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Consumption Joy is over for the American

Economics Professor Richard D Wolff speaks.


The world’s food insecurity

Paul Rogers

The severity of today’s world food crisis resembles that of the early 1970s. But the role of the financial sector and of global climate change are key differences, says Paul Rogers.

The food crisis is now affecting many countries across the world. Millions of people in dozens of countries are unable to afford the food they need, and malnutrition is on the rise. From Egypt to Indonesia, Haiti to Thailand, and across many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, increasingly vociferous public protests over food prices or shortages have exploded; some governments even fear for their survival (see Marc Lacey, “Across globe, hunger brings rising anger”, International Herald Tribune, 18 April 2008).

United Nations analysts and other research specialists describe this as the worst crisis since the early 1970s. They blame many factors:

increased demand for meat diets in richer countries

climatic factors, especially the kind of drought that has cut Australia’s rice production by 98% (Keith Bradsher, “A drought in Australia, a global shortage of rice”, New York Times, 17 April 2008 )

the diversion of agricultural land to grow crops for biofuel (see James Painter, “Indonesia: the biofuel blowback”, 30 August 2007)

the steep increases in the price of oil (see Paul Krugman, “Running Out of Planet to Exploit”, New York Times, 21 April 2008).

The 1970s precedent

What is extraordinary about the current situation is that it echoes in so many respects an earlier world food crisis: that of 1973-74 (it also remains fresh in the memory, as I worked in tropical-agricultural research in the late 1960s and attended the world food conference of 5-16 November 1974 as an observer for Britain’s World Development Movement). In comparing the two moments, what is truly astonishing is that – despite all the supposed progress of the globalised world Paul Rogers is professor of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He has been writing a weekly column on global security on openDemocracy since 26 September 2001 economy, all the much-lauded economic growth, and all the scientific and technological developments in the interim period – so little has changed (see Heidi Fritschel, “The price of food: ingredients of a global crisis”, 9 April 2008).

The crisis came to a head in the winter of 1973-74. It caught most agronomists and food-policy specialists by surprise, especially as the decade beforehand had seemed to show much promise. The first fruits of the “green revolution” in crop-breeding – the new “miracle” rice varieties such as IR8 and IR11 among them – were giving hope that radical advances in tropical agriculture would enable the poorest farmers to become much more self-reliant. The world still had over 400 million people suffering from malnutrition (in a total population of 3.7 billion in 1970), but there was optimism that substantial progress to address the roots of their condition and improve their lives was possible.

In only a few years, this mood dissipated. The terrible famine in Bangladesh in 1971 (related to the disruptive effects of its war of independence from Pakistani rule) contributed to the shift. By early 1974, one senior United Nations source was warning that 40 million people in thirty countries were at risk of starvation – a catastrophe that could be ten times worse than the appalling Bengal famine of 1943-44. The immediate problem was that those countries most at risk needed at least 10 million tons of additional food grains within a year – yet most could not afford to pay for them. A further problem was a world shortage of fertilisers (amounting to around 1.5 million tons), which had to be addressed to avoid further bad harvests (see Paul Rogers, Food in Our Time – But Not Just Yet, World Development Movement, London, 1975).

The United Nations system, then led by (the later discredited) secretary-general Kurt Waldheim – responded by convening a world food conference in Rome in November 1974, under the auspices of the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO). It hoped both to galvanise richer countries into paying for these immediate needs and to establish procedures and institutions that would prevent a repeat of the crisis.

A major concern at the gathering was that the crisis was complex and multi-causal. Three long-term trends had collided with a series of short-term events to produce a dangerous situation that required a thorough and sophisticated approach in response.

The first trend was that most countries had not yet started to go through a demographic transition, yet many were experiencing population growth-rates of 3% per year or above. Moreover, such countries typically had a large proportion of their population under the age of 14 – a category that clearly could not contribute much to food production but had high nutritional needs.

The second long-term trend was the relative neglect of rural development throughout the 1950s and 1960s, when most development emphasis was on urbanisation and industrialisation, in an effort to transform the lives of the great majority of people in the “third world” who lived off the land.

The third trend was that economic growth in industrialised states in the 1960s had resulted in a move towards more meat-rich diets, with all the inefficiencies of ecological conversion rates that this involved – typically ten kilos of plant protein to produce one kilo of animal protein.

The roots of crisis

In addition, the crisis of 1973-74 had four immediate causes:

# Poor weather conditions in many parts of the world. These began with the devastating cyclone that hit Bangladesh in November 1970; and were followed by the impact of a long drought in the Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa, the partial failure of the Soviet winter cereal crop in 1972-73, and serious floods in northern India

# A substantial increase in fertiliser prices. This was partly due to the behaviour of a notoriously “pendulum” industry, and partly to Morocco’s decision to seek to improve its earnings from rock phosphate (a key compound constituent of fertiliser) by trebling its price between January and July 1974

# A huge increase in oil prices. The price of oil rose by nearly 450% from October 1973 to May 1974. The trend started with Opec action around the time of the Yom Kippur/Ramadan war in October 1973, but it merged into an all-time bull-market that rapidly affected the economies of many “third world” countries as they struggled to pay for oil imports

# The partial failure of the green revolution. Many of the new miracle-plant varieties were indeed remarkable, but they depended on the ability of the farmers growing them to afford the fertilisers, pesticides and adequate irrigation that they so often required. When prices of fuel and fertiliser were high, the miracle-plant varieties were starved of precisely those inputs needed to maximise yields.

