Report from Africa Ruthless Criticism

MSZ (June 1984)

“The cattle die, the children get fat bellies”

Report From Africa

There is a country in Africa, pretty big. A lot of black people live there. Since the colonial masters withdrew, they have their own government and a capital, the name of which many of them even understand. Some of the black people live off agriculture, by sowing and planting crops where they grow best; others live off cattle, which they always drive to where it has something to eat and water to drink. After all, the country is so big. There can be no talk of overpopulation. When the savanna dries out in the usual period without rain, the cattle-breeders move closer to the jungle or to the rivers. The farmers make a new plot of ground arable when the soil gives no more yield after five years of cultivation. After all, the jungle is so big and keeps on becoming overgrown again. People hardly ever get in each other's way – unless a Christian missionary and an ambitious medicine man without any canonical authorization start up a senseless tribal feud for competitive reasons. If there is already someone on a plot of land, the others just move on further. There's enough room.

Then white men with cultivated blacks come from the capital. They want to open up a plantation. They say this will create a lot more food. They take a giant section of the most fruitful land. The black people notice that it's getting crowded. One time the usual rain does not come. Normally, they would have moved to where the plantation now is. But now they are getting in each other's way. The soil on which things can grow becomes scarce. There are already seven plantations. And the rest of the land is barren. The cattle-breeders must move farther and farther. The plantations require so much water. The black people see what an incredible amount of peanuts and bananas grow in the plantations. They don't get any of them. The food is transported off to the capital. Some of the blacks are already going to work on the plantation. They proudly show their money to the others in the tribe. Then gangs of lumberjacks come. The gentlemen from the capital say that the wood can be sold well and the money used to plant a lot of barley in the soil after it is made arable. The lumberjacks clear gigantic areas in one day with their gigantic saws. Then they are gone, and the deforested area looks pretty bleak. The cleared land stays that way. Now the usual rain does not come for the third time. Large areas of the savanna turn into steppes. And the previous steppes turn into desert. The farmers start planting tuberous roots, which are not very nutritious, on the worst soils. Some sell the corn and soybeans they have harvested in the nearest city.

Afterwards they realize that the money does not suffice to buy seed. The cattle-breeders draw on their base stock, which is already greatly reduced by the drought. They thereby allay their families' hunger, or sell the cattle in the nearest city. The food they can buy for the money is quickly eaten up. The food which is now imported is exorbitantly expensive. The herds are getting smaller and smaller. Some sons of the families go to the capital. It is said that soldiers get good pay there. That is one mouth less to feed. People go on having children the way they always have, and they do not realize that they are thereby creating “overpopulation.”

Then a dam is built. They say that a lot of people will now be able to have electric light and gigantic areas can be irrigated and made fertile. The light does not come, it goes to the capital or somewhere entirely different. The water comes and stays until the soil has turned acid for good. In areas where the irrigation is adjusted in doses, with pipes and so on, the maintenance of the irrigation system collapses after two years. The government does not give any money. The yield of the small farmers is negative. They cannot compete with the plantations. Now they would be better off if they had planted tuberous fruits for themselves instead of sugar cane for the market in the city. The basis for the next sowing must be used up. People have hardly any money or none at all. The babies scream. After buying a few pounds of powdered milk in the city, the parents are surprised that their children start to vomit. The medicine man and they do not know how to deal with it. The nomadic cattle-breeders can hardly move around any more because of the dam. The rain stays away for the seventh time. The lumberjacks are still at work. The cattle die, the first children are getting fat bellies. Some work at building the dam and then move into the city – it is said one can earn a living there. The long distances reduce the degree of “overpopulation” somewhat.

Then the development aid comes. A few blacks who it hits on get told how to do it by agricultural engineers and missionaries. The black people selected do not get anywhere. Self-subsistence is not possible because they are supposed to produce for the market. And the market looks bad: the prices obtained are no basis for continuous and increasing cultivation. And then the development aid project comes to an end. The missionaries are still trying to make the best of it. The good lord with all his magic provides a change. Rice rations are given out here and there, on and off. No one can now afford the food imported by the government after the plantation products have been exported. Charity fills a few distended bellies. At the same time, hundreds of thousands are dying because the rainy season has stayed away for the tenth time and hundreds of thousands are sitting around in deserts, where they were cultivating barley or grazing cattle a while ago. Others are surprised to see that they seem to be in the way of soldiers who have arrived. In refugee camps they meet an occasional white actress, and wait for better times under the direction of a Red Cross.

