Iconic Photos

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Famine in Uganda

with 11 comments

Taken in Karamoja district, Uganda in April 1980, the contrasting hands of a starving boy and a missionary spoke louder than any world leader and any news story about the famine in Uganda. Karamoja region has the driest climate in Uganda and was prone to droughts. The 1980 famine in there where 21% of the population (and 60% of the infants) died was one of the worst in history. The worst recorded famine was the great Finn famine (1696), which killed a third of the population.

The photographer Mike Wells, who would later win the World Press Photo Award for this photo, admitted that he was ashamed to take the photo. The same publication that sat on his picture for five months without publishing it entered it into a competition. He was embarrassed to win as he never entered the competition himself, and was against winning prizes with pictures of people starving to death.

Famine, drought and ethnic violence continue to this day in Karamoja. The Karamojong are a nomadic people, but since Idi Amin years in the 1970s, their nomadic patterns were curtailed due to the increase of cross border security, internal raids, and influx of weapons which enabled them to lead raids.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

November 19, 2009 at 8:28 am

11 Responses

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  1. My God!!!!


    December 1, 2009 at 9:22 pm

  2. Sad!!!!!


    December 2, 2009 at 7:42 am

  3. very sad indeed.


    December 2, 2009 at 8:13 am

  4. I am ashamed to even look at it. Heart-wrenching.


    December 3, 2009 at 1:00 pm

  5. What is really sad – for me- and heart wrenching, and terribly terribly shameful, is that up until today 2009/2010, the people of Karamonja are still hungry and thirsty, poor and dying. Neglected.

    this is not a call to the international community, but to fellow ugandans who live and sleep and drive a million pound lives, homes, cars (respectively): yes, the rich should live on unguiltly for they have earned their good life…
    but how about sharing, giving to those who have none, looking beyong your white african collar, caring for a brother- even when they are a tribe, a culture, a languange that has nothing to do with your own.

    I am sickened by the Continued, Preserved, even Glamourised Images of ‘those poor, poor African: look at them strungle to breath, their little hands thinner their straw. Look at their wide weakened smiles… the poor poor souls, their children look on unblinking, hoping for something: a miracle. A day that will only bring sun, wind and rain and rapes, no wars, no barbarian, nothing that we have come to believe Is normal. Is Africa”

    I am sick and tired of being this African. The African who defensive with nothing to defend.
    It is not that fault of the west (and am not guillible. I am not naive). It is not their fault that we go at each other with matchetes… it is the white man’s fault that we will willingly sale our souls for a pound of sand,
    It is not the whiteman’s fault that the last time we sat and eat and loved and laughed and lived together as one, as brothers, me and you… was…. I have no memory of it.

    ……..I could go on. But then I will cry.


    December 4, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    • excuse the typos there-in

      I typed with my eyes close 🙂



      December 4, 2009 at 4:34 pm

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      January 27, 2012 at 10:06 pm

  6. why doesn’t anyone help. i really wish i could help

  7. horrible


    July 22, 2010 at 8:47 am

  8. […] all too tragically familiar in subsequent decades as famines happened in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Uganda, and the […]

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