[OPE-L] Niger: The IMF and WB's Invisible War on Africans

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Thu Sep 08 2005 - 14:33:35 EDT

("One of the IMF's most shocking acts of war against Africans in
Niger has been to demand another condition on aid: the sale of
emergency grain reserves.")

from Pambazuka weekly at http://www.fahamu.org

Judith Amanthis

Drought and famine are not normal conditions for any group of human
beings, but what is normal is people in the west being lied to about
the causes, writes Judith Amanthis, who lists various IMF policies as
being responsible for the food crisis in Niger.

The IMF and the World Bank, and the EU as well, are killing Africans
in their thousands in Niger, Mali and throughout the Sahel region of
Africa. By August this year in Niger alone, three million are
threatened with death from starvation. Up to 800,000, especially
children, have already died. Niger is the second most impoverished
country on this earth. Starvation, according to one aid agency, is
normal there.

Drought and locusts destroyed crops, it's true, but the rains were
down only 11% from normal. There is some food in Niger. The problem
is that large numbers of people, especially in the rural areas, are
just too poor to buy it when their crops fail. Why? First,
subsistence farming in Africa doesn't bring in much money, or any
money. It has no western financial backers. Second, in March 2005 the
Niger government, having secured Highly Indebted Poor Country status
for Niger, implemented an IMF condition on further loans: it put a
19% VAT on basic grains whose price had risen by up to 89% over the
past five years. Traders naturally sell to the highest bidder. In
this case they sold grains to other West African countries. The free
market knows no borders, colonial or otherwise.

Many of the rural people in the Sahel region are nomadic livestock
farmers. In Niger the market in livestock has slumped. Farmers who
would have sold cattle and other stock to bring in money to buy food
are now unable to sell starving animals on a glutted market where
prices have fallen by 25% over the past five years. Many villages are
now almost entirely women, children and the old, because the men have
gone to the urban areas or other African countries in search of food,
work and money. African women and children are as usual forced onto
the front line.

But the western picture of starving peasant women and their children
is one-sided. In March hungry women and men in Niamey, Maradi and
Tahoua came out in protest against food prices. Placards read, 'We're
hungry. Help us'. So there are angry urban dwellers and workers as
well, who are well-organised and prepared to risk imprisonment - the
government's response to the protest, according to one source - to
get what they need. The pattern is similar throughout Africa. The
people's struggle to survive and pressurise their governments into
acting for them rather than for the western powers gets left out of
the news altogether.

One of the IMF's most shocking acts of war against Africans in Niger
has been to demand another condition on aid: the sale of emergency
grain reserves. Over the past five years, this policy has contributed
to famines in other parts of Africa, notably Malawi in 2002 and again
this year. In fact famine stalks large swathes of central Africa. The
rationale? Cheap grain is not to flood the market before harvest
time. For this reason, the Niger governments cheap grain came on the
market too late and too expensive.

Long term drought and famine can never be normal for any group of
human beings. What is normal is people in the west being lied to
about the causes of Africans' suffering and what Africans are doing
about it.

Western oil and forestry companies who have created climate change
are as implicated as well. Western Europe and the US are responsible
for 50% of the world's carbon emissions, and forestry multinationals
are destroying the earth's 'lungs', including the great Congo River
Basin forest, at 26 hectares a minute (37 football pitches). Greater
heat and erratic rain in the Sahel region means the Sahara Desert is
creeping south. Areas like northern Nigeria and Senegal are drying up
as well. In erratic weather, locusts breed more heavily, but since
the mid 1980s, the West African regional organisation, OCALAV, which
was set up at independence in the early 1960s to control locust
swarms and other plagues has been restructured. Its funding has been
cut. African governments which have restructured entire economies to
make life easier for multinationals can no longer pay for services
vital to the people's survival.

These same governments - eight throughout the Sahel and West Africa -
have welcomed US military personnel into their armies so that young
African men can be trained to protect western imperialism in the 'war
on terror'.

As for cross border and selective use of pesticides, first, it's
unaffordable by African governments, and second, it's unmanageable.
Inter-governmental co-operation has broken down in the age of G8
grotesqueries. Live 8 put money in western multinational and
individual bank accounts, period. Killing locusts at the hopper
stage, before they take flight - often across colonial borders  and
devour people's crops, is essential. Whatever the pros and cons of
using pesticides to control locust swarms, ordinary Africans have,
over a period of hundreds of years, had control of their environment
stolen from them, and with genocidal consequences.

In June this year, President Tanja of Niger met with George Bush. As
well as the Sahel regions strategic importance in the war on terror,
Niger is the worlds third largest uranium exporter. A new generation
nuclear arsenal is in the US pipeline and Tanja is handing Africas
uranium to US arms manufacturers on a plate.

In early August, Tanja was vilified in the western media for denying
that millions of people were starving and for complaining that only a
fraction of the promised aid from the west had arrived. At the same
time the UN congratulated the government of Mali for dealing better
with the imminent death by starvation of millions more Africans. The
argument is clear: if some African governments are efficient enough
to keep the lid on wholesale famine, the problem must be down to an
individual, to who holds presidential office. What wasn't mentioned
was that the free food handed out by the UN and the government to
people in Mali was, according to a BBC World Service report, only
obtainable in one particular area if you worked for an Oxfam water
development project. The reporter asked a woman who was digging a
hole to conserve rain water if she was happy to be getting food. She
and everyone else working with her laughed uproariously.

* This article is from Kilombo, the African Liberation Support
Campaign Network's journal.

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