Public Reason: Vol. 4, No. 1-2, June-December 2012
A Singerian Reading of the Global Strategies to Eradicate Famine in Africa (2005-2010)
Roxana Marin

The present paper is a theoretical attempt to examine the issue of distributive justice, through a Singerian reading of the most recent episodes of global famine crises in Niger (2005-2006 and the 2010 Sahel famine) and the 2011 Horn of Africa famine. The recurrence of the phenomenon of starvation in the underdeveloped regions of the globe asked for the creation of various instruments in managing grave discrepancies, real disparities, in mundane distributive justice; this theoretical endeavor discusses the efficiency of the UN organizations designed for assuring “redistribution of wealth” at the global level (i.e. the Emergency Relief Fund and the World Food Programme) and of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), as opposed to NGOs’ initiatives in the three aforementioned cases, through the prism of Peter Singer’s renowned theory of distributive justice concentrated in the study “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” and further developed in The Life You Can Save. Drawing extensively from utilitarianism and Rawlsian Theory of Justice, Singer develops his argument by addressing the moral dimension of distributive justice (including charity) and “humanitarianism” and its subsequent repercussions and implications at both philosophical (i.e. applied ethics on “the psychology of giving”) and practical, empirical levels (i.e. the actions of states, supranational structures, but, most importantly, of citizens of “affluent societies”). The main argument put forward by the present paper is that the representation and the construction of the various organizations, associations and aid actions involved in the recent famine crises are, in fact, the practical extension of the Singerian scheme of distributive justice, in theory a hermeneutical flexibility of the aforementioned conceptualization of the Australian thinker, of the model of distributive justice from individual level to a global, international dimension. Hence, the paper attempts a translation of the latest famine crises and their management by international organizations through the lance of Peter Singer’s “obligation” to global-oriented redistribution of resources (particularly, food, water and monetary resources). The present study is concerned with four major issues: (1) the brief presentation of the three most recent famine crises in Africa and the fashion in which this type of situation has been dealt with by both supranational organizations and NGOs; (2) the reiteration of Singer’s theory on distributive justice, as this theory is presented in the two pieces mentioned above; (3) the theoretical mechanisms of transferring individual obligation to “give” (i.e. to donate, to practice charity) into collective, global obligation to eradicate food and water crises and extreme poverty, and (4) the attempt to translate and interpret UN’s, US’ and NGOs’ strategies to redistribute ‘wealth’ through ‘Singerian’ lances. Four sections divide the content of this paper in order to tackle the four points.

Key words: distributive justice, Peter Singer, famine, redistribution, World Food Programme, USAID, affluent society, Africa.


Marin, Roxana. 2012. A Singerian Reading of the Global Strategies to Eradicate Famine in Africa (2005-2010). Public Reason 4 (1-2): 240-61.