On June 14, 1980, The Economist, of London, warned its readers “A disaster of huge proportions has hit northeast Africa. Hundreds of people, mainly children, are dying every day from starvation. Most are victims of drought, but three million are also refugees from war and civil strife.
“The disaster has gone largely unpublicized. It has none of the drama that kept the Vietnamese boat people and Cambodia’s refugees in the world’s headlines. Their suffering were largely man-made; culprits could be identified. In Africa droughts are endemic, and the continent’s wars seem endless. Disaster is taken for granted, and aid agencies have had little success in alerting the world to the impending tragedy.”
Whatever the reason, the tragedy in Africa stayed on the media’s back burner until early 1981. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Africans died in 1980 and as many as 60 million people were said to be endangered.
In March, 1981, it was estimated that 150 million Africans are facing food shortages. The Economist article ended by saying “Only a coordinated international effort saved the Cambodian survivors; nothing less will avert a larger tragedy in northeast Africa.”
Today the mass media are generating the public opinion that will lead to such a coordinated international effort; unfortunately, the media’s action comes more than a year and tens of thousands of human lives too late.
The failure of the media to alert the public of the tragic extent of the disaster in Africa last year qualifies this story for nomination as one of the “best censored” stories of 1980.
World Press Review, August 1980, “Africa’s ‘Unknown’ Disaster,” adapted from The Economist, June 14, 1980; San Francisco Chronicle, March 28, 1981, Millions are starving,” by Gregory Jaynes,, New York Times Service.