There seems to be two opposing trajectories in terms of knowledge: as blinkered leaders (people in positions of responsibility) obstinately make regressive, astonishingly narrow-minded and self-serving decisions and, as the major media become increasingly trivial and inane, the actual accumulation of crucial information exponentially expands. By crucial information I mean facts critical to human survival as well as deep analyses pointing to the contributing causes of breakdown and to the workable solutions.
As a case in point I will focus on recent extremely disturbing trends in Africa that are barely reported.
1. Land expropriation: On July 10, 2009, the UK Guardian (p. 12) reported that an area one-half the size of Europe’s farmland was bought up in the past six months, primarily in Africa – the continent so often designated as a focus of population reduction because of food scarcity. The main buyers are South Korea in Sudan, Saudi Arabia in Tanzania, South Africa in the DRC (8m-hectares) to grow maize and soya beans, poultry and dairy. India has lent money to 80 companies to buy 350,000 ha in Africa. “At least six countries are known to have bought large landholdings in Sudan, one of the least food-secure countries in the world. Targeted are poor countries such as Cameroon, Ethiopia, Madagascar, and Zambia. Further, about one-fifth of the land deals were expected to grow bio-fuel crops. “Some of the world’s largest food, financial and car companies have invested in land.” Devinder Sharma of the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security in India, predicted civil unrest: “Outsourcing food production will ensure food security for investing countries but would leave behind a trail of hunger, starvation and food scarcities for local populations. The environmental tab of highly intensive farming is devastated soils, dry aquifers, and ruined ecology from chemical infestation will be left for the host country to pick up.”
2. GMOs: Also of concern is the move by the G8 to promote another green revolution in Africa. There is unclarity in the reporting about how much will be tied to promoting GMOs. From what I have seen, President Obama, Bill Gates, and Jeffrey Sachs are utterly uncritical of the first green revolution and there is unqualified support for GMOs.1 “Britain is planning to quietly spend up to £100m on support for genetically modified crops for the world’s poor despite not having allowed any of the controversial foods to be grown commercially at home. A new white paper shows the government is committed to dramatically increasing spending on high-tech agriculture in the next five years, much of which will be on GM crop research.”2 In this context, an African website “Voices from Africa” reports that the Monsanto GM-corn harvest massively failed in South Africa and that South African farmers suffered millions of dollars in lost income when 82,000 hectares of GM maize failed to produce hardly any seeds. “The plants look lush and healthy from the outside. Monsanto has offered compensation.”3
3. Africom. Another ominous development is the establishment of United States African Command in October, 2008. Africom covers military operations in all African countries except Egypt. The website lists three main missions: Operation Enduring Freedom Trans Sahara, the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, and the African Partnership Station (the Gulf of Guinea nations). The language and thinking is identical to US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan: war on terrorism and counter-insurgency, links with Al Qaeda, the mixing up of military and humanitarian aid. And again, violence is attributed to tribal or sectarian conflict, not to resource exploitation by private interests.
4. Environmental refugees. Global warming now causes 300,000 deaths/year and the people of developing nations will suffer most severely.4 It is estimated that there will be at least 20 million climate refugees in Bangladesh. Clearly our capitalist, industrialized countries are criminal and yet the signs are already going up of our disavowing all responsibility — closing borders, the increased racism (the resurgence of racist parties in the EU), entrenched delusions that we can continue in our way of life with some minor inconveniences (e.g. we’ll drive smaller cars). Again, of great concern now is the move to differentiate environmental from political refugees. Will this strip environmental refugees of the protection and reparation that we owe to them?
5. Canadian mining companies: Canada has a very lengthy, highly incriminating history of exploiting African resources. For example, there is ample documentation of Canada’s role in the current plunder and genocide in the DRC, especially through its protection of Canadian mining companies which are also supported by the World Bank. (e.g. the history of Anvil Mining/First Quantum in the DRC and its support by Joe Clark).5 Canadian investors benefit tremendously from the absence of human rights and labour standards, monetary deregulation, the lack of oversight and accountability, and the prioritizing of wealth over human survival.
These points only touch the surface of what is disturbing about trends impinging on Africa. The long history of international exploitation in Africa continues to cause immense suffering almost throughout that continent. Responding to the African crisis ought to include paying our ecological debt6 by greatly contracting our own energy use and by converting to a steady-state, or even a contracting economy in the direction of equalizing global wealth.
1 See for example Jeffrey D. Sachs 2008. Common Wealth: economics for a crowded planet. Penguin Books: New York. Also, see the excellent critique in Monthly Review: the crisis in agriculture and food. July-August 2009. Vol. 61, No. 3. ^
4 June 5-11, 2009 Guardian Climate Change Creates new ‘global battlefield’, pp.1-2. ^
5 Engler, Yves (2009). The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy. Fernwood: Vancouver. Toussaint, Eric (2006). The World Bank: a critical primer. Pluto Press: London. ^
6 Andrew Sims. 2005. Ecological Debt: the health of the planet and the wealth of nations. London: Pluto Press. ^