The Coronavirus pandemic is threatening to truly become a humanitarian disaster at a global scale. It coincides with and exacerbates a multifaceted global crisis: political, economic, social, environmental and climatic. In other words, we are currently experiencing a crisis of a patriarchal, racist capitalist system, which will have grave and disproportionate impacts on the vulnerable and marginalized groups, especially societies in countries of the Global South, including North Africa.
This health crisis exposes the crimes of a capitalist economic system, manifested in the destruction of our environments, sustainable agriculture and the associated cultural and social systems in order to impose globalised destructive structures that are inappropriate for protecting our health as individuals and as societies.
And if we do not mobilise and demand a just response to address this pandemic, this economic system will have serious consequences on the poorest and most vulnerable. We must learn lessons from past experiences to defeat this virus and find real solutions to the multiple crises we are going through, including the climate crisis as well as end inequality and injustice in order to build a new, just and sustainable world order.
Capitalism in crisis
The multifaceted crisis that has gripped the world over the past few years is worsening, as financial markets have managed to weaken even the strongest economies in industrialised countries.
We are also witnessing an escalation of disastrous capitalist economic policies, lived in parallel with the growing hostility and racism towards refugees and migrants, not to mention the disturbing rise of the extreme right forces in the world. This crisis exposed the catastrophic extent of centralised urban policies, which prioritize industrial, real estate and commodity investment over agricultural production processes, as well as public services such as health and education that are destined to the vast majority of rural people, who are the main producers of our food, the most essential need for the survival of humanity.
The seizure/grabbing of agricultural land for financial speculation and the production of agro-fuels to ensure the food security for some select countries, exacerbate the rise in food prices, which will lead us to a new food crisis. Extractivism and pillaging of natural resources have intensified using ever more costly, dangerous and environmentally destructive technologies. However, these practices are necessary in order to maintain a certain lifestyle hegemonic in western countries, a lifestyle based on perpetual growth and consumerism currently imposed on all mankind.
The consequences of this capitalist-imperialist onslaught are being felt above all in the peripheral regions of the world: global South. It is there that small peasants get stripped of their lands, plunging them directly into extreme poverty. And it is there that the increase in prices of basic foodstuffs automatically translates into hunger and famines. Moreover, we have millions of workers being laid off as a result of decades of neoliberal policies that enshrine pauperisation and exclusion. Add to this the effects of global warming, which result in thousands of deaths due to drought, desertification, floods and hurricanes.
Parallel to the explosion of the debt crisis in the early eighties of the last century, countries of our region (and the global South in general), were subjected to violent interventions by the international financial institutions; the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, in order to direct and shape their public policies as well as to balance the budget by reducing public spending. The purpose of these interventions was to provide sufficient liquidity to pay off debts and buy Western commodities.
Since then, indebtedness has remained a system to subjugate the peoples of our region and prevent them from building their economies beyond the absolute subordination to imperialist states. Despite the formal cessation of structural adjustment policies, these institutions have continued to interfere through their guiding reports to our submissive governments.
Decades of neoliberal policies and the mad rush for private profit led to the privatisation of public hospitals and the imposition of large austerity in the budgets for public services, including health. This constitutes a crime and millions of innocent people will pay dearly, especially in our subjugated countries. All of this combined with the spread of the coronavirus pandemic may result in a serious humanitarian catastrophe. Our hope is that the rise in temperatures of spring and summer may weaken its ferocity and a swift discovery of a drug/vaccine would avoid or at least mitigate this terrible fate.
The Global Health Crisis – The Coronavirus Pandemic
The current health crisis must be analysed and understood in this global context. This crisis, which will have severe social and economic consequences and that will exacerbate other crises, is not a natural catastrophe, as promoted by some. COVID19 is not a Chinese virus, as some say (US President Trump, for example), expressing racist attitudes; but is a virus resulting from the intensification of a destructive capitalist agricultural/farming system that creates an imbalance in our environment through land grabbing and water-exhausting mono crop cultures, the increase in industrial animal husbandry for the commercial production of meat and dairy products, as well as the widespread deforestation and habitat loss.
The capitalist mode of production brutally penetrates the remotest corners of our earth and invades the extreme limits of the planet, undermining the metabolic equilibrium that enables society to live sustainably and in harmony with its surroundings. This growing rift between the accumulation of capital and nature is even threatening our planet as a place of habitation for humanity and other species. It is becoming clear that various crises and disasters are intersecting in an immiserating, murderous and violent way within the capitalist system. And we do not doubt that the potential treatment of this pandemic will be subjected to the logic of the merchants of war and death, that is, how much profits can be made by corporations!