The world community’s response

The crisis was reaching its peak at the very time of the FAO’s world food conference. The concluding declaration was resounding enough: it pledged that “every man, woman and child has the inalienable right to be free from hunger and malnutrition in order to develop their physical and mental faculties.” In pursuit of this large aspiration, the conference proposed a three-point plan to prevent similar crises in the future:

The establishment of a world food bank. This would maintain continual access to around 10 million tonnes of stored grain that could be made freely available in time of need

A new International Fund for Agricultural Development that would commit $5 billion a year for ten years to improve tropical agriculture, not least at the level of subsistence farmers. This was more than three times the worldwide investment at that time (though it also represented barely 2% of annual global spending on the military)

A new food forecasting system that would provide early warning of future crises.

The twelve-day congress in Rome was prominently reported in the world’s media; leading figures (including Henry Kissinger, then United States secretary of state) jetted in to speak fine words, while promising little action. Nonetheless, emergency funding in 1974-76 (not least by some of the newly oil-rich countries of the Gulf) helped improve the situation in some of the worst affected countries, including Bangladesh.

This reaction helped avert the potential of famine or ameliorate its effects. But little was done to invest in improved food production over the longer term. A food forecasting system was developed by the FAO, which remains effective to this day; but the idea of a world food bank made little progress, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development has never received the resources it needed.

Perhaps most revealing of all was that even at the height of the crisis, world food reserves were still adequate to meet all the demands – the problem was that the food was simply too expensive for the poorest to afford it. The important work of Amartya Sen helped transform understanding of this point, and of the connections between food insecurity, markets and poverty. The logic of Sen’s pathbreaking argument was to highlight the importance of political freedom and the free flow of information as a crucial factor in the avoidance of famine (see Development as Freedom [Oxford University Press, 1999]).

The new agenda

The lessons of the early 1970s – both policy and intellectual – are still far from being learned. The problems of food insecurity today, albeit widespread and serious, are not yet of the scale of the early 1970s; but the very fact that they are happening, and on a global scale, is itself a severe judgment on In addition to his weekly openDemocracy column, Paul Rogers writes an international security monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group; for details, click here the world’s institutions of governance at both national and international levels (see World Bank, World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development, October 2007).

What makes the current crisis even more worrying is the presence of two trends that were either absent or less pressing in the 1970s. First, the role of the now-globalised financial sector, where hedge-fund and other forms of speculation in the food-commodity markets have fuelled the price rises and in effect, intensified hunger, poverty and instability. This is an unexplored aspect of the world’s food problem that demands to be on the agenda of those attempting to solve it (see “The silent tsunami”, Economist, 17 April 2008 )

Second, the crisis of 2007-08 is unfolding in an era when the effects of climate change are intensifying – but where the full range of the impact of global warming is yet to be felt (see “A century on the edge: 1945-2045”, 29 December 2008). Even the existing adverse weather phenomena that have been experienced in recent years, that may relate to longer-term climate change (hurricanes, floods, droughts) are likely to be exceeded over the next decade or more. The consequences for food production and human livelihood will be enormous (see the report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development [IAASTD], 15 April 2008 ).

The one possible source of optimism in present circumstances is that citizens around the world will use the information and understanding at their disposal to work together to help create the momentum Amartya Sen has written: for serious, sustained action (both emergency and long-term) that can help put food in hungry stomachs. The absence of such action after the crisis of the early 1970s casts a shadow over the present. The fact that the challenge now is in key respects even higher makes the need to find a coherent and effective set of answers all the more pressing. The global public is indeed at the centre of this quest. As

“To eliminate the problem of hunger, the political framework of democracy and an uncensored press can make a substantial contribution, but it also calls for activism of the public. Ultimately, the effectiveness of public action depends not only on legislation, but also on the force and vigour of democratic practice. There is a need to move ahead on different fronts simultaneously to eradicate hunger in the modern world. The public is not only the beneficiary of that eradication, but in an important sense, it also has to be its primary instrument. The first step is to see the public as the active agent rather than merely as the long-suffering patient.”

Ethanol Hoax Spreads Economic Havoc

by Walter E. Williams

Ethanol is so costly that it wouldn’t make it in a free market.

One of the many mandates of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 calls for oil companies to increase the amount of ethanol mixed with gasoline. During his 2006 State of the Union Address, President Bush said, “America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.” Let’s look at some of the “wonders” of ethanol as a replacement for gasoline.

Ethanol contains water that distillation cannot remove. As such, it can cause major damage to automobile engines not specifically designed to burn ethanol. The water content of ethanol also risks pipeline corrosion and thus must be shipped by truck, rail car or barge. These shipping methods are far more expensive than pipelines.