But this is not enough. Deputies from the population planning office of the government discourage the black people from engaging in their only activity, which is something they simply cannot understand: what can be wrong with giving the women fat bellies? Leathery old people gobble up the insides of cactus trees and termites, since that at least fills the stomach. A safari comes by. Five warriors are run over near Dakar by a jeep. Then the rain comes, and not too little of it. The ardently awaited rainy season leads to floods which tear away the last bits of field. Many people simply drown. The government inaugurates a national park and a new stadium and greets a white foreign minister with folklore. Former tribesmen meet again in the slums of the capital. Blacks without any education practice here the art of recycling garbage. The blacks on the edge of the city can choose among hunger, stealing and being shot. A visit from the Pope brings some to-do into the jungle. A medicine man goes pale with envy and dies. At the same time, the hundreds of thousands all over the country who are just about to die are offered “help to help themselves” and “cultural self-awareness.” They do help themselves, in fact, by simply kicking the bucket. They will not be robbed of this culture.

From Development Aid to Hunger Aid

The fact that “hunger catastrophes in the Third World” periodically get into the headlines is so familiar to a hard boiled European or American that he by no means doubts the sense of the free world economic order which makes such things the order of the day: it will be taken care of somehow, and one can even contribute $2 oneself.

The politicians responsible for taking care of such things have been explaining for some time, however, that they don't even expect to eliminate the much-lamented misery of the “Third World” with their fine development aid programs themselves. They claim to recognize the “failure” of their politics, with which they have made a world available for imperialism, thereby producing its increasing poverty on the side.

Especially Washington and Bonn have cut their contributions to the credit free of interest granted by the World Bank branch IDA (International Development Association), so that the new aid program for the 40 poorest countries now amounts to about 8 billion a year, of which the Federal Republic generously intends to bear a ridiculous 900 million DM. At the same time, “expert opinions” by the same gentlemen are going around the world, in which they “prognosticate” that there will be a few million starvations more this year.

This cleverly calculating cynicism does not scare anyone in the western public, however. Instead, people prick up their ears and also hastily depict what a “problem” “we” are in for. As if by command, there are suddenly plenty of hypocritical articles and television programs which actually arrive at the brazen finding: “the point of departure for the situation was an unfortunate mixture of natural and man-made factors, only one of which is the drought” (Frankfurter Rundschau, Jan. 13). There is no lack of human accusations in such “criticism”: the bimbos did not accept “our” well-meant development programs, or rather, cannot accept them, which, on the other hand, our chiefs should have realized sooner – as if they weren't the ones who have given such smart alecs the idea of abandoning the ideology of development aid from now on, by deciding to cut their programs.

Hunger is the Best Sauce

Television commentators are pleased to remark that development aid has always been a “Greek gift”; and a superior Negro guest is eager to pick up this arrogant clarification as being an intellectual crumb, pointing out that the never ending distribution of milk, grain, medicine, etc. (why is there any hunger, then?) has made the blacks into “parasites.” Everyone nods: yes, of course, its in their own interest that they must be taken off the bottle and learn to “think along new lines,” which is no matter of money – how wholesome hunger can be. The Africa experts all raise their glasses! And the studio public are encouragingly asked if they have any questions. The questions are as one might expect and are directed, for example, to the agronomist, who is also black, pleasingly enough; and he is not above giving an expert answer on the “problem” of whether water is not good for African agriculture.

This suddenly awakening expert view, which television cultivates with its emphasis on “catastrophe aid,” so that every viewer who pays any attention at all nowadays knows how often a child starves within a minute and how many dollars could allow one to exist on a minimum level. The “rich world” is advised, during prime time, to have more understanding for the “poor world” – according to the pattern: old people don't live badly there, without a pension, as long as they have a family to take care of them and not put them away – which is not possible anyway, thank God, since they have no “social system.”