This global health crisis and its repercussions are only one facet of the capitalist exploitation and the imperialist domination of peoples and nature. In our North African region, the virus has begun to penetrate and is already taking lives, albeit slowly for now, and there is no doubt that it will rise, and the measures announced are only a warning that precedes the disaster.
Millions of small farmers, agricultural workers, fisherfolks and other small-scale food producers (the majority of which are women) who bear the burden of providing daily food to everyone else are forced to work during this pandemic. In order to ensure that food production continues, millions of them will be at risk of contracting the virus. It goes without saying that closing borders with Europe and the reduction of access to markets will have major social consequences (redundancies, unemployment, bankruptcy, indebtedness, etc).
It is evident that the risk of infection lurks on poor agricultural workers and peasants, especially without taking the right measures to protect them and other workers who are driven to toil in intolerable conditions. Moreover, the majority of these working poor do not have the purchasing power to ward off the risk of the virus by purchasing the necessary medicines and food that they need.
What is happening in the world and in our region is pushing us more urgently to struggle for popular sovereignty over the wealth, resources and food, because the agro-industrial complex (agribusiness) will force people to work, without compensation and without strict protection measures, as this will affect their balance-sheets and reduce their profits. The harsh reality that our societies are currently experiencing has demonstrated, yet again, the importance of defending public services because they constitute a social safety-net that cannot be compromised or subordinated to the directives of international financial institutions seeking to control and dispossess us.
On this basis, we in the regional secretariat of the North African Food Sovereignty Network demand/call on:
– Small farmers, agricultural workers, and fisherfolks to continue to organize and fight in order to obtain all their rights under the current exceptional circumstances, by considering methods of collective struggle that ensure their protection from infection and disease.
– Reconsidering development policies in the Global South and North Africa and learning from this crisis by re-prioritising productive activities such as inward-looking sustainable agriculture and fishing and providing health and educational services to citizens as the basic processes for sound and sustainable development that serves our peoples.
– Our governments in North Africa to assume their full responsibilities in preserving and ensuring the safety of all workers, including agricultural workers, small peasants, and fisherfolks, by applying safety measures in agricultural areas and fishing areas.
– Paying compensation to all workers (formal or informal) affected by the current crisis, and allocating specific funds for them.
– Providing all hospitals with the necessary equipment to avoid an escalation of the health crisis, to be paid for by progressive taxation. And if necessary, put private hospitals and clinics at the service of patients free of charge to deal with this crisis.
– Providing the necessary food supply and confronting head on all corporations/companies that will seek to raise the prices of some produce and materials, given the high demand for them.
– Putting an end to all neoliberal policies as well as the cancellation of public debts and “free” trade agreements that do not serve the interests of the poor and marginalised in our countries.
We also express our solidarity with all the peoples of the world, especially those that are suffering under the crushing weight of economic sanctions such as the Iranian, Cuban and Venezuelan people or are living through deadly wars and occupations in countries like Libya, Syria, Yemen and Palestine. Nor can we forget the fate of migrants and refugees who are being turned away by fortress Europe. At the same time, we demand our governments to support and show solidarity with other African countries in their efforts to confront this global epidemic.
We, at the regional secretariat of the North African Network for Food Sovereignty, refuse that our people (especially the marginalised classes) pay the price of our rulers’ neoliberal policies, by pledging our resources and wealth to external and internal capital, which will make us much more vulnerable in confronting this crisis if the current situation continues for a long time.
Finally, we must not let this crisis normalise the escalating use of surveillance, militarism and other authoritarian measures that undermine our freedoms and democracy. Some of these measures may be appropriate as a short-term response to public health emergencies, but they should not be allowed to become the new standard for the post-Coronavirus world.
Every crisis is an opportunity, and the capitalist-imperialist system – together with our despotic and comprador elites – will seek to renew itself by other means through dispossessing people of their wealth. We must not allow this. We urgently need to search for sustainable and equitable alternatives to the current world order. The only solution before us is unity and solidarity in order to build a new world in which people’s sovereignty, democracy and social justice prevail.
Sovereignty over our land and food … sovereignty over our destiny!
Regional Secretariat for the North African Network for Food Sovereignty
Photo Credit: Ferat Chihal El Rikabi – Al Safir Al Arabi