Monday, August 08, 2011

Same Old Story

The season of giving has started — and it not even Christmas yet! Leading international aid agencies, including the United Nations, Oxfam, Save the Children and Islamic Relief UK, have launched massive campaigns to save the thousands of Somalis who are facing hunger in their own country and in refugee camps in neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia. The appeals for food aid have been accompanied by heart-wrenching images: children with swollen, malnourished bellies, emaciated mothers with shrivelled breasts that no longer lactate, campsites bursting at the seams with hordes of skeletal refugees. Almost all the large humanitarian aid agencies are rushing to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya to witness, photograph and film the crisis. We have seen these images before

Six years ago you couldn’t move for politicians and celebrities vowing to ‘Make Poverty History’. Most rich world governments were falling over themselves to be seen supporting the popular “Make Poverty History” campaign at its height just a few years ago. Their feeble response so far to the famine in East Africa suggests that many of them have consigned “Make Poverty History” itself to history. As Somalia faces the worst drought in 60 years was it all an excuse to sell white wristbands?

“Make Poverty History” was an imaginative slogan. Who could disagree with the idea of a society in which all people enjoy good health and material security, with all the miseries of world poverty consigned to the past? Geldorf and Bono were ones who believed in such a world. The World Socialist Movement took some heart from these popular demonstrations of care and concern. It would be even more depressing if millions of people were dying every year from easily preventable causes while those better off never gave it a thought. However, we asked some critical questions. It had been twenty years since the first Live Aid Concert was staged at Wembley in 1985. The aim was to make a difference but what difference did it make? Then we had the 2005 MPH campaigns yet what difference did that make.

MPH was to mobilise people to protest against such obscenities in a world of potential plenty. It now seems that the charities and others behind this were exploiting the good will and empathy with suffering fellow humans that most people feel have, for a passing narrow political end, to bring pressure to bear on the G8 leaders of world capitalism. MPH has been so linked to the government as to be rendered toothless. The charities behind it have once again gone back to trying to empty the ocean of world poverty, each with their own teaspoon. What is now clear is that the anti-globalisation/pro-development movement, however well-meaning, does not seek to replace capitalism with any real alternative social system. Some call for greater corporate responsibility. Some demand the restructuring of international institutions like the IMF, World Bank and the WTO. Others call for the expansion of democracy and fairer trading conditions, debt cancellation and more aid. All, however, fail to address the root cause of the problems of capitalism and promote the damnable system they are critical of by applauding any meagre reform or palliative.

A socialist world would be able to stop people dying from hunger immediately and rapidly increase world food production to reach a point where every person on the planet would have free access to sufficient good quality food to maintain good health. It is now no utopian fantasy – but a practical, revolutionary proposition. Let’s campaign for the abolition of capitalism and not misdirect our energies in trying to humanise capitalism.

1 comment:

ajohnstone said...

One of the absurdities of the famine story is that in some parts of Kenya, such as western Kenya, farmers are experiencing bumper harvests that are rotting due to lack of storage and transportation. Meanwhile, the Turkana Rehabilitation Programme has reported that farmers on the banks of the rivers Turkwel and Kerio have harvested more than 930,000 kilos of grain from land once considered barren. This shows that irrigation, planning and investments in agriculture can make even the most perennially drought-stricken areas of the country food secure. Why are surpluses from highly-subsidised US farms – in the form of food aid – being flown into Kenya when our own farmers have produced enough food to feed the whole country?