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Mozambique unrest over food prices illustrates growing world crisis

Published Sep 8, 2010 4:18 PM

Seven people were killed and 280 suffered injuries in the Southern African nation of Mozambique in early September, when crowds rebelled after a 30 percent increase in food prices. The unrest in Mozambique has prompted concerns that other African states as well as countries internationally will face similar problems related to escalating food prices.

The disturbances in Mozambique were reminiscent of events during 2007 and 2008, when numerous countries in Africa and Europe saw widespread protests over food pricing and deficits. In Mozambique, which has enjoyed relative stability and economic growth over the last several years, the escalation in the price of both food and fuel has made it extremely difficult for workers and the poor to feed their families.

Events in Mozambique have also shed light on concerns about problems associated with food deficits in other African states, such as Egypt and South Africa. In South Africa, where workers held a 20-day public sector strike and other job actions, one of the major causes has been complaints over rises in food prices.

Sizwe Pamla of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union in South Africa pointed to Mozambique as a stark reminder of the potential social unrest related to rising food prices. “Look at Mozambique,” Pamla said, “we are sitting on a potential time bomb.” (Financial Times, Sept. 3)

Pamla pointed out that “too many workers are living from hand to mouth; the costs for poor people are skyrocketing.” These problems have also been recognized across North Africa, where newspapers carry regular reports of rising anger related to escalating food prices.

According to political analyst Adriano Nuvunga in Mozambique, “Bread is the key item in the basket for ordinary people. People are worried that rising costs have reached the point of no return.” (Financial Times, Sept. 3)

The Sept. 3 London-based Financial Times noted, “The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization’s food index last month reached a two-year high on the back of rising cereal, sugar and meat prices, up almost 16 percent since last year.”

Costs for both water and electricity have also risen by 10 percent in Mozambique. Fuel prices have been increased three times since July in several African states.

World capitalist crisis at root of instability

Since 2007 the world capitalist system has undergone its worse crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. In the United States approximately 8.4 million workers have lost their jobs.

Capitalist governments and central banks in the West have bailed out the financial institutions and multinational corporations to the tune of trillions of dollars. Real wages for workers have declined and millions have lost their homes, pensions and health care coverage.

This crisis has impacted the developing regions of the world, since these mainly post-colonial states have been completely integrated into the world capitalist system. With the decline of socialism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the West has been encouraging the developing states to accept wholeheartedly the capitalist model of economic production.

In Africa, it has been estimated that some 50 million people have been thrown into poverty since 2007. Washington has not directly addressed this crisis in the developing states and has instead escalated its military operations in Africa as well as other parts of the so-called Third World in Central Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.

Mozambique itself was enslaved and colonized by Portugal for nearly five centuries. The African masses organized themselves during the 1960s and 1970s through the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO), which waged a successful armed struggle against the Portuguese colonialists who were a part of NATO. This anti-colonial struggle sparked a rebellion among Portuguese soldiers and captains, who overthrew the fascist regime in Lisbon in April 1974.

Mozambique won its independence in 1975 and set out to build a socialist society in close alliance with other states in southern Africa. The country served as a rear base for the armed struggles against European settler-colonialism in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and apartheid South Africa.

Beginning in the early 1980s, the racist apartheid regime trained and financed a counterrevolutionary bandit force known as RENAMO (Mozambique Resistance Movement). For a decade RENAMO destroyed development projects, government offices and terrorized the Mozambican population.

In 1992, a cease-fire was signed with RENAMO. A process of national reconciliation led to multiparty elections that still resulted in the continued rule of FRELIMO, the liberation movement that won independence from Portugal.

Nonetheless, the adoption of neoliberal economic policies in the aftermath of the collapse of the European workers states — the USSR and Eastern Europe — created new problems for the Mozambican state. Despite a growth rate of 7.2 percent during the first half of 2010, the country is faced with rising prices and growing social unrest.

Capitalist economic policies have proven to be disastrous for the newly-emerging African states. Only the return to socialist-oriented policies and the unification with other African states in the region can provide the potential for genuine growth in Mozambique and throughout the continent.