“Only idiots die of hunger”: Ugandan Minister saying sparks outrage

A Ugandan minister has sparked outrage after he insulted the victims of hunger in his country as “idiots”, ignoring the harsh realities of climate change and food insecurity.

Ugandan minister Henry Oryem Okello.
Ugandan Minister for Foreign Affairs, Henry Oryem Okello. Photo courtesy: dispatch.ug

Henry Oryem Okello , the Ugandan state Minister for Foreign Affairs, has provoked a backlash after he insulted the victims of hunger in his country as “idiots”.

His remarks were widely condemned as insensitive and ignorant.

According to a report by the Uganda Human Rights Commission, a constitutional body, more than 2,200 people lost their lives to hunger and related diseases in the north-eastern part of Uganda in 2022.

However, Oryem claimed that Uganda’s climate and soil were conducive for food production, and that people should be self-reliant and not depend on external aid.

“Only a real idiot can die of hunger in Uganda,” he said in an interview with the NTV Uganda television channel.

“Uganda has land. The climate is good despite climate change. If you are diligent, you go out in the morning, you cultivate your land, you sow your seeds, you look after your crops, how can you fail to get food?”

The report by the human rights commission also revealed that nearly 500,000 people in the north-east suffered from “acute hunger” due to the food crisis.

Oryem’s comments have triggered a wave of anger and criticism.

Moses Aleper, a member of parliament for Chekwii county, which is part of the affected Karamoja region, told the BBC that Oryem’s views were “wrong” and “regrettable coming from a minister who is aware of the situation in the country”.

“I come from one of the most fertile areas of Karamoja where we have enough rain and we grow food. But sometimes the weather is unpredictable and we fail to get enough food. And that leads to hunger and famine for many people.”

Aleper also said that hunger in the region was often the result of “factors beyond human control”, such as the changing climate.

Charles Onyango-Obbo, a renowned Ugandan writer and journalist, also criticized Oryem, saying that he did not understand “that hunger in a country like Uganda is a problem of distribution and markets”.

There is no official data on the current food situation in Karamoja, but the region is known to face hunger during the dry seasons because of its semi-arid climate.

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