Ethanol is 20-30% less efficient than gasoline, making it more expensive per highway mile. It takes 450 pounds of corn to produce the ethanol to fill one SUV tank. That’s enough corn to feed one person for a year. Plus, it takes more than one gallon of fossil fuel—oil and natural gas—to produce one gallon of ethanol. After all, corn must be grown, fertilized, harvested and trucked to ethanol producers—all of which are fuel-using activities. And, it takes 1,700 gallons of water to produce one gallon of ethanol. On top of all this, if our total annual corn output were put to ethanol production, it would reduce gasoline consumption by 10-12%.

Ethanol is so costly that it wouldn’t make it in a free market. That’s why Congress has enacted major ethanol subsidies, about $1.05 to $1.38 a gallon, which is no less than a tax on consumers. In fact, there’s a double tax—one in the form of ethanol subsidies and another in the form of handouts to corn farmers to the tune of $9.5 billion in 2005.

There’s something else wrong with this picture. If Congress and President Bush say we need less reliance on oil and greater use of renewable fuels, then why would Congress impose a stiff tariff, 54 cents a gallon, on ethanol from Brazil? Brazilian ethanol, by the way, is produced from sugar cane and is far more energy efficient, cleaner and cheaper to produce.

Ethanol production has driven up the prices of corn-fed livestock, chicken and dairy products, and products made from corn. As a result of higher demand for corn, other grain prices, such as soybean and wheat, have risen dramatically. The fact that the U.S. is the world’s largest grain producer and exporter means that the ethanol-induced higher grain prices will have a worldwide impact on food prices.

It’s easy to understand how the public, looking for cheaper gasoline, can be taken in by the call for increased ethanol usage. But politicians, corn farmers and ethanol producers know they are running a cruel hoax on the American consumer. They are in it for the money. Ethanol producers and the farm lobby have pressured farm-state congressmen into believing that it would be political suicide if they didn’t support subsidized ethanol production. That’s the stick. Campaign contributions are the carrot.

The ethanol hoax is a good example of a problem economists refer to as narrow, well-defined benefits versus widely dispersed costs. It pays the ethanol lobby to organize and collect money to grease the palms of politicians willing to do their bidding because there’s a large benefit for them. The millions of gasoline consumers, who fund the benefits through higher fuel and food prices, as well as taxes, are relatively uninformed and have little clout. After all, who do you think a politician will invite into his office to have a heart-to-heart—you or an ethanol executive?

Africa Looks East

Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from Horne’s forthcoming book on the crisis of US imperialism titled Blows Against the Empire: US Imperialism in Crisis (International Publishers).

“Look East My son. Look East.” Those were the sage words of Kenyan journalist, Wanjohi Kabukuru, as he assayed the results of his President’s visit to Beijing, in just the latest journey from the continent – Africa – most ravaged by the savagery of imperialism and, ironically, where the crisis of US imperialism has become most evident. Of late there has been a growing hysteria in Washington that China is stealing a march on US imperialism, providing an alternative which means that Africa is not bound to bend the knee when their leaders cross the Atlantic.

Kenyans were not wracked with anxiety with this prospect when President Mwai Kibaki arrived in China in 2005. Instead, they were happy that he came home with multi-million dollar loans and grants for improvements of Nairobi’s power distribution system. Kibaki also signed a contract with the Chinese technological giant, Huawei Technologies Company, to provide wireless telecoms to all government district offices and link them with the central government in Nairobi.

Kenyans are not the only Africans who are pleased with China’s peaceful rise for this Asian nation’s trade with the continent as a whole has jumped dramatically, reaching approximately $35 billion in 2005 after growth rates of 50 percent in 2003 and 59 percent in 2004. Chinese entities have invested heavily in copper and cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including building roads; it is helping Ethiopia build the continent’s biggest dam; it has helped Nigeria launch a communications satellite and introduced a new anti-malarial drug in Uganda.

China’s economic engagement with Africa is breathtaking and may be the beginning of the end of a destructive cycle for the beset continent inaugurated by the unlamented Slave Trade, which developed Europe and North America as it undeveloped Africa. Now, Africa is beginning to recover as US imperialism enters an era of profound crisis. In the Spring of 2007, for example, Beijing pledged to provide about $20 billion in infrastructure and trade financing to Africa during the next three years, eclipsing many of the continent’s big donors in a single pledge. North Atlantic powers had pledged about $7 billion via multi-lateral agencies, according to Donald Kaberuka, president of the African Development Bank. Grants and soft loans from these donors to Africa from Europe, the US and Japan still exceed China’s, though they come with conditions attached and often fail to materialize when these are not met.

The new day for a New Africa was on display in Beijing in the late Fall of 2006. For it was then that all African nations were invited to a two-day summit – even the five nations that recognize Taiwan and not Beijing as “China” were invited to send representatives.

Beijing’s policy towards the Congo is also revealing. For the past decade millions have perished in this sprawling central African nation, the site for this planet’s most destructive humanitarian catastrophe since the end of World War II. Though elections have taken place that added needed legitimacy to the administration of President Joseph Kabila, the North Atlantic powers have been lethargic in assisting Congo. Thus, there was alarm on the part of these powers when Beijing announced in September 2007 that it planned to lend Congo a hefty $5 billion to modernize its decrepit infrastructure, including roads and railways, 31 hospitals, 145 health centers and two universities. And part of the loan will go into Congo’s mining sector, a treasure trove that also includes gold and diamonds. Instead of happiness at the prospect that a besieged Congo was receiving desperately needed assistance, a churlish International Monetary Fund basically instructed this sovereign state to reject funds from China.

