Niger president: hunger politicized runs a story from Nigeria’s Abuja Daily Trust on the insistence of Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja, has dismissed reports that his country is experiencing a famine. “The people of Niger look well-fed as you can see,” he told the BBC. He acknowledged there are food shortages in some areas following poor rains and locust invasions, but said this was not unusual for his country. (How comforting.) Tandja said the idea of a famine was being exploited for political and economic gains by opposition parties and the United Nations. The World Food Programme denied that the scale of the problem had been exaggerated.

“We are experiencing like all the countries in the Sahel, a food crisis due to the poor harvest and the locust attacks of 2004,” Tandja explained. But he said reports of famine were “false propaganda” being circulated by opposition politicians and UN agencies for their own interests. “It is only by deception that such agencies receive funding,” he said.

“We have not spoken about famine but about pockets of severe malnutrition,” WFP spokesman Greg Barrow told the BBC.

Tandja’s real complaint seems to be that aid is being chanelled to NGOs in Niger rather than his own apparatus. He questioned why out of the $45 million promised to Niger for the food crisis, only $2.5 million has been received by his government.

The technical definition of famine is mass relocation of populations driven by hunger, and this has not yet happened in Niger. The UN says 3 million people in the country now face hunger. See our last post on Niger, and on the politics of the Sahel.