren countries like Niger and Mali cannot support hugely inflated populations and sooner or later nature re-establishes its equilibrium. We never seem to learn that ultimately humans come a poor second to nature.
Laurie Ellman, UK

It is much easier for a leader of a country to let the world do the work for him
Joe Iacolucci, Seattle, Washington, USA
It is much easier for a leader of a country to let the world do the work for him. Why do anything if the EU and US will come in and do the work? I agree that there is a massive hunger issue in Niger, but the West and the aid industry are causing this by enabling behaviour. The world may not be the direct cause but by not giving them the tools to feed themselves and supporting bad governments, the West and it's agencies are a large part of the cause. Why not prevent hunger? Because the aid industry would be threatened.
Joe Iacolucci, Seattle, Washington, USA

I have just spent two months in Mauretania, Mali and Burkina. Clearly I cannot speak for all areas, but genuinely those areas I did see appeared well. What was more striking was the apparent wealth that sits in the national capitals (especially Bamako and Ouaga). I find it plausible and wretched that those doing well financially seem content to ignore any hardship outside of their immediate environment.
David Burton, Cotonou, Benin

This is nature's law to balance the ecology. The leader of any country has the right to say anything he likes to any outsider, but he is ultimately responsible to his people whether for good or bad.
Lionel, England

The world needs to realize that all the aid is worth nothing if the political powers that are part of the problem are allowed to remain in their present situation. When will the people realize that their leaders are incompetent and that the only way to force change is to recognize that they have a problem.
Roger, Seattle, WA

Mr Tanja obviously doesn't know what the word famine means
Ezekiel Phayze, Bournemouth, UK
Mr Tanja obviously doesn't know what the word famine means. He must have something to hide because it's crazy to say what he's said. It's like he's mocking the situation. Maybe he's got resources, for himself, which could make a difference to the plight of the people in Niger but that's just a guess. How dare he.
Ezekiel Phayze, Bournemouth, UK

The current situation in Niger is not a recent occurrence but the massive aid input to Niger is. It's almost as if the aid industry needed a new crisis, and a reason for funding, and Niger was it. This is possibly what President Tanja was alluding to. Why can the aid industry not have the foresight to prevent events like drought and locusts, resulting in starving children?
Mike Brown, Warwick, UK

Again, parochialism, borne out of empty pride, is being given prominence over the lives of thousands of people. What does Mamadou Tanja lose by admitting the obvious? After all, Africans say that it is he who hides his illness that dies from it. If Mr. Tanja cannot feed his people, he should at least shut up for others to do the job.
Abdulai MUSA, Lagos, Nigeria

I am shocked and angered by the president's comments. The crisis is very much present and was not exaggerated by international organisations for political purposes. President Tanja denies this crisis because it will only reflect the severe shortfalls of his administration and the complete failure of his leadership to face the famine from the beginning. He could not possibly know if the people are "well fed" since he only once left the comfort of the capital to visit areas where the crisis was severe. And even in the capital, children are on the street begging for food, but he prefers to look the other way.
Maimouna Toure, Niamey, Niger

I am saddened by this man's comments. He is waiting until his people flee to neighbouring countries, forming shanty settlements around big towns, before he realises that there is famine. His people are dying and he is denying it. I am from Nigeria, which is a neighbouring country to Niger and I have seen many women and children from Niger begging for food, clothes, money, anything. I cannot understand the sense in denying what is so obvious, especially a denial from the President of this same depressed country. Yemi Olakitan.
Yemi Olakitan, Lagos, Nigeria

Prevention is better than cure. If, as they say, these locusts are a common problem would it not make sense to spray these crops with insecticide so that this doesn't happen again? What actions does President Mamadou Tanja plan to undertake to ensure that any money donated is used to relieve the current situation and to prevent future problems? His focus seems to be on the money rather than his people.
Olive Maher, Wicklow, Ireland

To James Suddrey - the UN World Health Organisation have reported that 2.5m people are extremely vulnerable and require food assistance, an estimated 32,000 children are severely malnourished and an additional 160,000 are at risk of becoming severely malnourished. But 'someone you met' says it's not that bad, so I'm sure you're right.
Lee, London, UK

The denial of Tanja is typical of African leaders, and illustrates how far they stand from reality in their own countries. As long as his family is well fed, why should he acknowledge famine and hunger? He won't be held accountable at the end of his term for what he says and does so why should it matter to him whether hundreds of thousands are experiencing famine?
Adem, Amsterdam, Holland

