The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Africa:
Violent riots against the high cost of living

Mar 17, 2008

Like Senegal at the end of 2007, now Cameroon and Burkina Faso have experienced famine riots. Other African countries could follow because everywhere the prices of basic necessities have skyrocketed, making daily life impossible for the population.

The following articles are excerpted from the March 14th issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

In Cameroon, violent demonstrations took place at the end of February, notably in Douala, the economic capital and major port of the country, and in Yaounde, the political capital. Other large cites like Bafang, Bamenda, Kumba and Nkongsamba were affected.

The majority of the demonstrators were young, and they were brutally attacked by the police and the army. There were a hundred deaths and close to 2000 arrests. Today, the army has closed off the streets of Yaounde and of Douala while the courts condemn those arrested for rioting.

It all began on February 23, when the truck drivers and city transportation drivers went on strike to protest the increase in the price of fuel. No sooner had the government attempted to calm down the conflict by announcing a reduction in price of a few cents, than the population descended into the streets to protest the high cost of living. In Cameroon, as in many other African countries, the prices of basic necessities have skyrocketed these last few months. This explosion in prices of commodities such as beef, fish, cooking oil, rice, sugar, flour and gasoline has made daily life impossible for the poor population. Even those with a wage can't make do thanks to the high cost of living, not to mention all those who don't have a job. According to the unions, 70% of the working age population lacks employment.

But the high cost of living is not the only cause of these riots. There is also the project to revise the Constitution, which has allowed the dictator Paul Biya to stay in power for 25 years. He wants changes that would allow him to stay in office until 2011. That is why the slogans shouted by the demonstrators were a mix of "Down with the high cost of living" and of "Biya must go!" Biya accuses the population of being manipulated by his political opponents' as if the population doesn't have eyes for itself to see how incredible wealth has been accumulated by a corrupt class of political leaders. These leaders have flaunted their wealth in public ever since independence. As if the population doesn't understand that the principal resources of the country have been taken by the foreign multi-national corporations, which pillage the forests and the resources that lay beneath the soil. These corporations are responsible for the poverty.

....

In Burkina Faso, protest marches against the high cost of living turned into riots at the end of February. For a dozen days, the wave of anger that began in Bobo Diolasso, the second largest city of the country, spread to other large cities like Ouagadougou, the capital, and also to Banfora and Ouahigouya. Some government buildings like the tax office and the town hall of Bobo paid the price. On February 27, Ouagadougou was nearly in a state of siege. When the authoritarian regime of Blaise Compoare sent in troops, it only reinforced the unanimous opposition of the population to him.

In fact, the anger of the population only needed a pretext to explode. The government sparked the anger when it increased three or four-fold the price of a sales license and other taxes imposed on the small merchants and on all who try to get by engaging in little jobs. But the government is not the only one at fault. The large capitalist groups like Nestle, Unilever and Danone with their hands deep in food circulation, are equally responsible for the increase in today's prices. These multinationals possess enormous quantities of food stored inside their warehouses. They speculate on these food commodities and provoke increases in the prices of what is sold on the stands of the little vendors.

As long as this situation continues, the populations of Africa, like those in all the poor countries, will inevitably face famine. The riots of these last weeks are but a warning of what is likely to inflame all of Africa and the other countries of the Third World.