Of the IMF, African Nations, and Misinformation (Activist Resolutions Update)

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

After I finished reading the article I was angry enough to want to put my fist through a wall.

That’s quite a remarkable thing. I have not worked myself into a proper activist rage since I was around sixteen years old, full of anti-establishment fueled anger and planning to skip school to protest the IMF by way of property damage back in 1999.

Eight years have passed and I realized a great many things, both about the world and about myself. I use anger as a signal to learn more and get involved, rather than an end in itself. I caution myself to remain calm and to explore multiple sides of an issue before jumping to a conclusion. I am wary of activists who will happily put a brick in my hand, but refuse to answer probing questions about the cause.

I am both older and wiser – but this article on Malawi took me right back to the let-me-grab-a-rock Latoya of old.

The New York Times article comes with a provocative headline: “Ending Famine By Ignoring the Experts.”

Malawi hovered for years at the brink of famine. After a disastrous corn harvest in 2005, almost five million of its 13 million people needed emergency food aid.

But this year, a nation that has perennially extended a begging bowl to the world is instead feeding its hungry neighbors. It is selling more corn to the World Food Program of the United Nations than any other country in southern Africa and is exporting hundreds of thousands of tons of corn to Zimbabwe.

In Malawi itself, the prevalence of acute child hunger has fallen sharply. In October, the United Nations Children’s Fund sent three tons of powdered milk, stockpiled here to treat severely malnourished children, to Uganda instead. “We will not be able to use it!” Juan Ortiz-Iruri, Unicef’s deputy representative in Malawi, said jubilantly.

Farmers explain Malawi’s extraordinary turnaround — one with broad implications for hunger-fighting methods across Africa — with one word: fertilizer.

Over the past 20 years, the World Bank and some rich nations Malawi depends on for aid have periodically pressed this small, landlocked country to adhere to free market policies and cut back or eliminate fertilizer subsidies, even as the United States and Europe extensively subsidized their own farmers. But after the 2005 harvest, the worst in a decade, Bingu wa Mutharika, Malawi’s newly elected president, decided to follow what the West practiced, not what it preached.

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