The Spark

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

African rulers take timid measures to avoid anger of their starving people

Oct 20, 2008

From the September 15th issue of Le Pouvoir Aux Travailleurs (Workers’ Power), the journal of the militants of UATCI (the African Union of Communist Internationalist Workers).

Rulers in several African countries still remember the hunger riots this past February and March. Such riots could happen again, thanks to the brutal increase in the price of basic foods.

Those in power, and food merchants, are haunted by scenes of shops looted by an upsurge of anger from those who are hungry.

The Niger government has taken certain measures to avoid the repetition of such scenes, which they officially refer to as protecting the population from high taxes on consumption. The government started an operation to sell rice and sugar at a lower price than the price in the shops. But these products are sold only to families that can present proper documents, including a list of family members, a marriage certificate or even the latest census card. Those who don’t have such documents, most often those most in need, are turned away.

This measure only benefits the middle class because they are the ones who can produce the necessary documents.

In Mauritania the military junta that just took power from Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi is taking similar measures. The poorest can get food in certain shops throughout the country. Eight kinds of products are being sold in several hundred shops for about 20% less than what they would cost in the market. Such measures are designed to calm the poor population, to show good intentions, to gain a little credit with those most dissatisfied.

The African countries are poor, dependent on the international market dominated by the richest multi-nationals. Rice is the basic food, but the African countries have to import it because they don’t produce enough. Some African countries grow green beans or flowers for export to Europe. Some grow cotton which is sold to the world textile industry.

And in Niger they take from the earth huge amounts of uranium, a raw material used in the rich countries of the world. The piles of waste are left behind, a source of radioactive pollution for all those who work or live nearby. All such activities make a fortune for the shareholders of the multinationals, companies perfectly willing to use bribes or encourage embezzlement by local officials, all coming from the labor of poor workers and farmers.

In Senegal, all the government does is talk. Official statistics say that more than two million people in the country are threatened with “food insecurity.” These figures are far below the reality, especially given the latest explosion in food prices. Even those with a regular salary can’t get proper nourishment because their salaries fall far behind the enormous escalation in prices. Small farmers who grow peanuts, millet or cotton get such a low price for what they sell, yet have to buy food at high prices.

Famine threatens these small farmers. World organizations have arranged far too little aid.

In the face of this catastrophe, the Senegalese government has to show it is doing something. The latest new idea of the current president of Senegal is pompously called “the Grand Agricultural Offensive for Nourishment and Abundance.” This plan, which should be called “the Grand blah-blah,” claims there is food abundance on the horizon for Senegal. But meanwhile, salaries are frozen and nothing is done to prevent the big merchants and chains that distribute food from speculating in prices that make them big profits off the backs of the poorest.

In the end, it is workers and poor peasants who, once organized, will help to install a more just social system that satisfies basic needs and puts an end to hunger.