Saturday, April 19, 2008

Food riots and the IMF

Food riots and the IMF
By Gabriel Banda
Friday April 18, 2008 [04:00]

MEN, women and children have been killed and wounded in disturbances following reaction to hunger and lack of access to food. Societies have been disturbed. In Zambia, the food riot waves of December 1986 and June 1990 arose from the harsh IMF and World Bank imposed economic policies. The 1990 food riots led to a military coup attempt against President Kenneth Kaunda's UNIP government.

Around twenty years later, this month, protests and riots in Haiti, including storming of the presidential palace, have led to government and the private sector announcing emergency plans to bring down the price of rice by 15 per cent.

Like we note from Zambia's experience, Christian Aid has linked the Haiti riots to “economic policies that have been required by donor countries.” In May 1987, Zambia's government cut off the IMF programme due to the social insecurity the economic measures had brought but the IMF and World Bank machinery imposed sanctions. Zambia went back to the programme, and to more poverty and social unrest.

In many parts of the world, high food prices have led to protests, riots, destruction and death. In Latin America, in May 1989, early 1990, and in December 2001, Argentina had food riots. The 1989 food riots contributed to the resignation of president Alfonsin. Latin America's Mexico and Bolivia have also experienced disturbances. Even areas in the Middle East have been disturbed by problems in food access.

In Asia, protests and violence related to food prices have happened in Indonesia, Pakistan, India, and the Philippines. Besides Zambia, Africa's nations include Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, and Senegal. Just now, in Zimbabwe, the Robert Mugabe administration has been under pressure linked to, amongst other factors, increase in prices of food and basic needs.

The lesson is the same: when prices of food and basic needs get out of reach and violently put people under pressure, there is a threat to peace and stability. Social upheaval may result. Sometimes there is no organised or spontaneous mass reaction to food problems but still starvation is a widespread factor amongst populations.

Recently, a concerned brother, a trader of basic foodstuffs and groceries, asked me to observe and write about the increasing prices of food. Some increase has been regular, in small amounts, and crawling gradually while others have been large and more rapid. Prices of maize meal, bread, rice, cooking oil, sugar, beef, and poultry have risen by high margins.

And this year, it has been noted that food prices are rising worldwide. Recently, due to rising local prices, the governments of India, China, and others have restricted the export of some rice. Netherlands ambassador to Zambia Eduard Middeldorp recently warned about the impact of high food prices. JCTR shows increasing prices. The Post editorial of Sunday April 13, 2008 shows concern.

Many factors are involved. Those who have been following incidents of riots and social instability caused by problems of access to food and other basics are surprised that the World Bank and United Nations have only now made statements of issues which have been evident over a long period.

the World Bank President Robert Zoellick, in warning that high food prices could remove gains against poverty and malnutrition, ignores the fact that some economic and social imbalances have been created by policies and seeds of his organisation, twinned with IMF.

And while, in some argument the petroleum industry can be pleased with, biofuel crop farming has been blamed for problems of food, in some areas it has not caused the high food prices.

And food price is just one part of the increase in the cost of living. High food prices and the resulting hunger are generally a reflection of not being able to meet other basic needs. Others include water, health, shelter, transportation, energy, and other basics. All needs interact and affect all the others. They act as a whole.

World Bank and IMF have been leading water utilities to commercialisation and eventual privatisation. Through loans, grants, and advisory roles, they have entered the water utilities, to control their visions and operations from within. For many people now, water charges are very high. World Bank has, using some dubious logic and linkages, been pushing Southern Africa's electricity firms towards higher consumer tariffs.

Clearly, many governments are being bullied into destructive economic programmes of the IMF and World Bank. Governments are set against their people. Governments dictate against the common good just as the IMF and World Bank dictate and bully governments to impose violent programmes.

The World Bank and IMF’s negative machine has been pro-business and anti-consumer. Yet economies only thrive well if businesses and consumers are in harmony and balance. Current high food and feeding prices are results of failure of IMF and World Bank promoted and dictated economic policies. Those seeds and fruits are unstable.
World Bank and IMF have caused some problems of food access and must not, as per their tactics, hide from their responsibility and contribution to the difficulties.

In Zambia and other places, removal of more secure and socially balanced input and produce marketing systems led to exploitation of rural food producers and poverty for them.

Many persons producing food have not recovered from impact of harsh economic policy experimentation by IMF and World Bank. Many food producers even starve. Both producers and consumers have suffered even where food is plenty.

But food production and access must be improved. Western Zambia and Chama district rice yields, can be highly increased and help rural and national economies. Africa produces much food, organically grown, and can do more but is impeded by economic policies and environment. GMO technologies are not the answer but further burden.
IMF policies act against humanity. They act against the integrity of life itself.

Except for UNICEF in earlier times, other UN agencies, perhaps bullied, have been quiet on the role of the IMF and World Bank machinery in the creation of poverty, corruption, environmental pressures, and social violence. IMF and World Bank programmes have acted against peace, harmony, and integrity of life. Food prices are one part of a whole problem. Human caused, high food prices and hunger can be solved.

Now, on other issues, lessons from Zimbabwe's 2008 election results stalemate: When results are announced late, there are fears of tampering and rigging. When announced early, before complete accuracy checks, it is possible to install as MP or president, persons not actually carrying the most votes. It may be difficult to undo things and win petitions to remove a sworn-in person from office. So, announcing results too early or too late creates difficulties. We urge that constitutions officially include enough time for vote recounting and verification before announcing results and declaring winners.

Secondly, we learn that it is important to allow various media some freedom to cover elections. Otherwise, it is difficult for government to call banned persons to record the government side of events. Thus Zimbabwe’s opposition voices have been dominant on international waves and print. Without open media, balanced coverage will not be reached as media houses cover only limited parts of events.

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