Unfortunately, as the African American activist professor, Clarence Lusane, pointed out, arms dealers from the US armed both sides in this fratricidal Congolese conflict. Ultimately the forces backing Kabila – backed by Namibia, Angola and Zimbabwe – were able to defeat his opponents backed by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, who were favored by influential forces in Washington.

The result? As Wamba Dia Wamba, the Congolese intellectual and political leader, noted in the Spring of 2001, “in less than three years, about 2 million have died. There aren’t any good health services, in the war zone, particularly. Soldiers have been using violence on women, so you have quite a few who are victims of HIV….[T]he conditions of life are very bad and the conditions of reproduction, in terms of food, also are not good. In fact a study has said that as m such as one sixth of the population has problems finding access to food.” The fearsome Ebola, monkey pox, vaginal fistula and other diseases and maladies of biblical proportion have taken hold. Though the competition is stiff, Congo – an early and persistent victim of both the Slave Trade and brutal colonialism – probably has suffered more in recent years than any other nation on this planet and the gross interference of global imperialism has played no small role in this process.

This is a point well worth pondering – particularly when one answers a call on a mobile phone. For tantalum, the refined extract of Columbite – or coltan for short – is a critical element in mobile phones. And the Congo supplies a significant percentage of the world’s supply, produced by miners toiling in horrifying, even startling, conditions.

The severe limitations of US imperialism’s policy toward Africa is also revealed in its one-sided policy toward Zimbabwe. China has stepped into the vacuum in Zimbabwe created by sanctions imposed by US imperialism and its sidekick in London. Chinese entities have emerged as the dominant force in Zimbabwe’s economy, which still retains a decent infrastructure of roads and an educated populace. Zimbabwe’s neighbors – notably South Africa and Namibia – still await a reckoning of their own as to how to confront the detritus of the bad old days of European settler colonialism. Intriguingly, as recently as 1998 China ranked only 11th in Harare’s roll call of importers – an indicator of how quickly change has occurred. Yet today informed estimates suggest that there are at least 15 sizeable Zimbabwe-China business deals, mostly involving state enterprises.

Zimbabwe’s wealth of resources – which includes gold, platinum, coal, nickel, diamonds, and the like – guarantees the continuing interest of US imperialism and its allies. These resources – particularly petroleum – also guarantees that Africa as a whole will be of interest to US imperialism. By 2005 this continent provided more oil to the US than the Middle East. Three of the top 10 suppliers to the US by 2005 were Nigeria, Algeria and Angola. Yet, here again the crisis of US imperialism is no better revealed for hands were wringing throughout Washington when in January 2006 China’s state-run oil firm announced it would pay $2.3 billion for a 45 percent stake in a bountiful Nigerian oilfield and then in May of that year President Hu Jintao made a triumphal visit to West Africa.

Because of its lengthy history of anti-African racism and brutal exploitation of the continent – not to mention its hostility to the idea of a state sector at the commanding heights of the economy, which will be Africa’s savior – US imperialism is at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to competing with China. Angola has overtaken Saudi Arabia as China’s premier supplier of crude oil and is Luanda’s second largest consumer of oil – behind the US. In March 2006 a new consortium Sonangol-Sinopec International, was unveiled, an enterprise jointly controlled by the state-owned oil company of Angola and China’s Sinopec. Chinese companies have been at the forefront of Angola’s reconstruction bonanza. A new airport is being built at Viana, just outside the capital, Luanda, one-third financed by the government, the rest by Chinese interests. Emerging from the rubble of the Cold War is a formidable China, now rebuilding in a $300 million deal the war-damaged Benguela railway, which stretches from the Democratic Republic to the coast. Chinese loans have allowed Angola to forego funding from the International Monetary Fund – yet another blow to the pretensions of US imperialism.

Oil has fueled US imperialism, but the question Washington must face now is that world oilfields are only just meeting demand and are being drained faster than new production can be brought on line. And this is occurring as China presents an ever more stiff challenge to the hegemony of US imperialism. This provides African nations with a more than viable alternative and makes them less prone to docilely accept the routine bullying of Washington.

The relative decline of US imperialism – the locomotive of world imperialism – may be so significant that it will be unable to arrest the rising of Africa in league with China. US imperialism and British neo-colonialism, who owe their present elevated status to the plunder of Africa, should be in the forefront of aiding the rise of this continent; instead, they abdicate their responsibility in favor of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – and therefore create a huge opening for China to ride to the rescue. Of course, given the importance of African oil, it would be a mistake to assume that US imperialism has ruled out the possibility of military intervention in Africa itself – though one could easily imagine that the presence in their ranks of African Americans may give Washington pause.

