Food shortages in Africa are a grave injustice

According to the UN, Africa is the most impoverished land mass in the world, with poverty all around and where the pay of the average person is the lowest in the world, the writer says. Graphic: Timothy Alexander/African News Agency (ANA)

According to the UN, Africa is the most impoverished land mass in the world, with poverty all around and where the pay of the average person is the lowest in the world, the writer says. Graphic: Timothy Alexander/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Nov 27, 2022


By Kim Heller

Dr Chika Onyeani’s best-selling book ‘Capitalist Nigger: The Road to Success, a Spider-Web Doctrine’, which was first published in 2000, is as relevant today as it was more than twenty years ago. Dr Chika Onyeani wrote: “there is nothing in Africa that is owned by the people”.

“We are owned stock and barrel by people of European origin, Japanese, China, Indians, and any other people that have decided to become economically viable.

“In fact, I believe that the only possession in the world that the Black race could lay ownership to is the free air we breathe, and that might be in question and jeopardy if the present trend of consolidation of our conquerors continues.”

According to the United Nations, Africa is the most impoverished land mass in the world, with poverty all around and where the pay of the average man is the lowest in the world. This dire sweep of poverty is out of concert with the vastness and richness of African land and its treasure trove of natural resources and minerals. Africa, the second largest continent on the globe, has the lion’s share of the world’s natural resources, including gold, diamonds, coal, and oil.

Over centuries, the earth beneath the feet of Africans, and all its riches, have been stolen by the hand of imperial greed and colonial conquest. That African countries have gained independence from the former colonial masters have not been game changers for the patterns of economic extraction and surrender to economic interests outside the Continent remains intact.

Current-day Africa, according to Onyeani is a Continent that is still “economically under occupation”. The promise of independence has hardly been fulfilled. Food shortages are the daily bread of millions and essential services, including critical health services are in poor shape. Onyeani writes: “If you are independent, you should be able to feed yourself, you should be able to cure yourself, you should be able to provide essential services to yourself.”

Historically Africa’s resources were used to build foreign empires, not Africa. In the building of these faraway foreign nations, the land of Africa was sucked dry, and its people were left in a wasteland of devastation. The well-being of the African land and the African people was never part of the economic equation. Onyeani writes of the ecological damage caused by the wholesale extraction by foreign business interests of Africa’s resources and minerals. He writes that “unlike in his own country, whatever environmental damage the drilling does is none of his concerns”.

“All he wants is that oil.” He writes too of how African governments today award contracts for oil and mining to foreign investors and multi-nationals who cart off oil, precious metals, and minerals, and then sell them back to Africans at exorbitant rates.

This pandemic of extraction is not only a serious economic crime against the people of Africa. It is also a crime against humanity and against the environment. In the yesteryear of Africa, her entire ecosystem was ravaged by foreign greed. Today, the ravage continues, under the watch of African leaders, many of whom appear more vested in the interests of foreign multinationals than in the care taking of their own land or people.

And so the scramble for Africa continues in a post-colonial universe. During a Synod of Bishops which took place in Rome in 2019, Catholic Bishops spoke out against “the impunity of corporate and elite capture of African land and natural resources”. They warned how this ongoing economic and ecological erosion and exploitation of African land was damaging food systems, the environment, soil water, health, and biodiversity. The Catholic Bishops also spoke of how people were being forced off their own lands, which added to widespread and growing displacement and conflict in the Continent.

The statistics are shattering. According to United Nation reports, Africa was the Continent most deeply affected by hunger in the Covid-19 aftermath. The latest 2022 Global Report on Food Crises tells the tragic story of how one in five people living in Africa goes hungry and how an estimated 140 million people experience severe levels of food insecurity. Recent reports by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and African Union show that close to 350 million people in Africa are negatively impacted by food shortages.

The lingering crisis of food shortages in many African countries has been exacerbated by climate change and the extreme weather it heralds, including drought which has wrecked farming and brought a deathly harvest of starvation and destitution. Scenes of malnourished infants, dead livestock and devasted fields of farmland are the sorry landscape of much of current-day Africa.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has raised the alarm around the soaring food prices, conflict and climate change that is ‘plunging parts of Africa into a severe and enduring food crisis, with millions of people in Africa facing extreme hunger.” In October, the organisation called for urgent relief, as well as long-term remedies to what it says is the worst food crisis seen in 40 years in many parts of Africa including Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

Dominick Stillhart, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s global operations expressed concern, in October, that the disaster is going largely unnoticed, that millions of families are going hungry, and children are dying of malnutrition has hardly gained the attention of the world’s media or been adequately headlined.

But perhaps for many Africa is old news. There are new territories and new frontiers to be explored and conquered. The space race appears to have taken the fancy of a new crop of imperialists and adventure capitalists. The colonisation of Mars has already become the new play for some of the new generation empire builders, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Virgin’s Richard Branson and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos also appear captured by the notion of conquering new frontiers.

But back to reality and to an Africa where chains of external domination, economic dependency and despairing poverty weigh heavily not only on its past but on its present and future. The centuries of colonial plunder, brutal extraction, and unrelenting dominance over not only land but culture and mind, have left Africa in a state of economic, cultural, and mental stagnation and paralysis from which they have yet to emerge.

Meanwhile, some have moved on to other universes.

Elon Musk once said that to save humanity one will need to move beyond Earth. Musk had predicted that Earth would become uninhabitable for humans. Prophetic words indeed. For now, with all its land much of Africa is barely habitable. At the recent United Nations climate change conference in Egypt Catholic Bishops in Africa warned that there cannot be climate justice without land justice. But for now, Africa looks forlorn and forsaken.

*Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa.’ This article was first published by The African.