What provokes a people to flood the streets in their numbers in a violent uprising? Is it really the inexorable power of the demand for justice in a highly unjust society? Is it the unrestrained looting carried out by the custodians of the body polity? Is it the unleashing of mayhem on the life and property of innocent citizens and reign of terror orchestrated by a religiously misguided terrorist sect? Or is it something much more simpler and basic?
2011 was a year that will be forever etched in the minds of many who were fortunate enough to experience the “Arab Spring”; a series of political uprisings that swept through Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and is still ongoing in Syria. Of course, the Arab Spring was inspired by poverty, unemployment, injustice, oppression and a myriad of other social ills but realistically, it all boils down to food shortages that led to soaring food prices.
Right now, you are probably asking yourself what bollocks I am writing about this time. Be calm. A provocative new study suggests the timing of the Arab uprising is linked to global food price spikes, and that prices will soon permanently be above the level which sparks conflicts.
According to an article titled,”The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East”, published by Cornell University Library;
“Social unrest may reflect a variety of factors such as poverty, unemployment, and social injustice. Despite the many possible contributing factors, the timing of violent protests in North Africa and the Middle East in 2011 as well as earlier riots in 2008 coincides with large peaks in global food prices. We identify a specific food price threshold above which protests become likely. These observations suggest that protests may reflect not only long-standing political failings of governments, but also the sudden desperate straits of vulnerable populations. If food prices remain high, there is likely to be persistent and increasing global social disruption.”
Note that in line with the above observation, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stated that its food price index correlates with “food riots” around 2008 and the “Arab spring” conflicts. The FAO Food Price Index is a measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities.
Going further into history, let’s take a look at the Revolution of 1789 that took place in France and is commonly referred to as the French Revolution. France faced severe economic difficulties despite being of one the richest and most powerful nations of Europe. Louis XIV, the reigning monarch, his ministers and the French nobility became increasingly unpopular because of their ostentatious and gluttonous lifestyles coupled with unfavorable taxes which further impoverished the peasants.
This inability of the ruling class to curtail its extravagant expenditure on luxuries continued with Louis XIV’s even more profligate successor, Louis XV whose reign led to high levels of debt following its conduct of a losing 7 Year War against Britain and backing the American War of Independence. More white elephant projects and failed policies were embarked on and by the time of the death of Louis XV, the influence of the monarchy to steer the French economy out of its financial crisis was in doubt. Louis XV’s grandson and successor did not do a better job. In fact, he worsened it by proceeding with a policy of taking large international loans rather than raise taxes. The financial strain of servicing old debts and the excesses of the current royal court caused dissatisfaction with the monarchy, contributed to national unrest, and culminated in the French Revolution of 1789.
There was also an intellectual awakening that led to a rising ambition of the merchants, tradesmen and prosperous farmers, who were allied with aggrieved peasants, wage-earners and intellectuals influenced by the ideas of enlightenment American philosophers. The idea of power gradually evolved from the monarchy and the privileged-by-birth nobility and was finally overthrown by more-representative political bodies, like legislative assemblies. The fact that the economy had tumbled down hill as a result of the excess of the monarchy made the ordinary citizens of France seek more participation in the affairs of governance.
More importantly, what sparked the revolution was famine. The listed problems above were compounded by shortage of food in the 1780’s. Series of poor crop yield brought about shortages of grain and consequently, increase in the price of bread which was the staple food of the poor peasants. The price of bread spiked so high that it became unaffordable for peasants, who by this time already relied on charity to survive. They were motivated by their hunger. The “bread riots” were the first manifestations of rooted revolutionary sentiment and like a lit match over a canon of gunpowder, the riots exploded from pockets of unorganized protests to a full blown revolution.
I have had cause to ponder on why the #OccupyNigeria Protests that occurred in January of this year failed. Even after the unjustifiable hike in the pump price of petroleum products revealed the water-bed romance between the Federal Government agencies and “the cabal”; even after it brought to light heights of corruption previously unknown which is responsible for crippling our economy to the chagrin of the suffering and now infuriated masses…why did it fail? The answer that keeps staring me back in the face is “Hunger”.
The age long saying that “a hungry man is an angry man” is no joke. Man, world over at different times in the history of this world have been motivated by an instinct to survive and food is survival. Not democracy, not equality or other egalitarian principles; food is the answer. Concepts of civility and equality come afterwards. When a civilized man is tossed into a situation were he has to compete for food, he reverts back to his primitive state in order to survive and in that state of nature, life is “brutish, nasty and short” as aptly opined by Thomas Hobbes.
Nigeria has exhibited every trait that is symptomatic of a nation that is over-ripe for an even bloodier remake of the French Revolution. Why has that revolution not taken place yet? It seems to be quite clear now. Nigeria have never really had a paralyzing food crisis (except during the civil war, of course). We whine and complain about a tough economy and how Nigeria is a failed state but the majority living below the poverty line can still afford food to eat. The basic animal nature dictates that most times, a fight is rarely necessary till one is pushed to the wall and there’s no place else to go; ask a tiger. That’s when survival instinct takes over.
The recent flooding gradually taking over parts of Nigeria is what spurred this muse. The flood which began in the North has spread to the East and with potentials to spread further to the South and West. Some days ago, I received calls saying the flood had gotten to my home town. I was shocked yesterday to see pictures online of the devastation of my local government in Anambra State which is one of the worst hit. A place where the predominant occupation is farming.
It will suffice to say that the Cameroonian government warned of the possibility of its Lagdo Dam overflowing. Yet the Federal government took no proactive measures to mitigate the impending disaster. It only made unsustainable calls to people living in areas that were likely to be affected to evacuate. Evacuate to where? How about those that were not warned because of its inability to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment? As we speak, NEMA and its officials are gearing up to award contracts for relief materials to themselves and their cronies.
The flood which could have been averted had government carried out its constitutional role of safe guarding the life and property of its citizens by building the Dasin Hausa Dam as proposed in the 1970’s to support the capability of the Lagdo Dam may provide the nation with that one missing ingredient to a wholesome revolution.
In my previous article, I explained why the Federal Government’s ineptitude is dangerous to the health and well being of every Nigerian. The threat of famine looms on the horizon seeing that a good percentage of our meager effort at commercial farming has been laid to waste after the flood swallowed over 5000 cultivated farm plots. This figure continues to increase astronomically as the unrestricted flood spreads unchecked, destroying everything in its path.
We must brace ourselves as successive corrupt governments may have unwittingly provided the populace with the final equation, the missing ingredient in the revolution formula; a revolution guided by hunger. Not even the fear of military boots will be able to squash this one when it kicks in.
*In Obasanjo’s voice* “I dey laugh o!”
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