Ruling Class Paralyzed

It struck me forcefully recently that Kenya’s political class have become irrelevant and will remain that way until they address head on the problems facing the country. The revelation came while considering the food crisis in Haiti – people are starving to death reduced to eating mud-cakes to fill their stomachs because of an IMF inspired food shortage. Policies enforced by the IMF have seen a country once self-sufficient in rice become dependent on US agribusiness rice. The ruling class are nowhere to be seen during this crisis only surfacing to make statements about the inevitability of the tragedy unfolding and urging popular patience while foreign UN blue helmets have mercilessly killed people driven to protesting and rioting on the streets of Port au Prince as hunger grips and panic sets in. It became clear that the ruling class are completely untouched by the panic that has gripped those they lead and as long as they faithfully act as stooges to the imperium they will continue to be protected from the vagaries of acute social unrest by UN peace-keeping forces. Haiti’s rulers like Marie Antoinette when hearing that there is no bread say “let them eat mud-cakes.” Haiti is undeniably a failed state. And what of Kenya?

Since the so-called disputed Kenyan election none of the causes of the violence that consumed the country have been discussed by politicians. Not a word about the constitution. Then there’s been a lot of ducking and diving to avoid addressing the theft of the election so far and there’s also been less of an inclination to begin addressing land issues, the rise of war-lordism while the situation with Kenya’s internally displaced people, some 500,000, has not received attention from the political class it is crying out for. It was assumed by the political class that these things could be sorted when other more pressing matters such as the division of ministerial seats and the flotation of Kenya’s mobile phone company Safaricom were taken care of first. But now the food crisis has come along. This is threatening to develop into the perfect storm.

It was when Kibaki and Odinga shared a platform with the VP Kalonzo Musyoka during their recent Rift Valley “Peace Tour” that the penny finally dropped for me. We were told that the crowd that was in attendance were grateful that the leaders had taken time to come and address them. An elderly woman who wanted to hand-deliver a letter to Kibaki as he stood on a dais was wrestled by security. To his credit, Kibaki demanded that the woman be left alone and promised to address her concerns. But it was clear during this rally that the connection between the political class and those they supposedly represent has been damaged severely.

While the Big Three concerned themselves with petty protocol, displaying to all the rivalries that exist between them, the lack of respect for all but the PM Odinga was much in evidence. The Nation reports that the biggest issue facing the leadership is that of the pecking order…

In Eldoret, trouble started when Security Minister George Saitoti called on Mr Odinga to make his speech. This presupposed that the VP would come next and then officially invite President Kibaki to give his address.

The prime minister did not like this. He responded to Prof Saitoti by gesturing toward Mr Musyoka to be asked to speak before he did. The latter declined to do so, and Mr Odinga was forced to speak first. He immediately embarked on a tirade about he and the President being “equal” partners while the V-P was a rung below.

The crowd were displeased by VP Musyoka’s behaviour and booed. Some of the crowd left in disgust. Earlier, sections of the crowd, had booed Mr Ruto, Mr Kones and Mr Bett when they were introduced. Musyoka, who has been dubbed “Judas Iscariot” for splitting the vote, was heckled when he tried to take the stage and address the crowd after Odinga’s speech. Odinga had been trying to pass the mike to Kibaki but Musyoka muscled his way in and grabbed the mike much to the displeasure of the people in attendance. Musyoka apologised to the crowd for the “position” he had taken during the last elections and pleaded that he was attempting to heal the country. Later when Kibaki referred to Odinga by his first name “Raila” the crowd heckled him insisting that Kibaki call Odinga by his title “Prime Minister”.

This must have caused some annoyance to Kibaki who admonished the crowd by saying, “These are the people Jesus said should be forgiven for they do not know what they are doing. I wish they knew where we’ve come from and where we’re going. You’re doing all this because you do not know what you are doing.”

It was the stealing of the election by Kibaki that has created this mess in the first place and it is he who knows not what he has done. It was Kibaki that tried to side-step every reconciliation initiative while people were being raped and killed. That was apparent from the minute he was hastily sworn in at State House as the president and holed himself up there even as the country descended into lawlessness.

Then his inaction contributed to people being left to the mercy of the mob. He only left State House with a security detail to travel to Addis Ababa where in the presence of other African leaders he felt secure enough to criticize the Kofi Annan initiative from a distance and insist that he was the duly elected president. Also recall that later and in the face of ongoing violence he together with Odinga showed more concern in the floating of Safaricom shares on the Nairobi Stock Exchange than in rolling up his sleeves and putting the country back on the path of peace and stability.

It is clear that the political class are divorced from the realities of the people they rule hence the pomposity they exhibit now. The people in the Rift were the worst affected by the violence and insist they are going nowhere despite presidential demands they vacate the IDP camps and return to their homes. Kalenjins have said they will display zero tolerance to displaced people who return to their farms to try to pick up the pieces of their lives and their hoes, some ominously gesturing that they would slit the throats of those that return to reporters.

The leaders standing together and showing unity at this juncture was so important in terms of signalling to Kenyans that all must pull together, irrespective of rank or tribe, to rebuild the country – the leaders couldn’t even organize that!

Something must be said about the imminent food crisis facing Kenya following the election. William Ruto has been put in charge of Agriculture and says the country has enough stocks to provide the country with food for the next four months. In the meantime the price of staples like maize and rice have shot up. He recognizes that displaced farmers must return to their homesteads urgently but how when security is absent?

The food crisis is being exacerbated by rising fuel and fertilizer costs which has meant the costs of growing a staple like maize has risen. It’s harder to squeeze profit out of maize where today an acre of maize will only yield £40 profit when 2 years ago that was closer to £100 per acre. As a result, many farmers are switching to horticultural products and reducing the acreage they devote to maize.

