Monuments to Famine

Alex de Waal’s essay, “Famine Memorials,” is now available through subscription at the London Review of Books, or in print on March 7, 2019. Below is an excerpt:

Since 1995, more than a hundred memorials to the Irish famine have been erected, from St Stephen’s Green in Dublin to sites in Sydney and Toronto. There are modest memorials in Liverpool and Cardiff – but nothing in London. The closest Britain has come to an apology was in 1997, when Tony Blair acknowledged the ‘deep scars’ of the famine. But the famines in India and Ireland are not yet part of our [Britain’s] national story. A public monument, in Whitehall, opposite the Treasury, or in St James’s Park, near the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, would be a first step – one we could take actively, rather than prevaricating until apologies are demanded by formerly colonised peoples. The memorial should leave space available to inscribe the names of famines in which British government complicity might come to play a part. ‘Yemen’ will be the first to be added.

Alex de Waal is a Research Professor at The Fletcher School, Tufts University, and leads the WPF research programs on African Peacemaking and Mass Starvation.

Considered one of the foremost experts on the Horn of Africa, his scholarly work and practice has also probed humanitarian crisis and response, human rights, pandemic disease, and conflict and peace-building. His latest book is New Pandemics, Old Politics: Two Hundred Years of War on Disease and its Alternatives. He is also author of Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine and The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa (Polity Press, 2015) Following a fellowship with the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard (2004-06), he worked with the Social Science Research Council as Director of the program on HIV/AIDS and Social Transformation, and led projects on conflict and humanitarian crises in Africa (2006-09). During 2005-06, de Waal was seconded to the African Union mediation team for Darfur and from 2009-11 served as senior adviser to the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan. He was on the list of Foreign Policy’s 100 most influential public intellectuals in 2008 and Atlantic Monthly’s 27 “brave thinkers” in 2009 and is the winner of the 2024 Huxley Award of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Professor de Waal regularly teaches a course on Conflict in Africa at the Fletcher School, Tufts University.  During this course, students should gain a deeper understanding of the nature of contemporary violent conflict in Africa. Students will be expected to master the key theoretical approaches to violence in Africa, and to become familiar with a number of important case studies. The focus is on the origins and nature of violence, rather than policy responses and solutions. The course is inter-disciplinary and involves readings in political science, international relations, and social anthropology, while also touching on economics, environmental studies, and history. 

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