Drought and flood cycles, poor internal management and external interference by the IMF have led parts of Africa to the threshold of a human calamity which some experts classify as being the worst in the last sixty years. 20 million people are living on borrowed time, while the IMF turns a blind eye and international aid agencies are slow to respond.
“The warm heart of Africa” is how the tourist brochures describe the world’s sixth poorest nation, Malawi, which together with Zambia and Zimbabwe, is the stage to twenty million starving people, with hundreds of deaths every day, compounded by thousands of new cases of disease.
It was in “the warm heart of Africa” that two workers for Save the Children UK were accosted by government officials in the capital Lilongwe, and were harassed for bringing world attention to the dire plight of many of the country’s poorer inhabitants. They were reprimanded: “Can’t you see how you are damaging tourism?”
It is this approach, internally and externally, this monetarist, bottom-line management approach to human situations which turns difficulties into calamity. It was the International Monetary Fund which had instructed Malawi to sell off its grain stocks, 170,000,000 kilos of them, three years ago, to liberalise grain price policy, coming in line with the market-based economic approach currently in practice in countries favoured by the IMF, under the extreme misconception that farmers would in this way be encouraged to grow more grain and stabilise prices, opening up an agriculturally-based free market economy.
What followed was unfortunately only too predictable for those who know how to read the map of Africa. The corrupt ruling clique cornered the market, bought all the stocks, ensuring that prices rose by 500 per cent, beyond the reach of most Malawians who earn less than one USD per day. The stocks disappeared; money was siphoned off abroad into private bank accounts.
The stocks ruptured by criminal internal mismanagement and, at best, extremely negligent advice from the IMF then came the flood and drought cycles. Then came famine. Then the IMF refused to send aid, because it deemed that Malawi’s internal budget could be restructured to fend off the crisis.
The Malawi government had to borrow 36m. USD from a foreign bank at a high interest rate to buy 135,000 tonnes of grain (which its initial stocks easily covered, before the IMF started to interfere), but only half of this has to date been delivered. The result, as usual, is pitifully evident in the faces of the people affected. London Link, the Diocese of London’s Anglican Church publication, quotes an old lady who was interviewed by the Mirror reporter, Anton Antonowitz, as saying, while she held out a handful of parched grass: “This is what we have been eating. This and banana roots, pumpkin leaves and worms”.
The British-based Save the Children charity has issued a declaration which calls for 700,000 tonnes of food to be delivered this year, and claims that “Every day that passes without a response is a death sentence to hundreds”.
In Malawi, not even the coffin makers can make a profit out of the humanitarian catastrophe, because the people are so poor that they bury their dead straight into the ground.
Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.Ru