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Famine looms in East Africa as strikes erupt in Nigeria, South Africa

Published Jul 14, 2011 10:42 PM

As the world capitalist economic crisis accelerates, growing food deficits, poverty and imperialist militarism have prompted dislocation and unrest throughout the African continent. Africa has been subjected to the price fluctuations for raw materials and agricultural commodities sold to the West. Meanwhile, the Pentagon and NATO are intervening in the internal affairs of former colonial states.

Big capitalist financial institutions and their military forces are strangling Africa. The impact can be seen in East Africa. The Horn of Africa region and surrounding nations potentially face the worst drought in six decades.

The corporate media do not draw the link between climate change and drought. However, African specialists on this phenomenon say that the increasing floods, lack of rainfall and consequent crop failures can be attributed to the so-called developed countries’ industrial policies. Moreover, drought does not necessarily translate into famine — the inability of populations to adequately feed themselves. Today, famine is largely derived from the unequal distribution of food and water resulting from capitalist underdevelopment in Africa.

Most East African countries that face large-scale dislocation and starvation have governments which are politically and economically dominated by the U.S. and other imperialist powers. Washington supports the regimes in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti and provides them with military and security assistance.

Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government gets hundreds of millions of dollars annually from the U.S. Pro-U.S. regimes in Burundi and Uganda militarily prop up the TFG; 8,000 troops currently occupy Somalia to stop the Al-Shabab Islamic resistance movement from seizing power.

Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi government is subsidized militarily by the U.S., which has used that regime to occupy Somalia on its behalf. Ethiopia is hit hard by the drought; however, U.S. partnership and assistance have not led to success in feeding the population or maintaining stability.

The Kenyan-based East African newspaper reported, “Perhaps no country in the region is as badly affected as Somalia. The Somalia Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit estimates that 2.85 million people — a third of the population” are in “humanitarian crisis and in need of urgent assistance.” This is 42.5 percent more than in December. (July 10)

The Manila Bulletin noted, “Two successive failed rains have left ... 11 million people ... across Southern Ethiopia, Northern Kenya, and Somalia facing famine because of food shortages.” The lack of water has caused large-scale cattle deaths, “leaving families unable to cope with the loss of food and livelihood.” (July 11)

The Financial Times wrote, “Livestock mortality has risen dramatically ... when staple cereal prices have also increased sharply.” The wholesale price of maize in Kenya has risen 160 percent since July 2010, while red sorghum’s retail price has jumped 169 percent. (July 5)

Mass uprisings & labor unrest

In December, high unemployment, low wages and poverty sparked Tunisian workers and youth to carry out unprecedented demonstrations and general strikes, which toppled longtime Western-backed dictator, President Zine-el-Abidine Ben Ali. Since December, countries in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula have erupted with mass uprisings and labor unrest.

On Jan. 25, Egyptian workers and youth launched similar actions in response to rising prices and political repression. On Feb. 11, the massive people’s movement pushed out the U.S.-backed 30-year dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Similar unrest spread through Yemen and Bahrain. The imperialists intervened in Libya in March in an effort to engineer regime change and seize control of Africa’s largest oil reserves.

Labor actions are escalating. Nigerian trade unions are pushing for crucial wage increases. Per capita income is very low — even though Nigeria is one of the largest exporters of crude oil to the West.

The July 11 Nigerian Tribune reported, “The Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria has vowed that all [Nigerian] ports will be shut ... during the planned nationwide strike by organized labor over the delay in the implementation of the N18,000 national minimum wage by the federal, state and local governments.” It added that unions have warned that this strike could start after the Nigeria Labor Congress’ and Trade Union Congress’ ultimatum expires on July 14.

South Africa’s Times Live “predicted a marked increase in strike activity [there] during 2011 by 22 percent compared to last year.” (July 11) Since July 4, 200,000 members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa have been on strike. They are demanding a 13 percent pay hike — a living wage.

An additional 70,000 workers, members of the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union, joined the NUMSA strike on July 11. Peter Rapoo, the union’s vice-president, warned of petrol shortages if the strike goes on. (South Africa Business Day, July 11)

Labor actions in the two largest African economies reflect the vagaries of today’s capitalist crisis, in which workers worldwide face rising unemployment and attacks on their wages.

These developments, although posing monumental challenges for workers, provide greater opportunities for international solidarity and joint actions aimed at reversing the austerity and repression imposed by capitalism and imperialism.