We must come to understand that, technically, there is no actual food shortage in Africa.
by Marco McWilliams
Like a banal refrain in American discourse on Africa they ring out: death, disease, war torn, drought, famine, starvation, etc. The list could go on but it would not matter. As the humming of a fan on a hot summer’s day, we hear the Western refrain on Africa, yet, somehow we do not. That Africans starve, that they experience famine is common “knowledge”. But what if something is true at the very moment that it is untrue?
This is exactly the case with current mainstream reporting on the so-called drought induced famine in the Horn of Africa, which is threatening the starvation of millions of Africans. We are led to believe that the current drought (which many specialist attribute to climate change) and enduring “tribal” ["ethnic" is the appropriate term] conflicts are the root causes of food shortages in the horn of Africa. Nothing could farther from the truth!
There is a single country in Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has enough arable land to feed the entire rest of the Continent with food left to spare. Africa is the most resource rich land mass on the planet. Western nations (and increasingly China) have thrived off of the stolen natural and human resources of Africa for Centuries. From the extraction of coltan (a metallic mineral which allows cell phone batteries to retain a charge), to the displacement of Africa’s best prepared minds (brain drain) through Western neo/colonialism; from the guinea pig testing ground for pharmaceutical companies, to the dumping ground for weapons manufactures; from the illegal fishing off the Somali coast, to the unethical influence peddling of Uncle Tom African leaders, Africa is exploited, and that, unabated and without interruption.
Foreign nations, US colleges (Harvard, Vanderbilt, and many others), and private corporations are partnering with so-called African leaders in parasitic relationships to lease or buy vast areas (more than twice the size of Montana and counting) of the most fertile farmland throughout the African Continent. This land is being used to grow food and ship it back to their respective countries. Nikhil Aziz, executive director of Grassroots International, a human rights and international development organization that supports community-led sustainable development projects, sums it up this way:
African land is being sought in 90-year leases either to grow food crops for export to those countries with scarce arable land or to grow fuel crops like jatropha and palm oil for ethanol, even as almost 300 million Africans are hungry. Or, the land is sometimes being snapped up simply for speculative purposes.
We must come to understand that, technically, there is no actual food shortage in Africa. The Continent is producing sufficient quantities of food, even in the midst of drought stricken regions. But the food is not used to feed Africans. This is why we need to complete the revolutionary struggles that began so many years ago by the likes of Cabral, Biko, and Lumumba. Africa is not yet free.
What we find is that many of the nations which experience food shortages actually produce large amounts of food on land which they’ve either leased or sold to foreign nations or US and Indian corporations. The shocking irony is that many of these African countries have come to rely on food aid imports from Western NGOs at the precise moment that they’re exporting food grown on their own soil for other wealthier nations — indeed, some of the very same nations which run those NGO’s. It’s quite appalling!
Imagine that you discovered that a family whom you firmly believed was starving, actually owned many acres of prime farmland, but had leased it out to an out-of-state food corporation. You then learned that the food corp. was growing food on this SAME land and shipping it back to their home state to sell to others. What advise could be offered to this family? Should they expect to survive they’d do well to terminate the suicidal lease they’ve signed with the food corp, take their land back, and grow food to feed THEMSELVES.
This is the context of the so-called food shortages experienced in Africa. The “drought” argument is a red herring, a mass mediated perspective tendentious in its ignoring of the political economy of famine in Africa. Actual shortages of rainfall are clearly realities, but rainfall has less to do with the relationship of crop production to feeding hungry people as does intelligent economic and political decisions by the people’s alleged political leaders which ensure self-preservation.
Marco McWilliams is an educator, writer and Pan Africanist. He writes from Providence and will pursue a Ph.D. in 2012.