How can we possibly deny his comments? He is there on the ground and we aren't. Anyone who criticises him is clearly an imperialist who should abide by the principle of African solutions for African problems. After all, oil rich Libya and Nigeria are next door and they can easily supply any deficit in food.
Paul Lewis, Walthamstow London

Mamadou Tanja should really be chastised by other African presidents. Otherwise the whole world will think that this is what Africa is like. What does he mean by well fed people when we see such sorry sights on our screens everyday? I still have this vivid memory of a family eating rotten meat with flies all over. That picture will stay with me for a long time. It's a pity that those starving people will not even know that their President is denying that they are starving. Sometimes I am ashamed for being African - because of people like Mamadou.
Kealeboga, Botswana

I am surprised by the president's comments. Does this mean that the pictures we see on our screens everyday are fake?. Or does he want his people to perish before he realises the magnitude of the situation. The reports are not exaggerated. Niger has always suffered from food shortages and in Makurdi, the town where I live, there are always Buzu people from Niger begging for alms. You see mothers with hungry children.
Lizzie Kwaghbo, Makurdi, Nigeria

This is typical of African leaders. They are unable to acknowledge the problems that their countries are going through. Anything that threatens their continued stay in office is the work of opposition leaders and hell-bent aid organisations.
James Manda, Lusaka, Zambia

If the pictures we've been seeing on the BBC are not from Niger, then he could be right. But if they are from there, then he is insane. It's unbelievable that a normal person could deny the famine. If anything, he should plead for more aid in the form of food.
Bright Munthali, Lusaka, Zambia

Anger is my reaction. Mr. Mamadou Tanja is a typical example of the incompetence, corruption, arrogance and complete disregard for human life many African leaders show towards their own people. I wonder what the menu is at the president's residence in Niamey while the children of his country are starving?
Richard, London, UK

I think it is very difficult to get an accurate picture of what is happening in Niger. The press will display the worst possible pictures to sensationalise stories, with very little genuine empathy for the people. I also think that with governments like this, it is useless to donate money; it ends up being used for all the wrong reasons. I have a friend doing VSO in Uganda, and in Bushenyi, where he is staying, the schools have no roofs or materials for teaching, yet the local government are spending a fortune on a new sports stadium, because image is everything!
Steph, Sleaford

Although the President made some rash comments, there is some truth to what he has said. Niger, and it's neighbour Mali (the latter of which is impressively well governed), have received almost no aid to help fight what does happen very often: either a drought or locust storms. It just happened that both of these things occurred on a much larger scale than usual.
Kelly Higgason, Paris

Surely this just goes to show that the current approach whereby the public just give money to charities and hope for the best needs to be radically overhauled. After decades of giving, no fundamental changes have occurred. Is it possible that this approach actually prolongs famine rather than cures it?
Lucho Payne, Bristol, England

It's unbelievable what a politician (wherever he is) will do to preserve his "chair". However, we must understand that Niger's president wanted to prevent his opponents from the use of the current famine in their political debate against him. I think this time he missed really the subject.
Abou Sy, Dakar, Senegal

I think this is enough evidence that all the pop concerts and good will in the world will not fix this problem. The world needs to think of a new approach to situations, such as technologies in crop growing and natural free energy, which can be used by the third world. Throwing money and singing and dancing is clearly not enough.
John Gearing, St Helens, UK

Outrageous. Three million people are suffering from food shortages and 32,000 children will die of this. The whole world sees images of dying children on their TV screens and newspapers everyday. By saying that the people are not suffering and that they look "well fed," I think Mr Tanja has made himself look absolutely ridiculous.
Lalarukh Ahmed, London, UK

When Mamadou Tanja says, "the people of Niger look well-fed," he must be looking in the mirror, not the images that the rest of the world has seen.
Ed DeRegibus, Farmville, USA

To be honest, whether there is a famine or not in Niger, it is irrelevant. This is the second poorest country in the world. They desperately need help, regardless of failing crops, locusts and drought.
Nia, London

His comments are despicable. His own people are dying and he is denying the facts. Why can't anybody believe the NGOs whenever they try to alert the international community?
Jean-René Grailhe, Bournemouth

The reports of famine in Niger are not being exaggerated. There is a food crisis in that country. I don't know why the president is trying to down play a potential crisis. The reports of the UN and other aid agencies attest to the problems the people are facing. Even friends who have lived in Niger and Mali, attest to the food crisis in that region. The comment of the president should not discourage donor countries from sending food to Niger. The world must act now to save the future leaders of Niger from hunger, malnutrition and death.
Omorodion Osula, Boston, USA

The president is correct in saying there is food available but the problem is that his government are not willing to distribute to those in need. They would prefer to let us do that for them.
John, Birmingham, UK


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