Looming famine in the Sahel
Imperialist militarism & mining can’t help
Published Jun 10, 2010 9:11 AM
In West Africa’s Sahel region the threat of famine has caused dislocation
and suffering for millions in Niger, Mali, Chad, eastern Cameroun, Burkina
Faso, Mauritania and other states. This region, located south of the Sahara
Desert, has been hit by drought and crop failures over the last several
In Niger, the worst affected country, it has been reported that 7-10 million
people are experiencing serious food deficits. In Chad another 2 million need
assistance after large-scale crop failures and livestock deaths.
Chad’s military government, which took power Feb. 18 with a coup, has
initiated an ambitious campaign to distribute food to 1 million people. This
effort would still leave Chad’s majority hungry without the aid that is
so desperately needed.
The United Nations reported in April that international donors have only
supplied a third of the $190 million in assistance needed to prevent widespread
regional famine. (Angop, May 17) On May 19, ministers responsible for
agricultural, livestock development, trade and humanitarian affairs in West
Africa held a meeting in the Togolese capital of Lome to plan a course of
action aimed at food distribution and to address the needs of the civilians
displaced by the crisis. (News 24, May 19)
A recent report issued by the Economic Community of West African States
(ECOWAS), which has its headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria, indicated that in the
2009-10 harvest year there was a significant fodder production shortfall in the
pastoral areas of the eastern sections of the region. The report also
indicated that the region has seen an overall 2 percent decrease in cereal
production; in Niger the reduction is 31 percent. (News 24, May 19)
ECOWAS provided a $550,000 grant to Niger in April. Much more is needed to
acquire and effectively distribute food to the growing numbers of people facing
The European Union announced in early June that it would increase its
assistance by $29 million to the region over last year’s $24 million,
aimed at supplying food to 7 million people in Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and
northern Nigeria. (VOA, June 2)
According to a report issued by the Charities Aid Foundation, “Families
with young children in Niger are being forced to travel up to 1,000 km due to a
worsening food crisis in the West African country. Rachel Palmer of Save the
Children in Niger said that the crisis is forcing children to beg for food,
while Niger already has the highest rate of child deaths in the world.”
(CAF, June 3)
Crisis reflects failure of capitalist agriculture
During the early 1970s, the mid 1980s and in 2005 there was drought, locust
infestations, sudden floods that provoked food deficits and the dislocation of
population groups in the Sahel region.
Agricultural and livestock production constitute almost 50 percent of the
economy in Niger. Throughout the Sahel, lack of rainfall can create monumental
social crises that extend beyond the respective governments’ ability to
intervene in time to prevent famine.
International aid agencies based in western imperialist states often must to
appeal to the imperialist governments to increase assistance to African
countries, which still depend on revenue from exports of natural resources and
agricultural commodities to these same former colonial powers and the United
States. The prices for these exports are determined by the ruling classes
within the industrialized countries, who themselves are facing the worse
economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Nonetheless, when the Europe and U.S.-based corporate media report the impact
of this unequal distribution of economic power, they give little emphasis to
the root causes of food deficits and famine. The powerful capitalist
countries themselves face huge budget deficits, rising unemployment and the
cutbacks in social spending. There is little attention paid to the impact of
the global economic crisis in the former colonial countries.
According to the head of the World Food Program operation in Niger, Richard
Verbeeck, “When there is an emergency, usually the flow of contributions
is more quick. The level is different. Now if we turn to longer-term
development activities, it is sad to say that the interest is going down, and
the investment in longer-term activities is not the same or what should be
expected.” (VOA, May 19)
However, there has never been any real interest on the part of the imperialist
states to provide the necessary assistance for African states to become
self-sufficient in agricultural production and food distribution. Although
Niger is the world’s third largest source of uranium and is slated to
double its production over the next two years and supplies it to imperialist
countries for nuclear technology, Niger’s people remain largely poor.
France’s government-controlled nuclear energy firm, Areva, recently
signed a contract with Niger’s leaders to conduct uranium mining in the
Imouraren region in the North. This contract will make Niger the second largest
supplier of uranium to the international market.
Niger’s mined uranium supplies nearly all of the raw materials for
running of 50 nuclear plants providing electricity in France. Spain, Canada,
South Korea and South Africa have expressed an interest in Niger’s
China’s National Uranium Corporation signed an agreement with Niger in
2007 to extract 700 tons of uranium per year from the Azelik region in the
north. The People’s Republic of China has increased its investments and
economic cooperation with various African states over the last several
The deposed President Mamadou Tandja had sought alternative political and
economic relations with the progressive states of Libya in North Africa and
Venezuela in Latin America. It was rumored that Tandja had been discussing
greater economic cooperation with Iran, which is under threat by the United
States, Israel and various other western imperialist states.
U.S. sends guns, not agricultural assistance
The Pentagon has been escalating its military involvement in West Africa. In
Mali, there are joint military training exercises taking place with the United
States under the guise of fighting the growing influence of “Islamic
extremism” in the Sahel and Maghreb regions of the continent.
“The U.S. is trying to help nations bordering the Sahara and the arid
Sahel region to contain a growing threat of terrorism. More than 200 U.S.
Special Forces and 500 African troops trained together in May, in the latest of
several large military maneuvers over the past few years.” (AP, June 5)
This same report says U.S. intelligence officers claim al-Qaida is active in
the Sahel and Sahara regions.
Washington aims to advance U.S. ruling class strategic interests in West Africa
rather than seriously addressing the monumental food deficits. An official
visit to Africa by Vice-President Joe Biden set for the week of June 7 will
steer clear of the current food crisis in the Sahel.
CNN reported that the Vice-President will make “several stops, including
South Africa where he will represent the United States at the opening
ceremonies of the 2010 World Cup. Among other engagements, Biden will meet with
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on June 7 ‘to discuss a full range of
bilateral and regional issues’, according to a White House
statement.” (CNN, June 7)
The imperialist states have no interest or desire to tackle these agricultural
problems since it does not fit into its overall political objectives. The
African continent must rely on its own resources in the long run to solve these
problems. Only when Africa breaks the chains of imperialist dependency can a
genuine program for economic and social development come into being.
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