This lecture assesses the extent to which the sharp spikes in global food prices, which occurred in 2007/08 and 2010/11, contributed to the political unrest which swept the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region at the end of 2010 and the first half of 2011. This political unrest has been referred to as the “Arab Spring” and the lecture argues that although the Arab Spring has been referred to in the Western media as a predominantly politically-motivated uprising against autocratic incumbent regimes, there were important socio-economic underpinnings to the uprising. One such important factor was increasing food prices in many countries of the MENA region. The result of rising food prices, along with other socio-economic factors, such as high levels of unemployment, especially amongst educated youth, was a steady increase in the cost of living and an erosion of living standards. Many incumbent regimes in MENA had for decades maintained their legitimacy via an implicit social contract, whereby the regimes offered cheap subsidised food, housing, utilities and fuel along with guaranteed employment in a bloated public sector in exchange for political loyalty. Sharp rises in domestic food prices from 2007 onwards contributed to an unravelling of this social contract such that citizens in the region were no longer willing to tolerate repressive and autocratic governments. The rise in domestic food prices was linked to global food price increases and is a reflection of the food security status of the MENA region, whereby most countries in the region are heavily dependent on imported food. As a result of the role played by food prices in creating political unrest, many countries in the region are now reappraising their food security strategies in an attempt to place less reliance on global food markets.
Over the past few months there have been negotiations with Ethiopia by Egypt’s interim government on the proposed Renaissance Dam project, tension on the Nile seems to be growing, with Egypt demanding it does not lose any of its colonial era water rights, while upstream nations like Ethiopia are telling Cairo they deserve more access to the world’s largest river.
Only a few years ago, the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) was celebrating its 10 years in existence in Alexandria. All the major players were present, from World Bank officials to water ministers across the region. The result from that optimistic meeting has been near disastrous, with a smaller spin-off movement growing among upstream nations that Egypt says threatens their very ability to deliver water to their citizens.
They claim “national security” as the prime reason or their opposition to any real negotiations for water. Part of that is true. Egypt is growing at a rapid pace, with the population expected to reach 120 million by 2025, according to the United Nations Population Fund. But the reality is Egypt must negotiate and change its ways over Nile water, or East Africa could become embroiled in a water war of unprecedented character.
Egypt’s doomsday scenarios to justify its dominance of the Nile’s water may be real, but the sad fact is too many Egyptians suffer water shortages today, on a daily basis. Not in the five years that the Egyptian government claims.
A unit of Egyptian private equity firm Citadel Capital plans to cultivate up to 40,000 acres of farmland in South Sudan to sell staple foods such as maize in the newly-independent nation, an executive said on Tuesday.
…The United Nations warns that around a third of the country’s roughly 8 million people will need food assistance this year after bad weather and violence hit farming.
Citadel is investing about $30 million to produce staples such as maize, sorghum and sunflower in the oil-producing Unity state bordering South Kordofan, project manager Peter Schuurs told Reuters.
‘We have so far 4,000 acres and we will be planting this year, primarily maize with some sorghum and sunflowers,’ said Schuurs, managing director of Concord Agriculture, a fully-owned Citadel unit.
‘Our focus is food security in South Sudan… we will be supplying the local markets,’ he said on the sidelines of an investment conference in Juba. ‘We will plant the crop in June.’
Egyptian security forces are firing tear gas at around 3,000 protesters, some of whom are throwing rocks, in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
The clashes began near the interior ministry on Tuesday evening between families of people who were killed during the Egyptian uprising in February.
News coverage to date has emphasised the role that countries including China and India have played in the acceleration of land acquisitions in Africa. Although Indian firms are active in countries like Ethiopia, the Oakland Institute’s investigation shows a major role of western firms, wealthy US and European individuals, and investment funds with ties to major banks such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.
Investors include not only alternative investment firms like the London-based Emergent Asset Management that works to attract speculators, including universities such as Harvard (who has maintained secrecy on such potentially unpopular activities), Spelman, and Vanderbilt – with a primary motivation of economic access to agricultural land that will have high returns for the endowment.
Several Texas-based interests are associated with a major 600,000 ha South Sudan deal which involves Kinyeti Development, LLC, an Austin, Texas-based “global business development partnership and holding company,” managed by Howard Eugene Douglas, a former United States Ambassador at Large and Coordinator for Refugee Affairs.
