Somalia: Imperialists to blame for half a million famine deaths

As imperialist powers jostle for Somalia’s promising oil and gas fields, organising one bogus conference after another, a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has revealed that 258,000 people died as a result of famine in Somalia between 2010-2012, including 133,000 children under the age of five. This vast human tragedy is the responsibility of imperialist policy, particularly by Britain and the US, which has destroyed Somalia in pursuit of influence in the wider region.

2010-12 famine worse than 1992

The FAO’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network found that, between 2010 and 2012:

  • An estimated 4.6% of the total population and 10% of under-fives died in Southern and Central Somalia –the areas most affected.
  • Deaths included Somalis in refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.
  • ‘Excess’ deaths caused by the famine peaked at 30,000 per month between May and August 2011.

There were an additional 290,000 ‘baseline’ deaths in the area over the same period, giving an overall toll of 548,000. In comparison, an estimated 220,000 people died during the 1992 famine.

By September 2011, the UN estimated four million Somalis were starving. It declared a famine in July 2011 but declared it ‘over’ by February 2012 – just in time for the first London Conference on Somalia. Yet deaths continued until April 2012 at least. The famine was used in a cynical attempt to end the civil war in Somalia in favour of the corrupt and now disbanded British-backed transitional federal government (TFG).

Famine myths

Officially, the famine was blamed on:

• the 2010-11 drought, ‘the worst in 60 years’;

• rising food prices;

• constraints on ‘humanitarian access’ laid at Al Shabab’s door by the imperialists.

Yet drought does not automatically mean famine. Until the 1970s, Somalia was a pastoral economy which, despite recurrent droughts, was virtually self-sufficient in food. That agricultural system was systematically destroyed in the 1980s through the intervention of the World Bank and the IMF. Michel Chossudovsky, author of The Globalization of Poverty and the New World Order, describes how:

‘A very tight austerity program was imposed on the government largely to release the funds required to service Somalia’s debt … This structural adjustment programme reinforced Somalia’s dependency on imported grain … food aid increased fifteen-fold … this influx of cheap surplus wheat and rice...led to the displacement of local producers, [and] a major shift in food consumption patterns to the detriment of traditional crops.’

‘Food aid’ was used to secure dependence on imperialist states – ‘food aid to sub-Saharan Africa increased by more than seven times since 1974 and commercial grain imports more than doubled. Currently Africa imports about $15 billion of food per year, yet from 2003 to 2010, the number of undernourished people increased from 206 million to 245 million.’

Chossudovsky explains how IMF-imposed currency devaluations led to ‘hikes in the prices of fuel, fertiliser and farm inputs’; social programmes were curtailed. Infrastructure collapsed and the deregulation of the grain market and the influx of ‘food aid’ left farmers destitute.

The imperialists encouraged the cultivation of export crops on the best farmland. Water and veterinary services were privatised. As Somali cattle exports to the Gulf declined, Australian and EC exports rose. By the early 1980s, food aid and the sale of food aid became the main source of state revenue, enabling imperialist ‘donors’ to control the entire budgetary process. Health and education programmes were decimated and public sector wages slashed.

False aid

In FRFI 223 we reported how food aid was being looted from Somalia’s displaced people camps by TFG officers, with refugees killed in the process. Much so-called food aid in 2011 never reached the starving people it was intended for but was instead sold on or fed to livestock.

The food aid itself has been downgraded from animal-sourced milk-powder to a cheaper corn soya blend which is completely inappropriate for young children and does little to prevent malnutrition. Between 2008 and 2012, MSF, WHO, Unicef and the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) repeatedly demanded that the US and EU ‘stop supplying nutritionally substandard food to malnourished children in developing countries’, with no response.

As for Al Shabaab, the radical Islamic group did bar 16 organisations, including the WFP, from areas it controlled in 2009. But other aid groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross operated in these zones, as did numerous Somali NGOs. The main obstacle was not denial of access by Al Shabaab, but logistical issues of resources and transport. People still starved in areas the WFP did have access to.

Imperialism to blame

The 550,000 deaths in Somalia in 2010-2012 weren’t caused by a lack of food, or by drought, or indeed by a lack of ‘food aid’, but by imperialism’s undermining of food security in the 1980s. Poor countries export food and ‘cash crops’ to rich ones. All economic activity which doesn’t serve the interests and profits of imperialism and international agribusiness is systematically destroyed. The imperialists are trying to hide Somalia’s history as a self-sufficient food basket, and their role in its destruction, while denouncing Somalia as a ‘failed state’. What cynical, two-faced hypocrisy!

Charles Chinweizu

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 233 June/July 2013


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