issue 219 - May 1991
While the Gulf war raged, people in Africa were facing famine. The war is now over, but some 20 million Africans are still set to starve to death. For the price of five Tornado aircraft these 20 million people could be fed for a month. With this in mind, NI decided to devote this month's Update pages to Africa.
As concern about Kuwait and the Middle East continues to dominate world headlines, a new Report aims to draw attention to the effects of the Gulf war on developing countries.
At least 40 of the poorer countries are facing the equivalent of a natural disaster, says the Report, jointly issued by aid agencies including Save the Children Fund and Christian Aid.
The war has delivered devastation to the world'spoor as hundreds of thousands of workers from developing countries have had to flee the region, abandoning their savings, possessions and livelihoods. India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are among countries reeling from the blow to their economies as repatriated workers struggle to find a living at home.
Nearer the Gulf, Yemen stands to lose at least 10 per cent of its Gross National Product with little hope of an adequate international response. Sudan has lost remittances from 35,000 expatriate workers. Both countries are being black-balled as a result of their political stance on the war. Yemen's development aid from the US has reportedly been cut from $22 million to $2.9 million.
In Sudan, government estimates put the costs of the war at $755 million. The country is in arrears with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and has recently been declared 'non-cooperative'. No more IMF funds will be available and World Bank lending is effectively at a standstill.
Sub-Saharan Africa is especially vulnerable. Higher oil prices just before the war have made the costs of oil imports, transport and freight shoot up. The knock-on effect is that even basic foodstuffs are dearer.
Public transport in Uganda has been severely curtailed or become so expensive that thousands more now have to walk miles to get to work or school. Kerosene prices in many countries have risen faster than petrol, meaning that the poor (who tend to cook by kerosene) bear a disproportionate share of the price-hike burden.
In Zimbabwe fuel prices have risen by 50 per cent. The country, like many others in Africa, depends on imported refined oil. Before the war it obtained petroleum from Kuwait at a discount rate.
Nigeria, an oil exporter, has promised aid to poorer African countries if oil prices go up.
All developing countries are feeling the economic pinch as their export products are being devalued. For Africa this is compounded by the severe famine conditions and political turmoil in many regions. This is not the time for the developed world to sink into donor fatigue. Additional aid is needed with fewer strings attached, and fast.
'In any war,' stressed Olsegeun Obasanjo, Nigeria's former President, 'humanity is a victim ... and Africa is particularly the biggest loser.'
The Economic Impact of the Gulf Crisis on Third World Countries/Oxfam,
Save the Children Fund,
World Development Movement,
CAFOD, CIIR and Christian Aid, and Kingsley Moghalu/Newslink Africa
Talking 'bout reparation
Photo: Claude Sauvageot
Slavery will be the hot issue on the agenda at the June meeting of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) taking place in Nigeria. The summit will be urged to seek reparation payments from the former slave-trading countries to compensate black people in Africa and the Diaspora for the sufferings they endured from slavery.
The OAU, chaired by Nigerian President Ibrahim Babangida - himself a strong advocate of reparation - will be asked to present a formal case to the international community on behalf of black people world-wide.
Chief Bashorun M K OAbiola, a newspaper publisher, first raised the issue of reparations in an address last year to an American audience. Abiola's case was that if Germany could be made to pay reparations for the damage done to Europe in the First World War and Israel compensated for the sufferings of the Jewish people in the Holocaust, then Africa should be paid reparations for the millions of people it lost during the hundreds of years of slavery.
Black American response was so positive that a meeting was called in December in Lagos, attended by Africans and black people from overseas including Bernie Grant, a British Member of Parliament, US Senator Bill Owens and Martin Luther King III, son of the assassinated civil rights leader.
In his address, President Babangida pointed out that before the slave trade Africa was developing along lines that would have made it the equal of Europe in economic self-sufficiency. Jamaican High Commissioner to Nigeria, Dr Dudley Thompson, observed that the only reparation paid at the end of slavery was to the slave owners for loss of property.
The final resolution of the conference recognized that 'merely appealing to the consciences' of the international community to pay reparations to Africa would lead to nowhere.
Instead a think-tank is being created, made up of trained specialists, to provide the data base for building up a 'formidable case' for reparations.