Experts are warning that maize production could fall by 30% beneath the country’s present requirements. This could not have happened at a worse time for the 500,000 Kenyans who were forced to flee their homes for IDP camps in urban areas.

Another 3.6 million Kenyans are subsistence farmers who live outside the formal economy and will be left relatively untouched by inflated food prices. Those who live in the urban areas however are already feeling the pinch of shortages and increased prices of rice and maize. Inflation is running at about 20%. Residents in Nairobi are cutting back on some items. For the working class such steep rises leave them no wiggle room, when more than 80% of their daily cost of living is being spent on food already a 20% rise in food stuffs will be felt almost immediately.

So what is being done to avert a food shortage and acute social unrest that will unvariably follow? Not much. The ruling class appear paralyzed.

The biggest problem facing Kenyan farmers is low yields, lack of investment and security. Structural adjustment programmes have hurt the poor globally as governments were forced to liberalize their economies and let “free market” principles regulate prices. The IMF and World Bank viewed intervention by the state in agriculture with hostility while in the US and Eurozone, farmers were being paid huge subsidies to grow biofuels or else to make the cost of their produce so cheap they easily put smallholders out of business. This has been coupled with speculation in food by investors following the bursting of the credit bubble. Well the chickens have come home to roost now. World Bank boss Robert Zoellick is belatedly calling for a “New Deal for Global Food Policy” but that’s too late for millions that have already died senselessly over decades because of World Bank policies to date.

I wonder whether Bob remembers the Berg Report of 1981 which blamed the African Tragedy on mismanagement by African governments? The Berg report claimed excessive state intervention led to the destruction of agricultural producers incentives to increase output and exports. Under neo-liberalism the WB and IMF looked sternly upon the state managing agriculture, the best minds said that governments should butt out of every sector including the provision of social services. In following national goals of development governments were, according to these international institutions, interfering with market mechanisms. So Sub-saharan governments were effectively relegated to implementing structural adjustment programmes which included privatizing national assets and treasures alongside disciplining their workforces and dampening aspirations. The big decisions were being made in Washington DC and receipt of aid became conditional on countries agreeing to abide by the IMF, the real masters of the universe.

As a result investment by donors in agriculture dropped by 43% between 1990-02 and 2000-02 and stands today at about 4%. Kenya exports flowers to Europe because the World Bank says so. It’s more lucrative than growing food for the domestic market but does it matter people can’t eat flowers? Not when there’s crippling interest repayments to repaid for loans they were advised to take by the IMF when the world was awash in dollars and before the Volcker shock which effectively exported US inflation to the world’s poorest nations. Loans which have been repaid many times over.

Contrast this with prime minister Gordon Brown offering Northern Rock £50bn to stop it from going under and effectively privatizing it, thereby interfering with market mechanisms – because of the credit crunch – it does demonstrate that “where there’s a will there’s a way” and when it suits us we will bypass the market because costs can always be diverted to the subordinate nations and classes – so read Zoellick’s New Deal closely (edited to add that there is much for Sub-saharan Africa to be wary of in this so-called New Deal). Western economists warn that interfering with the market with regard to the food crisis is a recipe for disaster but they have been subsidising and stepping in to protect their economies since the Bretton Woods agreement, at the expense of the south.

Can the progressive elements within the Kenyan government similarly pursue measures that support Kenya’s farmers? The state must be able to do more than just liberalize and open the economy up to predatory capitalists. The Cochabamba Water wars of Bolivia are perhaps the best expression of what happens when you follow the developmental pattern preferred by the rich north. Sub-saharan governments must be able to feed people and ensure that people are being lifted out of poverty, they must be able to provide security and stability. But none of this they can do effectively when they serve masters in Washington D.C.

William Ruto must help farmers return to their farms and credit should be extended to small farmers to assist them in getting their hands on seeds, fertilizer and equipment immediately. Then there has to be major investment in transportation and distribution centres to ensure that small farmers can get their produce to market. If the country can find money to pay for the bloated cabinet and their assistants it can surely afford to invest farming, in fact maybe the politicians can lead the way by demonstrating their altruism and donate their first month’s salary to an investment fund to help relocate and subsidise Kenyan farmers. This would make a refreshing change from the displays of self-aggrandizement that were much in evidence during the Rift Valley Peace tour.

Those that attended were left disappointed by what they heard and saw. They still want change and they want to know what Kenya’s leaders are doing to bring that about. Kibaki revealed his bankruptcy by appealing for respect from those whose homes burned while he fiddled, aside from some paternal homilies about living together he offered no solutionsm, none of the leaders did. The heckling he and others received on their platform came close to being a Ceaucescu moment. Without security those who have fled their homes are not likely to return soon. Without stability the suffering of many will continue unabated. And without firm contingency plans in place now the food crisis could quickly escalate into social unrest as it has done in Haiti, Egypt, Senegal, Pakistan…


Press Release

Nairobi, April 5th, 2008
Contact: Rosemary Tollo, Africog, 0737 463166

The National Civil Society Congress (NCSC), Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice (KPTJ) and The Movement for Political Accountability (MOPA), launched the NO MORE THAN 24 MINISTERS campaign to ensure our government delivers to the people of Kenya their fundamental rights. In the aftermath of the post-election crisis, our agenda is for Kenya to realize:

– sustainable and fundamental reforms,
– national reconciliation and
– economic, physical and social reconstruction.

