Food Emergency: How the World Bank and IMF Have Made African Famine Inevitable
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The U.S. proceeded to prop up the Barre regime with $50 million worth of weapons a year for access to strategic military bases, despite warnings that Somalia’s authoritarian leader was committing atrocious human rights violations. Eventually, repression and social unrest led to the outbreak of civil war in 1988 between rival factions, fought with weapons provided by the United States. When Barre was overthrown in 1991, he left behind a chaotic “power vacuum,” with rival factions vying for control in a country lacking any centralized structure capable of alleviating the food insecurity to come.
The neoliberal dismantling of Somalia’s agro-pastoralist economy combined with U.S.-fed sectarian violence left Somalia extremely vulnerable to famine when faced with a drought in 1992, causing the mass starvation of 300,000people.
Fast forward to 2011, and conditions in Somalia remain relatively unchanged. Civil war continues unabated, food insecurity persists, and recurring U.S. intervention endures in the name of “fighting terror” as journalist Michelle Chen recently highlighted at Colorlines. Only this time, Somalia and its neighbors are battling this lethal combination after having spent decades living just above starvation levels.
While economic policies from the '80s and '90s are not solely responsible for Somalia’s current famine, Chossudovsky asserts, it’s impossible to ignore that “ ten years of IMF economic medicine laid the foundations for the country’s transition towards economic dislocation and social chaos.”
In one of most outrageous episodes of neoliberal incompetence, Walden Bello described the role of structural adjustment on Malawi in the late 1990s, when subsistence farmers were provided with “starter packs” of free fertilizers and seeds. The program yielded a surplus of corn. But then the World Bank and IMF stepped in to dismantle the program and compelled the government to sell the majority of its grain reserves in order to service its debt. Bello explains the fallout:
When the crisis in food production turned into a famine in 2001-2002, there were hardly any reserves left to rush to the countryside. About 1,500 people perished. The IMF, however, was unrepentant; in fact, it suspended its disbursements on an adjustment program with the government on the grounds that “the parastatal sector will continue to pose risks to the successful implementation of the 2002/03 budget. Government interventions in the food and other agricultural markets … crowd out more productive spending.
According to Bello, when the next food crisis hit in 2005, the Malawian government gave up on the “institutionalized stupidity” of the IMF and the World Bank. Bello writes:
A new president reintroduced the fertilizer subsidy program, enabling two million households to buy fertilizer at a third of the retail price and seeds at a discount. The results: bumper harvests for two years in a row, a surplus of one million tons of maize, and the country transformed into a supplier of corn to other countries in Southern Africa.
In the 2008 World Development Report , the World Bank shocked many when it acknowledged that structural adjustment from the 1980s was a failure that “dismantled the elaborate system of public agencies that provided farmers with access to land, credit, insurance inputs, and cooperative organization.” The Bank insists the intention was to “free up the market” so the supposed more efficient and less costly private sector could take over, but “that didn’t happen,” the report admits. It goes on to confess that the beneficiaries of privatization were “commercial farmers,” which left “smallholders exposed to extensive market failures, high transaction costs and risks, and service gaps” that threatened “their survival.”