A key player in the largest land deal in Tanzania is Iowa agribusiness entrepreneur and Republican Party stalwart, Bruce Rastetter, who concurrently serves as CEO of Pharos Ag, co-founder and Managing Director of AgriSol Energy, CEO of Summit Farms, and is an important donor to the Iowa State University. Rastetter was recently appointed to the Iowa Board of Regents by Terry Branstad, Iowa’s Governor, who received a substantial sum from Rastetter for his 2010 campaign. Iowa State University provides “private” research services that benefit Rastetter’s investments in Tanzania.
US companies are often below the radar, using subsidiaries registered in other countries, like Petrotech-ffn Agro Mali which is a subsidiary of Petrotech-ffn USA.
Many European companies are also involved, often with support provided by their governments and embassies in African countries. For instance, Swedish and German firms have strong interests in the production of biofuels in Tanzania. Major investors in Sierra Leone include Addax Bioenergy from Switzerland and Quifel International Holdings (QIH) from Portugal. Sierra Leone Agriculture (SLA) is actually a subsidiary of the UK based Crad-l (CAPARO Renewable Agriculture Developments Ltd.), associated with the Tony Blair African Governance Initiative.
A police riot control truck was hauled in over uneven roads to keep a spray of water on the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors. In the air above, Japan Self-Defense Forces helicopters made runs with baskets of water in a desperate attempt to cool exposed fuel rods believed to have already partly melted down.
The water cannon: one of the symbols of the year 2011.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak gave into the demands of the protesters today, leaving Cairo and stepping down from power. That came hours after a speech, broadcast live across the world yesterday, in which he refused to do so. Earlier that day, the Supreme Military Council released a statement — labeled its “first” communiqué — that stated that the military would ensure a peaceful transition of Mubarak out of office. In practice, it appears that power has passed into the hands of the armed forces. This act was the latest in the military’s creep from applauded bystander to steering force in this month’s protests in Egypt. Since the protest movement first took shape on January 25, the military has, with infinite patience, extended and deepened its physical control of the area around Tahrir Square (the focal point of the protests) with concrete barriers, large steel plates, and rolls of razor wire. In itself, the military’s growing footprint was the next act in a slow-motion coup — a return of the army from indirect to direct control — the groundwork for which was laid in 1952.
“It was the moral force of nonviolence…that bent the arc of history toward justice once more.” Barack Obama, 11 Feb. 2011 #Egypt
clouded by the fact that it was the army, embodiment of violence par excellence, which finally forced Mubarak to resign, and El Baradei’s call for that army to intervene. But still, the most amazing aspect of the event is the nonviolence of protesters.
He’s gone. He’s resigned. 30 years of Mubarak rule is over. Omar Suleiman says:
President Hosni Mubarak has waived the office of president.
The easy part is finally over. Now the grueling and possibly bloody part begins, and I hope that the ominous, enigmatic, and parental presence of the military throughout the protests do not foreshadow what is to come.
Kenneth Cole is an Asshole, Copy Ranter
Would have been worse/funnier if it was Banana Republic
The protesters pushed back the pro-Mubarak crowd. Some of their charges (it really looked like a Civil War battle charge designed to overrun an enemy position) were so intense that I feared for the pro-government crowd’s safety. That worry rapidly vanished. The pro-Mubarak group turned out to have great strategic depth, reaching all the way back to the Nile and beyond, and with sheer numbers it pushed forward, gradually rushing past the protesters and me. The Mubarak forces screamed “Yes Mubarak,” and the protesters alternated between “Leave!” and “God is Great!” — with the latter noticeably favored during moments when the protesters had the initiative. The injured were carried back, most with bloody head wounds. Seven middle-aged men stood in prayer next to a tank during the height of the stone-volleys, remarkably placid-looking, like the string quartet fiddling as the Titanic went down.
Gradually, near the entrance to the Egyptian Museum, each side began to realize that neither faction would be overrun completely. Entrenchment began, and a no-man’s-land of about a hundred yards opened up. I stood there in the middle, taking video, dodging rocks coming from the side I could see and holding my notebook to cover the side I couldn’t. Then, right by the Egyptian Museum entrance, five men in plainclothes grabbed me, hit me three times, twice in the back and once in the chest, and brought me toward the Museum itself. They grabbed my video camera and still camera, shouting “memory card,” and tried to break it when they couldn’t figure out how to remove it. Then two of them grabbed my arms and ejected me from the square, onto the Nile corniche, which was so calm that the first person I met was a newspaper journalist who had to ask me whether we were among Mubarak supporters or protesters.
The Atlantic contributing editor Graeme Wood provides a first-hand account of the battle for Tahrir Square in Cairo.
Read the whole thing here.(via theatlantic)