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Haiti, Congo, and the politics of hunger

Skyrocketing food prices have already sparked riots in Haiti, Egypt and Mozambique this month as a worsening crisis not only threatens to leave thousands vulnerable to starvation, but will test weak and ineffective governments in poor countries around the world.

Two francophone bloggers, one Haitian, one Congolese, respond, but rather than blame the proximate cause–subsidies for biofuels in rich countries–they criticize the politics and the politicians who left their countries this vulnerable to begin with. They write that the riots of these last few weeks and the riots to come, like the crisis itself, are symptomatic of deeper problems that cannot be solved by the simple magic of foreign aid.

Haitian blogger Natifnatal wrote an angry, heartbreaking post as she watched events in Haiti unfolding from thousands of miles away, in Abu Dhabi, which she suggests is a sort of self-imposed exile. It's called “When politicians serve hunger to score points.”

Ces dernières semaines, Haïti est revenu à la une de l’actualité. Quelque loin que vous soyez, les nouvelles vous rattrapent, les imagent vous bousculent, le gêne vous serre la gorge, et la colère vous embrase. Vous êtes, en effet, en colère contre la manière dont votre pays est réduite dans la presse : à des laissés pour compte semant la pagaille, détruisant les rares magasins qui opèrent dans un pays qui ne fonctionnent plus depuis longtemps, posant des barricades enflammées, et lançant des pierres sur le Palais National. Vous êtes en colère parce les réponses qui vous sont posées par les étrangers qui regardent comme vous et qui n’en comprennent rien, sont impossibles à répondre. Faut-il commencer par 1492, parler de la découverte, de l’esclavage, de la prospérité de l’ex Perle des Antilles, de la lutte pour l’Independence, de Toussaint Louverture ? Ou faut-il conter la déchéance qui ponctue notre quotidien depuis 1804, l’occupation, la dictature, les massacres, la démagogie qui a revêtu des allures de démocratie avec Aristide, puis s’arrêter sur les kidnappings, les coups d’état, la pauvreté, l’indigence, et le désespoir qui nous hantent de façon quotidienne. Car ceux qui n’y connaissent rien le plus simplement du monde peuvent poser l’équation faim + pauvreté + hausse des prix = manifestations + démission du Premier Ministre + violence, et argumenter qu’une augmentation de l’aide alimentaire devait suffire à réduire la faim.

These last few weeks, Haiti has returned to the front pages. As far away as you are, the news pulls you in, the images shake you, your throat chokes with embarrassment, and you burn with anger. You are, in effect, angry at the way in which your country is reduced in the press: to , destroying the few shops operating in a country that has not functioned in a long time. You are angry because it is impossible to respond to the reactions of foreigners who are watching like you and who understand nothing. Should I begin with 1492, talking about discovery, slavery, and the prosperity of the ex-Pearl of the Antilles, of the struggle for independence, of Toussaint Louverture? Or should I tell about the degradation that has punctuated our daily lives since 1804: occupation, dictatorship, massacres, the allure of democracy with Aristide that gave way to demogoguery, and then end with the kidnappings, coups d'etat, poverty, indigence, and the hopelessness that haunts us daily. For those who don't even know the basics can present the equation: hunger + poverty + rising prices=demonstrations + the Prime Minister's resignation + violence, and argue that an increase in food aid would suffice to reduce hunger.

Mais vous qui connaissez Haïti, qui respirez encore son air en dépit de la distance, qui pleurez encore en silence quand vous avez un parent au bout du fil, vous savez que la situation est loin d’être aussi simple. Vous savez que ces manifestations ne sont pas innocentes, qu’il y a des mains derrière ces actes de violence, que ces soit disant revendications ne sont pas dues au hasard, que le renvoi du Premier Ministre ou l’octroi de l’argent n’arrangerait pas grand chose, et que ces manifestants ne sont que des pions entre les mains habiles des malades du pouvoir.

But those of you who know Haiti, who still breathe her air in spite of the distance between you, who still cry silently when you have a parent on the telephone, you know that the situation is far from that simple. You know that these demonstrations are not innocent, that there is an invisible hand behind these acts of violence, that these so-called demands are not the result of accident, that the dismissal of the Prime Minister or cash payments won't change much, and that the rioters are nothing more than pawns in the skilled hands of the maniacs in power.

Parce que vous la connaissez la froide vérité, vous en avez marre. Vous avez beau fuir ces manœuvres politiques, vous avez beau rompre avec Haïti, vous avez beau vous résigner à votre condition de « sans pays », il suffit de ces moments pour que votre pouls s’accélère, que votre cœur se met a palpiter, que vous avez envie de vous arracher les cheveux, de maudire le destin, et de vous rendre a l’évidence, pour la énième fois, que vous avez bien fait de vous en aller.

Because you know the cold truth, and you are sick of it. You have run away from the political machinations, you have broken your ties with Haiti, you have resigned yourself to you condition of being “stateless,” these moments are enough to make your pulse race, your heartbeat go irregular, to make you want to pull out your hair, to curse destiny, and prove to you, for the umpteenth time, that you were right to leave.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Musengeshi Katata at Forum Realisance, watching events in Haiti and Egypt, writes a post called, “Today, Haiti. Tomorrow, the world.”

Katata touches on the relationship between the current food crisis, the ecological devastation of the planet, energy demand, biofuels, and how India and China, developing rapidly and without the latest in energy-saving technologies, are coming to Africa in search of natural resources.

