In the Horn of Africa, a famine is raging that has claimed the lives of
tens of thousands of people. For the first time in 30 years, the UN has
officially declared a famine. The drought in East Africa has resulted in
a food crisis across Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya that has affected over
12 million people; hundreds of thousands of refugees from Somalia have
fled to neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia, where unsanitary and crowded
conditions await, leading to thousands more deaths. But this seems to go
almost unreported in the media, which is dominated by stories of
rioting, phone hacking and the economic crisis.
Crisis in Africa: capitalism is to blame
In the Horn of Africa, a famine is raging that has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people. For the first time in 30 years, the UN has officially declared a famine. The drought in East Africa has resulted in a food crisis across Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya that has affected over 12 million people; hundreds of thousands of refugees from Somalia have fled to neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia, where unsanitary and crowded conditions await, leading to thousands more deaths. But this seems to go almost unreported in the media, which is dominated by stories of rioting, phone hacking and the economic crisis.
So what caused the famine? Sadly, food crises and famines appear endemic to this part of the world. Ethiopia in particular has become synonymous with drought and poverty over the years, most famously in the mid 1980s. Although the food crisis is preventable, the drought does of course have natural origins. Weather conditions over the Pacific Ocean have interrupted seasonal rains for two seasons in a row; this is linked with the failure of rains this year in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia. In some areas, the rainfall during the rainy season (from April to June), was less than 30% of an average year. This lack of rain led to crop failure and the death of livestock. As a result of this, cereal prices were pushed up to record levels, whilst animal prices and wages have fallen. The prices of staple foods are at 68% over the average, with increases of up to 240% in southern Somalia, 117% in south-eastern Ethiopia, and 58% in northern Kenya. But this does not explain why a poor harvest has led to a humanitarian crisis of biblical proportions. After all, agriculture in Europe and the USA also suffers from drought from time to time, but that does not lead to mass starvation!
A preventable disaster?
“This is a preventable disaster and solutions are possible,” stated Oxfam. "Long-term investment is needed in food production and basic development to help people cope with poor rains and ensure that this is the last famine in the region." Here Oxfam hits the nail on the head; the food crisis is a direct result of the colossal underdevelopment of the region, alongside the use of the most primitive agricultural methods. Under capitalism however, it is not possible to solve these problems. Farmers are too poor to purchase better tools or fertilisers, and the common grazing land that many villages rely on is increasingly fenced off and privatised for cash crops; coffee, cut flowers, beans and other ‘luxuries’ destined for western markets. Farmers are squeezed between landlords, corrupt government officials, multinational companies, and the exhausted, dry soil that has been ruined by decades of over-farming.
At the heart of the food crisis is the free market, and its inherent contradictions. Capitalism, in its never-ending drive for higher profits, seeks to increase the production of commodities, including food. For farming, Karl Marx pointed out that even 150 years ago, this took the form of the “clearing of whole continents for cultivation.” Despite the huge environmental cost this had a progressive aspect, advancing agriculture to such an extent that we can now produce enough food to sustain every single man, woman and child on earth. This has been true probably for nearly fifty years. Yet every year millions starve to death! The huge food surpluses have no market to soak them up, so produce often has to be destroyed – literally – to keep profits up. A few years ago, this led to so-called ‘wine lakes’ and ‘butter mountains’ in the European Union due to overproduction. However, agriculture has never been less profitable. In the USA and EU farming is kept afloat by huge state subsidies, but in Africa, farmers cannot compete with these subsidised imports. The reason that every man, woman and child isn’t fed is because it is simply not profitable to do so.
In Somalia, the situation is worsened by the fact that large swathes of the south of the country are ruled by the terrorist organisation Al-Shabaab. This group, whose success is itself a crushing indictment of capitalism’s ability to provide for the people, is notorious for its refusal to allow foreign aid in. In early July, Al-Shabaab announced that it had removed restrictions on humanitarian workers, and that aid organizations will be allowed in, but will "only be permitted to work if they do not have other interests," criticising certain aid agencies for "luring needy people with food in order to teach them their Christianity." The U.S. has withheld aid from the Somalia region, as a result U.S. aid spending in Somalia has dropped from $150 million to $13 million this year.
Socialist policies needed
Although the African struggle for national-liberation that took place in the mid 20th century represented a real victory against colonialism and oppression, it has not solved any of the fundamental problems faced by the African masses. African economies are dominated by giant multinational companies, which bleed the workers and peasants of these countries dry. In the recent period, we are witnessing a wave of ‘investment’ from Chinese companies. Thus we have the grotesque situation year after year, where poor African farmers work from dawn until dusk on plantations where crops are grown in abundance for export, yet still go to bed hungry.
The only solution for the workers and peasants of East Africa lies in the creation of a socialist federation of African states. Basing itself on the nationalisation of the land and its division amongst farmers, it would be possible to abolish the feudal landlordism that enslaves some of the poorest people on the planet. The nationalisation of the giant agribusinesses under worker’s control could provide farmers with affordable drought-resistant crops and the ability to improve agricultural technique. Farmers would be encouraged to establish collective farms – on a strictly voluntary basis – in order to increase production and reduce the workload. Only on this basis would farmers be able to build the proper irrigation systems needed, and allow the infertile soils to recover from decades of abuse. This would leave Africa able to eat and live, ‘whatever the weather’. This is possible only on the basis of a socialist planned economy, one that is not a slave of the free market. On the existing basis of private property, there is sadly no solution to the periodical famines which will strike African communities.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. The workers of North Africa have already had enough and overthrown two despots. It is inevitable that at a certain stage, the revolutionary wave in the north will sweep across the rest of the continent. Whether that happens sooner or later, we cannot say. But the basic needs of the African masses cannot be met until the old corrupt leaders and gangsters are overthrown, and society run on a democratic socialist basis. There is one solution – the Arab Spring must spread south! Revolution until victory!