the Disillusioned kid: African Famine Driven by Fundamentalism!
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Monday, August 01, 2005

African Famine Driven by Fundamentalism!

Famine in Niger appears to be the trendy African issue of the year, supplanting ethnic cleanising in Darfur. That we in the West seem incapable of focusing on more than one African problem at at time, however, should not take away from the plight of the victims. As many as a quarter of Niger's 12 million population may be affected. Tens of thousands of children face death by starvation. Slowly - belatedly - the world is making up to the reality of this horror.

It may be shocking then to discover that in reality Niger is not short of food. Jeevan Vasagar, writing in the Guardian, reports:
In Tahoua market, there is no sign that times are hard. Instead, there are piles of red onions, bundles of glistening spinach, and pumpkins sliced into orange shards. There are plastic bags of rice, pasta and manioc flour, and the sound of butchers' knives whistling as they are sharpened before hacking apart joints of goat and beef.
The starvation is a consequence, not of an overall lack of food, but rather of a widespread inability to pay for it. A trend exacerbated by government refusals to accede to public pressure to distribute free food. And what leads to both higher prices and this refusal? Pressure from international donors like the US and EU to conform to the diktats of the free market. Free trade has seen prices rise as traders export to righer countries like Nigeria and Ghana. Free food cannot be allowed, meanwhile, for fear of interfering with the market (which will *obviously* threaten Niger's development out of poverty).

As Vasagar notes,
The starvation in Niger is not the inevitable consequence of poverty, or simply the fault of locusts or drought. It is also the result of a belief that the free market can solve the problems of one of the world's poorest countries.
The crisis in the country would have been mitigated had we sent aid earlier. It might have been averted entirely if the country's economic policies had not been driven by market fundamentalism.

Update 2/8/05: Lenin has more here.

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