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On Silence  · On Genocide

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On Criminal Silences

by Firoze Manji and Patrick Burnett


The media is replete with images from Niger of dying children grappling with emaciated breasts that have long dried from starvation.The famine in Niger exposes the sham of G8 pledges to end poverty in Africa during and after their recent meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland and the complicity of those aid agencies who said not a word about this when they had accesses to millions of viewers watching geriatric jives during the Live8 concerts.


There is evidence that G8 leaders and international agencies ( ) knew about the crisis brewing in Niger for nearly a year. They must have known that at the same time in Niamey shops and markets were (and are still) flooded with food for the rich.


Why were G8 leaders and international agencies silent? Why was the issue not raised by them at the G8 meetings? Conspiracy theorists may have a viable case for suggesting that the famine was “delayed” as a media event: that a famine in the middle of a G8 summit would have been an embarrassing example of how G8 policies are responsible for denying people food so that they slowly wither and die.


People don’t voluntarily starve themselves to death. Famine has clear early warning signals. Populations are made more vulnerable to famine by inequities in the global order like unfair terms of trade, onerous debt and skewed aid, to say nothing of the sheer looting of wealth by the West.

In our edition at the time of the G8 summit ( see ), we argued that “economic and social policies of African countries have been subverted to serve the interests of the west - the repayment of debt, and the opening up of countries to the needs of voracious international capital.” In short, Africa is not poor because of some freak of circumstance, but because the continent had been systematically looted. Yet the silence over this looting persists – as does the silence over its endgame such as the famine in Niger, and the growing crisis in Mali.


If famine is avoidable, if existing policies maintained by rich countries contribute to famine, then surely there is a strong case to be made that those responsible for these policies be held accountable: that in a very real sense, famine is a crime against humanity.

And if what has happened to people in Niger should be viewed as a crime against humanity, then – at the very least - shouldn't the silence of G8 leaders and international agencies be viewed as acts of complicity?


Links to more reading on Niger:

- Humanitarian Policy Group Briefing Paper

- Don't let Niger overshadow hunger in Mali

- IMF and EU are blamed for starvation

- Does US Care About Niger Now?


This article was originally published by Pambazuka News  Reprinted with permission.

Posted  October 25, 2005

URL:                     SM 2000-2011


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