Police in Mozambique killed ten people and injured more than 400 during protests against crippling price increases last week. The fighting is a symptom of a growing global food crisis.
People came onto the streets of Mozambique’s capital Maputo and other major cities for three days. The government had announced a
30 percent rise in the price of bread along with major increases in the cost of water and energy.
Demonstrators threw stones, burned tyres in the streets and looted shops. The police responded by opening fire with live ammunition. The ten dead included at least two children.
Most Mozambicans spend about three-quarters of their household budget on food, so the increases are an intolerable burden.
Mozambique’s president Armando Guebuza was once a guerrilla leader who promised the country would advance to socialism. But tragically, his Frelimo party is now in power and has accepted neoliberalism.
Guebuza is a millionaire businessman and announced last week that, “The price increase is irreversible. Prices will only fall if all of us work hard.”
Maputo residents formed long queues outside of bakeries as shops re-opened on Friday of last week.
“People don’t have money to buy food,” Elisa Aldino, a domestic worker, told reporters as she waited in a bread line in a middle class neighbourhood. “If they don’t have money, they sleep without eating.”
The World Bank has feted Mozambique as one of the best economies in Africa. For the past ten years it has maintained the fastest growth rate for a non-oil-producing economy in Africa.
Yet it remains one of the world’s poorest countries with average income per head of less than £600 a year. It has a 54 percent unemployment rate and 70 percent of the population live below the poverty line.
The World Bank points to the spread of mobile phones as one of the success stories of Mozambique’s economy—yet, ironically, it was these phones that helped protesters to organise flexible demonstrations at short notice.
The problem is not unique to Mozambique. Just as in the summer of 2008, food insecurity is creating a crisis across the world.
A Financial Times editorial states, “A second food crisis in as many years is a wake-up call.
“The link between food and political stability in the developing world is clear. The crisis of 2007-8 sparked widespread riots, bringing down governments in Haiti and Madagascar.”
Most of the 100 million people who were pushed into food poverty in that crisis never emerged from it. In 2006, the number of undernourished people was 854 million. In 2009, it was 1.02 billion—the highest level since records began.
The effects of global warming—such as the fires across Russia—have made food production harder, but the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that 2010 will be the world’s third highest wheat crop ever.
It is the activities of financial speculators that is deepening the crisis. Raj Patel wrote in the Observer newspaper, “commodity speculators continue to treat food as if it were the same as television sets, with little end in sight to what the World Development Movement has called ‘gambling on hunger in financial markets’.”
Commodities analyst John Buckley says that speculators are buying wheat because they hope agricultural problems will cause prices to go on rising. So the rises are based on profiteering not an actual food shortage.
Price rises in Britain cause misery, but in poorer countries they lead to starvation. Before the riots broke out in Mozambique there had already been major food protests this year in many countries, including India, Egypt, Serbia and Pakistan.
Across the world people will have to fight to stop their livelihoods—and their lives—being taken away by the profit system.