Truly Scary Display of Callousness by the World Bank and IMF in Niger

from Pambazuka weekly at


Drought and famine are not normal conditions for any group of human beings, but what is normal is people in the west being lied to about the causes, writes Judith Amanthis, who lists various IMF policies as being responsible for the food crisis in Niger.

The IMF and the World Bank, and the EU as well, are killing Africans in their thousands in Niger, Mali and throughout the Sahel region of Africa. By August this year in Niger alone, three million are threatened with death from starvation. Up to 800,000, especially children, have already died. Niger is the second most impoverished country on this earth. Starvation, according to one aid agency, is normal there.

Drought and locusts destroyed crops, it’s true, but the rains were down only 11% from normal. There is some food in Niger. The problem is that large numbers of people, especially in the rural areas, are just too poor to buy it when their crops fail. Why? First, subsistence farming in Africa doesn’t bring in much money, or any money. It has no western financial backers. Second, in March 2005 the Niger government, having secured Highly Indebted Poor Country status for Niger, implemented an IMF condition on further loans: it put a 19% VAT on basic grains whose price had risen by up to 89% over the past five years. Traders naturally sell to the highest bidder. In this case they sold grains to other West African countries. The free market knows no borders, colonial or otherwise.

Many of the rural people in the Sahel region are nomadic livestock farmers. In Niger the market in livestock has slumped. Farmers who would have sold cattle and other stock to bring in money to buy food are now unable to sell starving animals on a glutted market where prices have fallen by 25% over the past five years. Many villages are now almost entirely women, children and the old, because the men have gone to the urban areas or other African countries in search of food, work and money. African women and children are as usual forced onto the front line.

But the western picture of starving peasant women and their children is one-sided. In March hungry women and men in Niamey, Maradi and Tahoua came out in protest against food prices. Placards read, ‘We’re hungry. Help us’. So there are angry urban dwellers and workers as well, who are well-organised and prepared to risk imprisonment – the government’s response to the protest, according to one source – to get what they need. The pattern is similar throughout Africa. The people’s struggle to survive and pressurise their governments into acting for them rather than for the western powers gets left out of the news altogether.

One of the IMF’s most shocking acts of war against Africans in Niger has been to demand another condition on aid: the sale of emergency grain reserves. Over the past five years, this policy has contributed to famines in other parts of Africa, notably Malawi in 2002 and again this year. In fact famine stalks large swathes of central Africa. The rationale? Cheap grain is not to flood the market before harvest time. For this reason, the Niger governments cheap grain came on the market too late and too expensive.

Long term drought and famine can never be normal for any group of human beings. What is normal is people in the west being lied to about the causes of Africans’ suffering and what Africans are doing about it.

Western oil and forestry companies who have created climate change are as implicated as well. Western Europe and the US are responsible for 50% of the world’s carbon emissions, and forestry multinationals are destroying the earth’s ‘lungs’, including the great Congo River Basin forest, at 26 hectares a minute (37 football pitches). Greater heat and erratic rain in the Sahel region means the Sahara Desert is creeping south. Areas like northern Nigeria and Senegal are drying up as well. In erratic weather, locusts breed more heavily, but since the mid 1980s, the West African regional organisation, OCALAV, which was set up at independence in the early 1960s to control locust swarms and other plagues has been restructured. Its funding has been cut. African governments which have restructured entire economies to make life easier for multinationals can no longer pay for services vital to the people’s survival.

These same governments – eight throughout the Sahel and West Africa – have welcomed US military personnel into their armies so that young African men can be trained to protect western imperialism in the ‘war on terror’.

As for cross border and selective use of pesticides, first, it’s unaffordable by African governments, and second, it’s unmanageable. Inter-governmental co-operation has broken down in the age of G8 grotesqueries. Live 8 put money in western multinational and individual bank accounts, period. Killing locusts at the hopper stage, before they take flight – often across colonial borders and devour people’s crops, is essential. Whatever the pros and cons of using pesticides to control locust swarms, ordinary Africans have, over a period of hundreds of years, had control of their environment stolen from them, and with genocidal consequences.

In June this year, President Tanja of Niger met with George Bush. As well as the Sahel regions strategic importance in the war on terror, Niger is the worlds third largest uranium exporter. A new generation nuclear arsenal is in the US pipeline and Tanja is handing Africas uranium to US arms manufacturers on a plate.

In early August, Tanja was vilified in the western media for denying that millions of people were starving and for complaining that only a fraction of the promised aid from the west had arrived. At the same time the UN congratulated the government of Mali for dealing better with the imminent death by starvation of millions more Africans. The argument is clear: if some African governments are efficient enough to keep the lid on wholesale famine, the problem must be down to an individual, to who holds presidential office. What wasn’t mentioned was that the free food handed out by the UN and the government to people in Mali was, according to a BBC World Service report, only obtainable in one particular area if you worked for an Oxfam water development project. The reporter asked a woman who was digging a hole to conserve rain water if she was happy to be getting food. She and everyone else working with her laughed uproariously.

* This article is from Kilombo, the African Liberation Support Campaign Network’s journal.


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