Mr. Kibaki and Mr, Odinga::

As Kenyans, we gave our mandate to ONE of you to govern this country for the next five years. However, the OTHER one of you attempted to STEAL this mandate. Massive and brutal repression of protests ensued. Hundreds of lives were lost. Hundreds of thousands of Kenyans were displaced. They remain so to this day. To prevent further killing and disruption of lives, Kenyans accepted the imperfect but timely solution offered by the mediation process. This gave you both a LIMITED AND TRANSITIONAL mandate for reform, reconciliation, and reconstruction. However, we now see politicians misusing the crisis to create illegitimate sinecures at our expense.



We emphasise the following points:

1) Kenyans reject blackmail

There is an unstated threat that if Kenyans do not accept the greed of the ruling class, then the country will once again be allowed to descend into anarchy. This is our country. We will not allow Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga to mobilize the political class to blackmail us.

The overwhelming majority of Kenyans want NO MORE THAN 24 MINISTERS. Some have endured tear gas for this demand.

94% of Kenyans reject the appointment of corrupt officials and urge vetting of prospective appointments.

We urge all MPs with a conscience to join tax payers in rejecting the blackmail.

The time has come for a TOTAL RENEWAL OF LEADERSHIP and for the people’s voice to be heard and respected.

2) Kenyans reject impunity

We note the attempts to entrench impunity in this country by the current elected officials. It is now clear that the ruling class in Kenya has solidified to the point where politicians think that they have a right to rule, even without our consent.

Kenyans reject the abuse of public office by politicians

In the democracy we are building in Kenya, we, the people, are the masters. Elected politicians and public officials are the servants. Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga have negated this fundamental principle. They want to bully Kenyans to accept servanthood. We reject this subversion of our sovereignty.

3) Kenyans will not pay for the greed of the political class

21 million Kenyans live on less than Kshs. 60 a day. Inflation has hit the 21% mark and is still rising. The cost of unga, kerosene, petrol, fares, house rent, milk and sugar has already risen beyond the means of the masses of Kenya. To alleviate this situation, we propose that;

· All MPs pay taxes, like other Kenyans

· VAT be reduced to 4-5% on food and consumer goods, like cooking oil, petrol and kerosene

· The lower limit for taxable income be raised to Kshs. 20,000

· MP salaries be cut from Ksh. 800,000 to Kshs. 400,000

· The number of Ministers be fixed at a maximum of 24, but ideally, less

· Only one Deputy minister, with a clear job description, be assigned to each ministry

A cabinet fixed at a maximum of 24 accommodates the need for political negotiations in the post-election crisis. It is an EMERGENCY TRANSITIONAL measure. As an urgent measure of Constitutional reform, Parliament must establish a lean cabinet with defined portfolios in keeping with Section 16 of the Constitution.

Mr. Kibaki, Mr. Odinga:

The people of Kenya will not be blackmailed, bullied, or looted, by you and your political allies. For you to build wealth and political power on the bodies of over a thousand Kenyans killed, on the suffering of half-a-million Kenyans who are refugees in their own country, is an obscenity that beggars description.

We, the people of Kenya, will use every peaceful and democratic means available to us to build the Kenya that so many have suffered and died for. Our first steps in a sustained ongoing campaign of pressure:

1) We will petition all international donors, and the international community, to withhold every form of non-humanitarian aid to Kenya

2) We will create platforms and forums for Kenyans to have the substantive debate they should have had at Independence on the number and portfolios of ministries Kenya really needs. They were deprived of this debate by the greed of politicians.

3) We will launch a national and international sms and mail campaign, for Kenyans and friends of Kenya to say directly to every parliamentarian:


Talk to Kenyan MPs and Ministers

Shailja Patel, Kenyan poet and human rights campaigner, has posted the following information on her blog.

Kenyans for Peace With Truth and Justice (KPTJ) have launched a SMS campaign to urge politicians to fight against a bloated Cabinet. Given the current impasse, there is still an opportunity to urge OUR elected representatives to stop being selfish and to put the nation’s interest before their personal interests.

This is the first step to creating a culture of political accountability in Kenya. MPs need to hear our outrage. Below are all the contact numbers we’ve been able to obtain for the 10th Parliament. The fact that less than 30% of parliamentarians have made their contact details available to Kenyans is, in itself, a tragic statement on the feudal thinking prevalent in Kenyan politics.

Some examples of messages you can send are below. It adds strength to your sms if you personalize it by addressing the MP directly. e.g. “Mr. Saitoti, Kenyans want a lean, clean cabinet.” Feel free to craft your own!

Mawaziri Majambazi!

Siasa Ya Pupa
Njaa Kwetu!

