By Ben Davies
Just one month after the leaders of the G8 countries, the world’s richest, gifted the world’s poorest nations a few more crumbs from their table, we see a gut-wrenching example of the true scale of world poverty and inequality — the famine in Niger.
This famine has left 874,000 people in imminent danger of starving to death and has particularly affected children. It has been exacerbated by the slowness of western governments to respond with aid.
Médecins Sans Frontières has rightly attacked the way in which many government figures both in Niger and internationally have sought “market based solutions”. They have been unwilling to bring in aid because it could “destabilise” the food market. And the solutions recommended by UN agencies and western governments to Niger include “loaning” grain to the people, or offering it at a slightly reduced price.
In other words aid is being denied people who starving in order to guarantee the long-term workings of the profit system, to ensure the already-rich carry on being rich. Such is the moral wretchedness and barbarity. of global capitalism.
They dress up their concerns in “compassion”. They say they are being “cruel to be kind”. These free-market capitalists said it was more important to let the markets return to “normality” without state intervention than to offer “a vigorous response when the first signs of a food crisis appeared in early 2005”. The people of Niger must learn to stand “on their own two feet”. But mass of the people of Niger, not the rich of that country, are too weak and emaciated to do any such thing.
The president of Niger, Mamadou Tanja, is not merely guilty of letting this crisis happen, through the unequal distribution of food and a failure to intervene to keep down prices, but even acts as a bulwark against aid coming from abroad. He denies that a famine is taking place, telling the BBC that “The people of Niger look well-fed, as you can see”. According to Tanja, the puffed up dictator who wants to preserve his own prestige in everything he does, the reports of starvation are merely the “false propaganda” of opposition political groups and the UN.
Tony Blair is still basking in the image of a leader campaigning to save Africa — despite the fact that the British government has done nothing to try and help the people starving there. Promoting this philanthropic image became far easier when Bob Geldof sycophantically gave the G8 leaders “ten out of ten on aid, eight out of ten on debt” after they had marginally increased aid spending. But what has the British government done even about Niger. What has big-gob Geldof said about Niger?
A serious commitment to fighting poverty doesn’t just mean giving developing nations handouts once TV viewers in Britain have become aware of the appalling misery of the Nigerien people, but a sustained programme of aid, investment and debt relief which can make their income far less vulnerable to the fortunes of the weather.
Of course, we can expect nothing from Bush and Blair — they make no genuine attempts to relieve global poverty, simply making occasional sops to public opinion. If the campaign of organisations such as Make Poverty History are ever going to have any serious impact on poverty, they must become more critical of Tony Blair; they should be there putting real pressure on the government to do something about the crisis in Niger and other parts of Africa.