Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Global Economic Crisis and Its Impact in East Africa

The Global Economic Crisis and Its Impact in East Africa

Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are hit hard with food deficits, political and labor unrest

by Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire
News Analysis

With the current economic crisis worsening in the United States and Europe, conditions in the former colonial nations have reached critical proportions. In the eastern region of the African continent, mounting food deficits, a sharp decline in living standards and rising energy costs have intensified ongoing political and labor unrest.

In Somalia, where a US-backed invasion in December of 2006 has been met with continuing resistance, the humanitarian situation inside of this Horn of Africa nation has been described by aid organizations as the worst crisis on the continent.

Mark Bowden, who is the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, has pointed out that although the situation inside the country is quite similar to what exist throughout the region, the overall conditions are far worse.

"The food and livelihood crisis in Somalia is already critical after very poor rains in the southern and central parts of the country this year, combined with violence and limited or no access to the affected populations," Bowden said in a press conference in Nairobi, Kenya on July 23.

At the same press conference, Besida Tonwa, who heads the regional office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that the urban poor were among those at greatest risk.

In specific reference to Somalia, which has not had an internationally recognized government since the collapse of the western-backed Siad Barre regime in 1991, Tonwe said that: "The emergency is exacerbated by the erosion of livelihoods among the landless, pastoralists, internally displaced persons and the urban poor across the regions. Disease outbreaks fuelled by poor hygiene and sanitation in drought-affected areas, and poor health and nutrition services, including low immunisation coverage, are additional risks for mothers and children."

In Ethiopia, where the country's military is occupying Somalia on behalf of US foreign policy imperatives, Smerdon emphasized that some 4.6 million people are in need of emergency food aid between August and the end of 2008, resulting from the drought and political unrest in the southern, central, western and northeastern areas of the country.

Consequently, the pro-western stance of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia has not provided any tangible benefits to the masses of people living in both the urban and rural areas inside the country. Although the Meles' government claims that it has its own security interests at stake in its continuing occupation of Somalia, the intervention only took place after the US declared that this underdeveloped nation constituted a threat to western interests in the region.

Resistance to Occupation Continues in Somalia

Despite the US-backed occupation of Somalia, the people have resisted the Ethiopian military which is supplied with sophisticated weapons from the Pentagon. The progress made by the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) during 2006 has been eliminated with the bombing of civilian areas, the destruction of the national infrastructure including the airport in the capital, as well as the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.

On July 24-25 a major battle took place between Islamic resistance forces and the Ethiopian military in the town of Beledweyne, located 210 miles north of the capital of Mogadishu. Ethiopian soldiers occupying the town came under attack by the anti-occupation forces. In response to the attacks, Ethiopian units seized a bridge in the center of Beledweyne, however, it was later recaptured by the Somali resistance in a round of heavy artillery shelling.

Ethiopia has continued to support and prop-up the Somali Transitional Federal Government, which has never been able to win large scale support among the masses of the people inside the country. The interim government is viewed as a front for western interests in the region and therefore has been met with fierce opposition.

Earlier in May, rebellions erupted in the capital of Mogadishu in response to rising prices for food and other essential services. The US-backed transitional government had just issued a new currency which was worthless in conducting transactions in the market place.

Just recently the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) has issued a warning that a million people could go hungry in Somalia by August unless there are major shipments of food to address the growing shortages. It has been estimated that since the Ethiopian military invaded the country in December of 2006, some 8,000 civilians have been killed and approximately one million others have been internally displaced.

New Developments in Labor Struggles in Kenya

Kenya has also experienced major challenges as a result of the recent economic crisis. Several months after over 1,000 people died in violent clashes sparked by the dispute over the outcome of national elections in December, the ability of the present coalition government, composed of two pro-US parties headed by Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, has been severely compromised.

In a report issued by the Inter-regional Information Network (IRIN) on July 24, "Erratic rainfall, soaring farming costs, and a shortage in materials in the western district of Mt Elgon could compromise food security in the region."

The IRIN report quoted a farmer in western Kenya, Wilson Keya, of the Cheptais division of the district of Mt Elgon, saying that: "Right now we are expecting four bags of maize per acre instead of the usual 20 as we could not afford to use any fertiliser."

Prices for fertilizer has doubled over the last year. A 50kg bag of Calcium Ammonium Nitrate (CAN) fertilizer was selling at US$40, up from US$21.60 during 2007. Other fertilizer such as Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) cost US$68 per bag, up from US$26.60 only one year ago.

A fertilizer shop ran by Bernard Sabila in the same district, reported that as a result of astronomical price increases, the amount of feritilizer being sold had decreased by 60% over the last several months.

Meanwhile, resistance to rising costs and declining living standards has emerged among the dock workers employed by the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA). The Dock Workers Union has engaged in a work slowdown in response to management's efforts to increase their work load without adequate compensation.

The slowdown began as a portest against a seven-day work schedule that the KPA imposed which denies the employees overtime pay when they work on Saturdays and Sundays.

On Sunday, July 27, the union's secretary-general, Simon Sang, stated that the labor actions would continue until Friday, August 1. On July 23 a meeting between the Dock Workers Union and the Kenya Ports Authority failed to resolve their differences, therefore threatening a full-blown strike.

KPA managing director Abdalla Mwaruwa said on July 23 that the work slowdown was illegal and that management was evaluating individual work performance in order to determine who was responsible for the underperformance.

Mwaruwa said the the Dock Workers' demand for the withdrawal of the seven-day work schedule was "impossible because it came about as a result of a court award." The KPA representative said that the labor action carried out by the 4,000 Dock Workers threatened to paralyze operations at the port.

The controversial schedule came into effect on July 1 where employees must work seven straight days before they can have two days off. The new schedule limits the number of overtime hours for employees and consequently causes a steep decline in their incomes amid rapid rises in the cost of food, fuel and other services.

In response to the labor actions in Kenya, the KPA has threatened to fire employees taking part in the work slowdown which has severely crippled this vital installation that plays a critical role in the overall economy of the country.

Regional Crisis Highlights Failure of Neo-Liberal Agenda

Even though the United States, Britain and the European Union are demanding that African nations in the eastern region of the continent follow their purported "anti-terrorism" and pro-capitalist agenda, the conditions for the masses of working people and farmers are worsening. During the recent G8 summit in Japan, the major pre-occupation of these imperialists states was the total isolation of Zimbabwe and the deployment of more military forces to the Darfur region of Sudan.

When the eight African heads-of-state invited to the G8 meeting reminded the industrialized countries that they had promised to provide US$40 billion some three years ago at the summit in Scotland to assist in industrial, agricultural and health care projects, their questions were dismissed while the imperialists continued to insist on setting the agenda for these developing regions.

Yet it is quite obvious that the legacy of colonialism and neo-colonialism in Africa cannot be overcome within the context of the present system. Every attempt to excercise some semblance of independence as it relates to economic and political policies, is staunchly opposed by the Pentagon and its allies. In Somalia, it has taken the form of an indirect US occupation leading to the worst humanitarian crisis on the African continent.

In Kenya, the problems of rising costs and food deficits, are increasing political and labor unrest in criticial areas of the national economy. In Ethiopia, despite the large-scale military and political assistance provided by Washington, the majority of the people are becoming poorer every day.

As the situation unfolds inside the United States as well, the massive drain of the military and security apparatus has had a profound impact on the living standards of the working class and the oppressed. These conditions both inside the western imperialist states and the regions of the so-called Third World provide greater avenues for potential international solidarity among the peoples of the globe.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire. Articles published by the PANW have been reprinted in newspapers and web sites throughout the world.

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