After the promised return to multi-partyism in Zambia, reluctantly endorsed by President Kenneth Kaunda, Zambians are looking forward to the elections scheduled for October 1991. Violent riots and a strong campaign paved the way to Kaunda's 'decent exit' from power, after 26 years during which he kept the lid on all forms of political pressure.
Elsewhere in Africa multi-partyism is also flavour of the year, encouraged now by the same Western powers who backed many of the dictators and military men of the past decades. Except for cases where people have taken to the streets, it is the newly-discovered fervour of the World Bank and Western powers for 'human rights' and political pluralism which has forced the change by making these a condition for further aid.
Although ordinary people in Africa had long recognized the injustices of their governments, they could not until now express their views for fear of further repression - repression which often came with the complicity of the West.
France, for example, actively aided suppression of dissident movements in Francophone countries; the US created Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire and nurtured Samuel Doe in Liberia, while Britain has supported Daniel arap Moi in Kenya.
But now it's all change. For the West, the end of the Cold War and subsequent democratization in Eastern Europe means there can be room for a little more democracy in Africa too - and indeed this is perhaps the surest way to keep 'friendly' leaders in power.
The ripples of change from Eastern Europe brought pro-democracy demonstrators out on the streets in Ivory Coast last year, forcing President Houphouët-Boigny to hold elections in November. But his Parti Democratique de la Côte d'Ivoire was returned to power, amid allegations of vote-rigging.
In North Africa, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger and Chad have shown few signs of reform. In the sub-Saharan region, the governments of Kenya, Ghana, Congo, Togo, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Zaire are also dragging their feet and sometimes meeting protest with violence - as with President Mobutu's show of 'glasnost' in Zaire which disappeared as he ordered in the troops to quell student protest.
Zimbabwe's President Mugabe, like Kaunda in Zambia, has grudgingly introduced pluralism. Uganda's Museveni is hanging on for another four years, to give his National Resistance Movement 'time to implement its programmes'. Multiparty systems in themselves are no guarantee of democratic rights and freedoms, but they are an important first step. And while some vote-rigging will undoubtedly continue as dictators resist the changes, Africa's home-grown democracies in Mauritius, Senegal, The Gambia and Botswana show that democratic pluralism is possible, without bloodshed, and with benefit to the people.
Ogen Kevin Aliro
Grain of hope
Coalition casualties in the Gulf war were counted in tens; Iraqi casualties in hundreds of thousands - but millions of Africans face death by famine this year. Twenty million people are at risk on the continent, according to aid agencies. As part of its aid efforts Oxfam UK has sent a ship, 'The Grain of Hope', loaded with enough grain to feed 265,000 people for one month. But this is not nearly enough. Governments need to pledge - and deliver - food urgently to the following countries:
Six million people at risk, plus 150,000 refugees from Somalia.
Total food requirements are 941,593 tonnes. 671,476 tonnes still need to be pledged. Pledges made by the US Government and the EEC not yet confirmed.
Politically the prospects for a successful relief operation are better now than for many years, provided food is delivered and donors ensure all routes are fully utilized.
Over seven million people at risk. Total food requirements are 1,129,000 tonnes. By February 1 only 19,500 tonnes of relief food had been delivered out of 102,000 tonnes pledged.
Disagreement between the Government of Sudan and the donors over the scale of the problem and food distribution plans is holding up pledges. Oxfam believes that, given purchase and shipping times of at least three months, donors must not wait for the distribution plans to be put into place before committing food.
Nearly two million war-displaced people lack enough food, as do people in the cities. The shortfall of food aid amounts to more than 60,000 tonnes. Attacks on grain convoys by the rebel Mozambique National Resistance (MNR) have virtually stopped grain movements.
Donors do not appear to be responding speedily or positively to needs, as agreed by the UN in December.
Three million people hit by drought. The Government is appealing for 77,000 tonnes of food. Malawi hosts about one million refugees from Mozambique.
Drought and war have placed 1.9 million people at risk of starvation. Agricultural production has been reduced by 75 per cent; over one million people have fled their homes in rural areas threatened by fighting.
Over one million people are displaced due to the civil war and require food. Six thousand tonnes of rice are needed every month but only 3,000 tonnes are being delivered.
Relief needs will be ascertained only when order is established.
Don't forget Africa/Oxfam
This article is from
the May 1991 issue
of New Internationalist.
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