He asks “Why is Africa so slow to understand that it's only going to get more difficult [to develop] in the future?” and predicts that “the next few years will be bad, so bad that we will ask ourselves if Hell is African” because “rich countries will, as they always have, place the heavy weight of this intensifying crisis on the shoulders of poor countries” [Fr]

But in the end, Katata puts most of the responsibility on African elites themselves, predicting that “many incapable governments and puppet regimes are going to implode” in the coming years unless they recognize their own self-interest lies with protecting the interests of their people.

…le Tsunami, comme l´écrit un de nos confrères de l´Internet, va bientôt atteindre l´Afrique avec, comme le prédit la Banque Mondiale, de chaudes révoltes et des famines sans issues. Comment pouvons-nous présenter les choses pour que les élites noires et africaines comprennent qu´elles sont en train de dormir, et que leurs vues des choses est désastreuse et préjudiciable au bien être et à l´avenir des leurs ? Faut-il que les africains, les afrodescendants continuent toujours à se faire rouler par l´occident, et à négliger de voir les choses telles qu´elles sont au risque de subir, de décennies en décennies les graves vicissitudes chroniques du manque et de la pauvreté ? C´est à se demander : les noirs se refusaient-ils à réfléchir et tirer des conclusions utiles ou n´en étaient-ils pas capables ?

…the Tsunami, as one of our Internet brothers wrote, will soon reach Africa with, as the World Bank has predicted, the inevitable revolts and famines. How can we present things to our black and African elites so that they will understand that they are asleep at the helm, that their view of things is disastrous and detrimental to their own well-being and future? Must Africans and their descendants continue to let themselves be run by the West, and to fail to see what threatens to happen, after decades and decades of the vicissitudes of chronic need and poverty? It's enough to ask, do blacks refuse to think and draw useful conclusions or are they just incapable?

Tous les pays qui vivent de l´aide internationale, tous ceux qui n´ont pas développé à domicile leur propre agriculture sous l´aide et les promesses fallacieuses des pays industrialisés, vont connaître, dans les années qui suivent, de dures années de vache enragée. La crise économique que nous connaissons depuis bientôt 30 ans va s´accentuer et effriter les maigres moyens de tous les pays pauvres. Et ceux qui espèrent ou croient que l´aide internationale pourrait les aider à adoucir les choses se trompent encore une fois: cette aide, quoique soulageante, est un véritable poison si parallèlement, et cela malgré la misère et la pauvreté, un effort accru n´est fait pour pallier à ce genre de pénurie dans l´avenir. Parce que, avouons-le, l´aide corrompt et trompe bien les apparences ; ce qui empêche souvent, comme on le sait, de voir « l´arbre », le mal tel qu´il se présente et d´y remédier le plus judicieusement que possible. Par ailleurs, l´endettement des pays industrialisés actuellement est effrayante, et cela va provoquer prochainement, accumule au chômage, des crises sociales remarquables.

All of those countries who live off foreign aid, all those under the aid and false promises of the industrialized countries who have not developed their own domestic agriculture will come to know, in the years that follow, hard years of bitterness. The economic crisis that we have known since what will soon be 30 years will intensify and eat away at the meager means of all the poor countries. And those who hope or believe that foreign aid can help ease the situation are fooling themselves yet again: this help, although a salve, is at the same time actually a poison, and in spite of the misery and the poverty, a stepped-up effort cannot make up for this type of shortfall in the future. Because, let's be honest, aid corrupts and enables deceptive appearances; that's what often stops people, as we know, from seeing [the forest for the trees], from seeing the problem as it is and remedying it as wisely as possible…

6 comments

  • It really makes one wonder just what the elites of African nations think…surely, as most of these people are educated, they must see that this dependence on aid and the inability to take the helm and develop their own nations is slowly leading not just the interests of the people but their interests down the toilet…..or is it as we always hear, that they simply don’t care?

  • Thank you for translating these blogs and exposing these voices to us. As someone living in the US where people complain about the price of gas every day, I am constantly wondering, if this is hurting us, how much is it hurting poor countries? And then, I fear I am the only one thinking this. Just returning from East Africa I was amazed at the price of transportation because of gasoline costs…. we rich country folks must keep aware of these impacts. “rich countries will, as they always have, place the heavy weight of this intensifying crisis on the shoulders of poor countries” — this sentence will haunt me. keep up the good work.

  • Prices of all commodities are rising due to speculation than to under supply. Or suppliers are adjusting their rates to account for foreign exchange losses due to the US dollars weakness.

    I have been to half a dozen countries in Africa and have even been to Haiti. Most foreign subsidies weather food or other do not end up in the hands of the intended receipients. This nothing new.

    Governments can control the population as long as they are fed. No food = mass protests. As most membersof goverment think of their pockets before their constituents stomachs their will be much violence to come.

    Greed makes the world turn round and worshipping of the God called money.

  • […] Natifnatal, a Haitian currently in Abu Dhabi, the food crisis offers simple math: For those who don't even know the basics can present the equation: hunger + poverty + rising […]

  • […] Natifnatal, cittadino di Haiti che attualmente vive ad Abu Dhabi, la crisi di cibo offre una semplice formula matematica: Anche coloro che non hanno le necessarie basi possono elaborare una semplice equazione: fame + […]

  • […] عاج و ساکن ابوظبی است این بحران مواد غذایی به مانند یک معادله است: حتی برای کسانی که از ریاضی سر درنمی اورند هم اسان است. […]

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