Kenyans Want A Lean, Clean Cabinet

Lean and Clean
Greed is Obscene

Cabinet Feasts
IDPs Starve

Do the Right Thing for Kenya
No More Than 24

Our Country Our Cabinet
No More Than 24

MP CONTACT INFO (last name, first names – constituency – party – cellphone, email)

Abdirahman, H.Ali – Wajir South – KANU – 0721-724746 / 0722-144999

Chiaba, Mohamed Abu – Lamu East – PNU – 0722-410177

Bahari, Abdul Ali – Isiolo South – KANU – 0733-289501

Balala, Mohammed Najib – Mvita – ODM – 0733 333500 /0724 – 650000

Bifwoli, Wakoli Sylvester – Bumula – PNU – 0733-865323

Chepkitony, Lucas Kipkosgei – Keiyo North – ODM – 0733-635894 / 0722816064

Ethuro, David – Turkana Central – PNU- 0722-526370

Gesami, James Ondicho – West Mugirango – ODM- 0733 826090

Gisuka, Machage Wilfred – Kuria – DP – 0733-451806/0725834575

Kajembe, Ramathan Seif – Changamwe – ODM – 0721 609777

Kajwang’, Gerald Otieno – Mbita – ODM – 0722-882787

Kamama, Asman Abongotum – Baringo East – PNU – 0731-583303

Karua, Martha Wangari Gichugu – PNU – 0721 623 342 / 0733-747551

Kenneth, Peter Gatanga – PNU – 0722 512996

Kenyatta, Uhuru – Gatundu South – KANU – 0722 463 891

Keter, Charles Cheruiyot – Belgut – ODM – 0722 530555

Khalwale Boni – Ikolomani – NEW FORD-K – 0721 318722

Khaniri, George Munyasa – Hamisi – ODM – 0722-859341

Kilonzo, Julias Kiema Mutito – ODM-K – 0722-513605

Kilonzo, Charles Mutavi – Yatta – ODM-K – 0734-621593

Kimunya Amos Muhinga Kipipiri PNU – 0722518801 / 520936

Kinyanjui, Lee Maiyani – Nakuru Town – PNU – 0722 842653

Kiunjuri, Festus Mwangi – Laikipia East – PNU – 0721 600 305

Kuti Mohammed Abdi – Isiolo North – NARC-K – 0733 235914

Lesirma, Simeon Saimanga – Samburu West – ODM – 0722-719946

Magara – James Omingo – South Mugirango – ODM – 0722 911274

Katoo, Ole Metito J – Kajiado South – 0721-640175

Midiwo, Washington Jakoyo – Gem – ODM – 0721 504 040 / 0733 421277/ 0722 935761

Mohamed, A.H.M – Mandera West – ODM – 0722-779942

Mohammed, Haji Yusuf – Ijara – KANU – 0722-709395

Mugo, Beth Wambui – Dagoretti – PNU – 0722-205753

Mungatana, Danson Buya – Garsen – NARC-K – 0722-411971

Munyes, John Kiyonga – Turkana North – PNU – 0721-339094

Murungi, Kiraitu – South Imenti – PNU – 0721-240863

Musila, David – Mwingi South – ODM-K – 0722 571117

Musyoka, Stephen Kalonzo – Mwingi North – ODM-K – 0722 523 872 / 0735 161 588

Mwangi, Onesmus Kigumo – PNU – 0722-778581

Mwatela, Andrew Calist – Mwatate – ODM 0733 719 871

Mwiria, Valerian Kilemi – Tigania West – PNU – 0733-657562

Ndambuki, Gideon Musyoka – Kaiti – ODM-K – 0720-384553/0734-758567

Githae, Robinson Njeru – Ndia – PNU – 722514837

Nkaisserry, Joseph Kasaine – Kajiado Central – ODM – 0721-356786

Nyong’o, Peter Anyang’ – Kisumu Rural – ODM – 0733 454 133

Odinga, Raila Amolo – Langata – ODM – 0733 620 736

Oginga, Oburu Bondo – ODM – 0733 818517/ 0724-105493

Odeke, Sospeter Ojaamongson Amagoro – ODM – 0733 967345 / 0722 813819

Ojode, Joshua Orwa Ndhiwa – ODM – 0722- 514830

Okemo, Chrysanthus Nambale – ODM – 0733-608895

Olweny, Patrick Ayiecho – Muhoroni – ODM – 0722-734187/0733-784633

Onyancha, Charles – Bonchari – ODM – 0722-248190

Oparanya, Wycliffe Ambetsa – Butere – ODM – 0722 521856

Osebe, Walter Enock Nyambati – Kitutu Masaba – N LP – 0722 724 556

Poghisio, Samuel Losuron Kacheliba – ODM-K – 0722-520663 / 0734-200836

Ruto, Samoei William K. – Eldoret North – ODM – 0722 517 997

Shaban Naomi Namsi Taveta KANU 0722 814 412

Shitanda, Peter Soita – Malava – NEW FORD-K – 0721-341241

Sugow Ahmed Aden Fafi KANU 0721-596726

Twaha, Yasin Fahim – Lamu West – NARC-K – 0722-925108

Wekesa, Noah Muhlanganga – Kwanza – PNU – 0722-774374

Were, David Aoko Matungu – ODM – 0722 707548/0733 569180

Wetangula – Moses Makisa Sirisia – PNU – 0722 517 302 / 806 363


Amos Wako 0722 772 453