OPINION

The future’s battlefront

Mozambique is one of the world’s poorest countries. It ranks 172nd out of 182 on the UN’s Human Development Index on which Greece is in 25th place. One would say that this distant, beautiful land in southeastern Africa is of no concern to us, that the death of seven people and the injury of 288, shot by police during demonstrations, is a world away. But Mozambique – where 70 percent of a population of 23 million people live under the poverty line, where unemployment exceeds 50 percent and per capita income is 620 euros per year – is on the front line of the battle that will determine the future of many countries, and of the world itself. Two years ago, riots broke out in many parts of the globe because of the meteoric rise in food and fuel prices. This year, even though the price of wheat and other cereals has risen by about 25 percent, the situation is not as desperate because supplies appear to be adequate. And this is what makes Mozambique such an important sign of trouble. When so many people subsist on so little, when the largest part of their income goes toward basic needs, the smallest increase in the cost of living can push them over the edge. In Mozambique, the main problem (or symptom of deeper problems) is the drop in the value of the local currency, the metical, against the US dollar and the South African rand. The dollar, which has risen by 30 percent, determines the price of the fuel that Mozambique buys, while the rise of the rand has pushed up the price of imports from South Africa by 43 percent over the past year. On Wednesday (September 1), the government in Maputo allowed the price of bread to increase by 17 percent, while water and electricity rates rose by 10 percent. It is also preparing to scrap fuel subsidies, which will cause a steep rise in transport costs for workers, as nearly all of them rely on minibus taxis. Public discontent boiled over into demonstrations on Wednesday and Thursday. By Friday, things appeared to be quiet, but the rage and despair in the face of the economic dead-end will not disappear. This is the great problem the world itself faces today. One billion people are hungry and another billion are malnourished. The crisis is ever-present. The danger, though, increases where people were coping but are now in despair, either because their living standards have dropped or because their government can no longer bear to subsidize the cost of food or fuel. Many countries have a large percentage of poor citizens, whom they control through a combination of subsidies and autocratic methods. As long as this system is balanced, the situation remains stable. But when the price of staples rises and people begin to protest, the state’s response is harsh, thus fueling further demonstrations and leading to greater radicalization. There are many such regimes in the world – and many of them are close to us in northern Africa and the Middle East. The situation cannot remain stable for long: The rise in living standards in many parts of the world has increased the demand for natural resources and food, leading to steep price rises; population increases in many other countries put pressure on the government to provide ever greater amounts of money for food subsidies but also for police measures to maintain order; the spread of electronic communications, combined with widespread discontent, empowers political forces aimed at overturning current regimes. The future of the international political system – the fate of humanity – depends on whether each country and the international political-economic system as a whole will find a balance between adequate food supplies, the greater participation of citizens in the political process and a model of economic development that shares wealth among the greatest number of people. Everyone needs to share the benefits of modern civilization. These include education, justice, impartial institutions, investments, the creation of productive jobs, establishment of local social organizations, a safety net for the weaker members of society, channels of communication and mechanisms for easing tension. Whichever country does not have these benefits must work to acquire them; those that have them must fight to protect them. At all costs.