Open Mic Section

KC JOURNAL NO 30 JULY 2012

Moorson discusses militarisation of poverty in Africa in the context of declining agricultural economies, some of which stretch back 3500 years ago.

The militarisation of poverty in Africa

Over the past year wars, coups and largescale spontaneous demonstrations emerged across the Sahel, from Guinea Bissau to Somalia. All of them emerge in a context of failed agricultural markets and a boom in mineral and oil extraction. Fundamentalist Islam is merely a complicating factor: not a cause, but a response to the destabilisation. It is not a coincidence that African governments are falling apart while Europe and North America are facing financial crisis. The declining dominance of African states comes as competition for spoils intensifies, and the potential rewards of capturing the centre become more valuable. Capital is not withdrawing from Africa, but instead, the processes of extraction are becoming more obvious as the economic basis of societies are under severe strain.

Frantz Fanon wrote in 1959 that:

Colonialism hardly ever exploits the whole of a country. It contents itself with bringing to light the natural resources, which it extracts, and exports to meet the needs of the mother country’s industries, thereby allowing certain sectors of the colony to become relatively rich. But the rest of the colony follows its path of underdevelopment and poverty, or at all events, sinks more deeply into it.

This is the basis of “combined and uneven” development: in which most of the continent still finds itself. The aid industry has masked some of these effects, but has currently been forced into retreat, as country contributions are reduced in austerity budgets.

Neoliberalism’s legacy

At a recent book launch of The Oxford Companion to the Economics of Africa in Accra, (Ghana), the debate focused on 30 years of the “Washington Consensus” neoliberal economic policies. The only point agreed on was that these policies resulted in growing inequalities and increasing poverty throughout Africa.

Elections only offer the electorate a chance to choose politicians who continue to impose increasing poverty upon them. In some places, people are nostalgic for the years they lived under dictatorships – when they had more food. What we are witnessing now is, in part, the legacy of neoliberalism and military interventions in places such as Somalia and Libya. This reveals the shallowness of the democratisation processes in Africa.

Neoliberals in the World Bank had thought movements for democracy, supported by Washington, would chop away the burdensome state, freeing trade and capitalism to flourish. The reality is that neoliberal policies destroyed existing local markets while sinister elements flourished. The World Bank oriented their policies toward building “institutions for markets”, “capacity building” and “statebuilding”. For instance, in Iraq and Afghanistan, they were influential in the state becoming a bulwark against Islamic fundamentalists, corruption and those who consider renationalization as a development tool. The militarisation of poverty in Africa Moorson discusses militarisation of poverty in Africa in the context of declining agricultural economies,

Governance regimes in agricultural societies

African states have diverse geographies, cultural histories and economic foundations. Studies show that peasantbased economies have integrative tendencies. Hegemony is more firmly rooted in landtenure patterns and cultural institutions of labour mobilisation (ie: unpaid family labour, or working for the chief. These patterns stem from various alliances and forms of indirectrule Set in place between colonial governments and “strong men”. Alternately, extractive industries such as mining tend toward disintegration. For example, agricultural and pastoralist states in West Africa also have trade and mining economies that go back many centuries. Until very recently, artisanal miners found sustenance through farming and herding.

Agricultural crisis

Today agriculture across the region is in crisis. Famine has been declared in Somalia. The Sudans are at war, while refugees have fled their herds and any crops they could scrape from the ground after years of drought. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation notes that last year the Horn of Africa experienced a food crisis that left an estimated 13 million people dependent on humanitarian assistance. Currently there are 15 million people facing food insecurity in the countries of the Sahel. These famines are compounded by refugee crises. Altogether some 284,000 Malians have fled Northern Mali to Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. Around 810,000 Senegalese are facing hunger, according to a joint study in February 2012 by the Senegalese government and the World Food Programme (WFP).

It is tough to say what is happening in Guinea in the midst of its protracted electoral crisis, recent demonstrations reflect spontaneous displays of anger among disenfranchised youth. These demonstrations are acts of desperation among people whose anger can be easily exploited by selfserving politicians with fiery rhetoric such as Senegalese movements that emerged last year against former president Abdoulaye Wade. The coup in Guinea Bissau has disrupted the marketing of cashew nuts an important plantation crop. But the untold story is that the indigenous rice economy has been seriously battered. This is the case with all the rice growing economies in West Africa – Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali, Ghana and Senegal. In the past year, rice imports increased to meet local consumption.

Mali’s importation has risen 50 per cent. The Ivory Coast is importing a massive 80 per cent of their consumption. In these countries, the 3 500 year-old rice economies are being destroyed in a period of less than 20 years. It’s not simply the rice that has been impacted, but also the cultures that came into being alongside them along with the complementary grains that comprised a diverse agroecology suited to local conditions. This is what dispossession means. There are certainly positive aspects of breaking feudal regimes, but if people’s labour fails to be absorbed into new forms of work, they simply become a surplus. This then pulls down labour conditions for many who now also lack the protective aspects of a feudal economy. (Under feudalism you may work out of obligation, rather than for a wage, yet you are at least ensured your sustenance.) The reforms of the 1990s battered the agricultural sector throughout Africa. Studies show that production rates of growth in African rice


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