Press TV discusses the new crisis of starvation in Africa with Chris Banbury, a humanitarian activist from London on the underlying causes, and of responses and misappropriations by Western and European countries. Following is a near transcript of the interview.
Press TV: It seems when it comes to aid i.e. food aid, the issue does become politicized. The US has been blamed for waging a food war against Somalia due to a stance or anti-stance with al-Shabab fighters; and we could mention in terms of supplying aid that they need to pay some of these resistance fighters in fees, but the US disagrees with that, which then prevents the food from getting to affected areas, which in essence has led to the starvation.
Tell us how this stops the effort in getting aid to the people who are near death.
Chris Banbury: The situation in Somalia is obviously dreadful, but it’s caused by intervention not just by the US, but by various Western powers over the years and various regional powers over the years who have used different elements in Somalia and we’ve seen the breakdown of Somalia society as a result of that.
Wars aren’t just some accident or something intrinsic to Somalia society. We see that Somalia is now a key front in the America-led war on terror. But I think it’s worth saying something else…the G8 — the world’s richest nations three years ago pledged 15 billion pounds sterling towards building up Africa’s agriculture — that’s not food aid; that’s going into helping African agriculture. Only one fifth of that money has gone into Africa.
Now that contrasts with the amount of money spent in Libya currently by for instance the British government. Stop the war in Britain estimated that some 14 million pounds sterling is spent every week: One cruise missile fired costs one million pounds; to keep one fighter in the air for one hour costs 90,000 pounds. There seems to be no shortage of money for the war against Libya and yet the British public have been asked to donate five and ten pounds in order to provide drinking water and in order to provide basic elements to keep these people alive.
I think it’s obscene that Britain, America and France should be spending millions and billions on wars prosecuting in Afghanistan and indeed now in Libya when there are people starving to death through lack of aid in Kenya. And Kenya asked to bear the brunt of this — one of the poorest countries in the world — with its own problems.
And I’ll just add something else…We had in this country the spectacle just two months ago of 40 million pounds being spent from public money on the royal wedding of William Windsor and Kate Middleton; money which again could have been used in services in this country or to cut back or indeed for aid for overseas.
I think we have to ask — Where is the money? There seems to be no shortage of money when it comes to wars or to Jamborees at home and yet once again people of the Western world have been asked to donate money from their own pockets to stop starvation in the Horn of Africa.
And governments of Africa with their own problems have been asked to meet a refugee crisis while of course in Europe we see Western governments, European governments, putting a military effort in to keep refugees from coming into Europe who are trying to escape war zones and famine zones. This is hypocrisy on a grand scale.
Press TV: You mentioned the cost of the royal wedding to the public and I could mention other examples such as the cost of the banquets at the G8 meetings and the state dinners in the US. I’d like to bring in an example that focuses on Saudi Arabia of two large purchases: one from Germany recently in the billions — 200 leopard tanks and earlier (some 60 billion dollars in military weapons) from the US. What does this show in terms of priority, which is misappropriated in some respects that should be appropriated to alleviate this huge problem that exists?
Chris Banbury: Of course, the arms industry is a huge expenditure and you have to say that Africa has been quite a lucrative market for Western arms companies given the number of wars, which have been fought in Africa at one time.
And I want to repeat a comment I made that those wars are not something intrinsic to African society; they are the result of interventions by the French, the British , the Americans and so on. Somalia has had constant intervention from the West; destructive intervention — it has been made into a war zone.
I think the question of costs is very interesting. Here in Britain her majesty’s government announced that the cost of the Libyan war would come through a reserve fund, which is in existence for such emergencies for fighting a war. There is no reserve fund for health or for welfare, which has been cut in this country, or indeed for foreign aid.
So there is money stashed away for fighting wars. And her majesty’s government has put in a massive effort into trying to sell arms to countries like Saudi Arabia. David Cameron, our prime minister, toured the Middle East after Mubarak was brought down in Egypt travelling with a cocktail of arms merchants in his wake trying to sell weapons.
These weapons that were sold to Saudi Arabia are the same weapons that were used in the occupation of Bahrain and I think we have to ask questions of this.
And we also have to ask the question about refugees because we’re seeing a constant attack on refugees in Europe, a constant attack. And there’s a militarization of the EU border in the Mediterranean to keep people out. These are people fleeing from famine and war zones.
Some of them eventually get to Europe under terrible conditions, but the point is that they’re going on about Europe as if Europe is being flooded with refugees, which is simply not true. The vast bulk of refugees in the world are in countries like Kenya, Iran, in the Palestine situation in the Middle East and elsewhere — countries which are struggling to feed their own populations.
These countries have often been victims like Ethiopia and Kenya of structural adjustment programs enforced on them by the IMF, which has done terrible damage to agriculture in those countries. It has forced them to turn to growing cash crops to earn dollars to repay their debts rather than growing things like maize, which can feed their own population.
The Western intervention here is a dreadful intervention in countries like Ethiopia. The famine you mentioned in the 1990s was not a natural famine it was a man-made famine created by the IMF. The situation in Kenya is not dissimilar in Africa.
Africa has been a victim not just of wars, but of structural adjustment programs and IMF intervention, which has done immense damage to that continent.