Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Henry Okello Oryem has drawn the ire of the public after he labeled people who have died of hunger in the East African nation as “idiots.” According to BBC, a report from an official human rights body stated that over 2,200 people in north-east Uganda died as a result of hunger and associated diseases in 2022.
Besides the hunger-related deaths, the famine in the northeastern part of the East African nation has also resulted in almost 500,000 people suffering from “acute hunger”, the Uganda Human Rights Commission said in the report.
But Oryem claimed that food cultivation shouldn’t be an issue in Uganda as the country has a good climate and arable land. “It’s only an idiot, a real idiot, that can die of hunger in Uganda,” the minister said in an interview with NTV Uganda.
“If you work hard, there is land in Uganda. The climate is right in spite [of] climate change. If you make a double effort to make sure that you go out in the morning, you till your land, you plant the seeds, you maintain your plantation, surely, how do you fail then to get food?”
Oryem has since been criticized for his comments. Among the individuals who have called the minister out for what he said include Moses Aleper, a legislator for Chekwii county. That area is located within the region affected by the famine.
Aleper told BBC that Oryem’s comments were “not right” and “unfortunate coming from a minister who knows what goes on in this country.”
“I’m from one of the most productive parts of Karamoja where there is adequate rain and we produce food. But in situations where weather fails us, the weather vagaries set in, we definitely fail to get food. And normally people definitely get famine and eventually hunger strikes,” he explained.
Aleper added that the hunger issue in the area is usually a result of “other issues beyond even human control.” He said such factors include climate change. The climate in the Karamoja region is said to be semi-arid. As a result, the food crisis and hunger situation in the area usually worsen during the dry season.
Charles Onyango-Obbo, a renowned Ugandan author and journalist, also said the minister had been unable to understand “that hunger in a country like Uganda is a distribution/market problem.”