An Expensive Civil Right to Food

So actually, it's not all that bad, if one keeps on repeating our politicians' lie that the “development” of the “Third World” countries, which these politicians were never intent on achieving, is “not possible.” But even without “development” these dismissed nations still “unfortunately” cost much too much. And with respect to the hunger, they now cost more than ever before. Making use of his entire democratic freedom of speech, a contemporary may now feel more responsible than ever before in criticizing his rulers for their “unnecessary expenditures” in the “Third World.” It lies in the logic of this argumentation that one must then wonder how the government's “dilemma” of keeping to its most Christian “obligation” towards the hunger and misery of a world it has successfully ruined itself can be countered. Nowadays, those who discuss the “North/South problem” always arrive quickly at the gist of the matter: the “civil right to food” and how this can be financed when the government declares it is “asked too much of.” A state which buys itself one warplane after the other now makes its citizens' donations into a permanent institution. “Humanitarian aid” is the name of this brutal feeding action and is advertised on state television and organized by the Church, for the sake of the convenience of the state. In the news programs, and even the sports programs, the special bank accounts of the charitable organizations are made known. This stream of donations does not fill the stomachs of most of the hungry, but it fills its initiators with satisfaction about how catastrophe-conscious the population is in supporting their actions, after they have increased the global misery. Such national readiness to make sacrifices on call is agreeable to the parties, which must also think of the future and some larger challenges to come.

Humanitarian Hypocrisy – A Matter of Honor

The ecologists prove again what a congenial adversary they are to the official line of politics. Morally animated by the hunger in the world, they point out in public that the people don't seem to be too concerned with their national reputation, after all, since they “contribute to one cause for the hunger in the Third World by their excessive consumption of imported agricultural goods.” The coffee-drinker runs the world economy and is responsible for its results? Not even the boulevard papers have gone this far, although they recommend that housewives and drivers be selective in their demand so as to “steer” the supply. The ecological idea shows a considerable sense of responsibility, keeping the people morally clean no matter how brutally their state goes to work; but the government does not regard this worry of its opposition as being particularly explosive. It is not that it has any objection to the constructiveness of this contribution – the people conscientiously put the honor of their nation above everything else in the world – but the humanitarian campaign it has staged is supposed to have clearly answered the re1ated “question” of how one can live with the misery in the “Third World”: well. On the other hand, it constitutes a welcome opportunity to show the quality of one's international policy up to now and in planning, in complete harmony with the invoked noble-mindedness of the people.

When it is so “problematic” to deal with the “Third World,” as the opposition admits, the government feels forced to assume the worldwide responsibility which it has always practiced anyway. It honorably promises to pursue what it is worried about – plundering the countries dependent on it and other leading imperialist powers at reduced costs – as an incredibly difficult task: “integration of the target group into an economic and social process of development.” “We” certainly are going to a lot of trouble for those peoples, which are not even fit for normal “development”! Is there anything “we” haven't already done for them, even though they hardly deserve it? Which is why they are up for permanent “integration” in a system which always makes them fall under its own standards.

Sorted Out Races

The total suspicion about the “Third World,” that it will always have to keep proving that it is capable of “integration” because a higher degree of availability can always be demanded of it, is supposed to make the following views binding:

1. the peoples “down there” are a permanent annoyance for “us,”
2. a “First World” nation must remain aware of its global responsibility,
3. “we have granted the developing countries considerable trade concessions” and “we” cannot circumvent these treaties so that “we must” continue transporting the natural resources and food out of these countries as in the past,
4. with our “humanitarian aid” we have all resulting problems under control,
5. this is something to be proud of,
6. “we” will not allow anyone to belittle this aid: as “short-term hunger aid” it is necessary for continued hunger aid and for the wretched deaths of all those it “unfortunately does not reach”; as a “long-term measure” it is intended for the hunger and deaths of those whom it binds to an agricultural “method of cultivation using as few commercial production means as possible,”
7. Imperialism – what is that? Never heard of it.