A Public Service announcement. Produced by Dr. Mikaila Brown & Cary Fukunaga
One of the driving forces for the 19th century Scramble for Africa - the process of invasion, attack, occupation, and annexation of Africa by European powers - was the domestic demand for raw materials, especially copper, cotton, rubber, palm oil, cocoa, diamonds, tea, and tin, raw materials unavailable in Europe but which European consumers had grown used to and upon which European industry had grown dependent..
Today the scramble continues in more "polite" form, but it continues, nevertheless, because everyone (China, Europe and America), understandably, wants non-stop access to cheap raw materials. It continues also because Africa is richly endowed with mineral reserves - bauxite, cobalt, industrial diamond, gold, petroleum, etc - which offer a quick way to make money, in the short-term at least (particularly for a tiny minority).
But Africa is so dependent on commodity exports, the the prices of which are subject to the fluctuations of a world market Africa has little influence on, there is some concern that the current trade conditions aren't benefitting Africa as much as some would like to believe, and more worryingly, not in the long term.
By the way, we do not believe it is a "curse" to have an abundance of raw materials (aka the resource curse). That makes no sense. It is, however, unwise to allow your economy to depend on these resources to the detriment of other economic activity.
Recently there's been much written about the growth in trade between China and Africa. China is now Africa’s second-largest single trading partner, after the EU. This development is making European countries and America nervous, and there's been a bit of mud-slinging between the West and China:
The West argues that the agreements between China and African countries offer poor long-term returns, since they do little to generate local jobs or bring in new technologies. (It must be said, though, that some Western organisations recognise the lop-sidedness of agreements between the West and Africa, too. In November 2010 a coalition of European NGOs published the report "The New Resource Grab: How EU Trade Policy on Raw Materials in Undermining Development". Download the PDF). Meanwhile, China accuses its Western critics of hypocrisy, and rightly so. China, Europe, America, they approach the table out of self-interest, i.e. in the interest of their own long-term prosperity. Why aren't African countries with a bargaining tool approaching the table with an equal degree of self-interest? And why aren't we reading about any African country's 30-year plan to rid itself of its dependence on commodity exports?
Scramble For Africa, by Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare
We're no economists, but we think technological know-how has to be in the top 3 on the priority list of any African country (fighting poverty and so on does not preclude this). While Europe, America and China still need Africa's mineral resources, the agreements being signed should always include conditions relating to training, education and technology transfer. African countries can't depend on selling its mineral resources forever. Because what happens to a country when one day the rest of the world no longer needs oil or cobalt, etc.? These agreements are based on self-interest, and it is in Africa's self-interest to demand as much as possible for its long-term development.
WHAT'S YOUR SOLUTION?
What's your take on this? What do you think African countries with an abundance of mineral resources should be doing to ensure than in a few decades from now the only raw materials being exported will be the surplus not needed for the finished goods (cars, electronic goods, clothes, food) they now export to the world, the way China now exports so much of what the rest of the world consumes?
For those really interested in the way Africa is set up in relation to the rest of the world, it's worth glancing through the Wikipedia page on Dependency Theory.
The theory is based on the notion that resources flow from poor and underdeveloped states to a "core" of wealthy states, enriching the latter at the expense of the former. A central contention of this theory is that poor states are impoverished and rich ones enriched by the way poor states are integrated into the "world system."
RELATED ARTICLES & RESOURCES (EXTERNAL LINKS)
The economy of Africa (Wikipedia)
Rich countries and their leverage on Africa (Africa Economic Analysis)
African bio-resources 'exploited by West' (The Independent, UK)
Scramble for Africa [and the environment] (The Guardian, UK)