Famine in Niger

IMF policies lead to starvation and death

Across the African continent, a food crisis of catastrophic proportions is again emerging, leaving 16.4 million across southern Africa and 17.9 million in the Horn of Africa in desperate and immediate need of food. In West Africa’s Sahel region, millions are also slowly starving to death. In Niger, the worst affected country, some 3.6 million people are threatened by famine, with 2.5 million, including 800,000 children, on the brink of starvation. The famine has been blamed on a severe drought and an invasion of desert locusts, the worst in 15 years, which devastated crops across the Sahel between August and October 2004. But the catastrophe that exists in Niger today is the creation of imperialism.

Cereal prices have risen sharply since 2000; millet, a staple grain, has doubled in price since last year. It is not food availability but food affordability that is at the root of the unfolding tragedy. There is enough food to feed the hungry in Niger, which exports grain to wealthier neighbours Nigeria and Ghana, but the poor cannot afford to buy it. Some 32,000 children are severely malnourished and with the outbreak of deadly diseases such as cholera, malaria and diarrhoea, children are dying even in feeding centres.

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Southern Africa: The rumbling of political discontent

FRFI 205 October / November 2008

On 20 September the African National Congress (ANC) Executive Committee forced the resignation of Thabo Mbeki as President of South Africa. Mbeki’s fall marked the end of a long-running and labyrinthine dispute with Jacob Zuma, ANC President, and came soon after Mbeki’s ‘starring’ role as chief negotiator of a power-sharing deal in crisis-ridden neighbouring Zimbabwe between President Robert Mugabe and opposition MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. By 25 September ANC Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe, had been sworn in as a caretaker South African President until elections in 2009, when Zuma is expected to become President of South Africa as well as of the ANC. The rise and fall of national leaders in these southern African states reflects the political pressures building in the region.

South Africa is the largest and most powerful economy in Africa. Yet despite the radical pretensions of the ANC in the post-apartheid era, the majority of its black population is still impoverished. In 1996 the ANC government imposed a neo-liberal economic strategy, led by Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, called Growth Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) which espoused the free market and privatisation. Since then, despite annual economic growth, millions still live in dire poverty, unemployment, inflation and inequality have grown dramatically and most of the land is still owned by the white minority. These are the fundamental economic facts that underscore the unpopularity of President Mbeki’s administration and the decision of the ANC Executive that he must go.

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