The continued exploitation of Africa’s resources in ways that benefit foreign investors and a small number of elite of Africans a lot more than they do the majority of Africans is sometimes likened to a form of “modern day colonialism.”
“The corporations use the labor and land, the people pay the price. It is absolutely modern day slavery. It is exploitation and makes you think about a 500 year history of exploitation of the African continent from its people during the days of slavery and now its resources,” says Emira Woods, director of Foreign Policy in Focus for the Washington D.C. based Institute for Policy Studies, citing Firestone as an example. The company ran the world’s largest rubber operation in the world in a financially exploitative relationship using child labor to extract rubber from Liberia without paying proper taxes to the government.
Everyone knows that Africa is rich in natural resources, and most people know that the damage done to the environment and to people’s health extracting these resources, is considerable, yet most African governments continue to allow the desire to strike a deal and make a quick buck trump any concerns for the environment or for the wellbeing of those they govern. Neither do they seem concerned that their countries are getting a raw deal in terms of how much of the proceeds actually stay in their respective countries.
For a long while, Western multinationals have shouldered the blame for exploiting Africa’s riches in this manner (as in the quote above), but too often we’ve let our own governments off too easily. To be sure, foreign governments and international investors are far from guilt-free, but to pretend the hands of our government representatives were somehow tied is to do ourselves a disservice. The argument that Africa has been coerced into relationships that are not mutually beneficial might have worked twenty years ago, but do we really want to continue buying that story? Our governments aren’t as weak as they are made out to be. We know very well that the world needs our resources, now more than ever, since the worldwide growth of the middle class is driving demand for the goods that require our resources, and resources elsewhere are being depleted while our continent is yet to be fully tapped. We know, too, that investors are eager to seal resource deals in Africa because of our relatively cheap exploitation costs.
Yet the examples of exploitation stories in which the negative consequences outweigh the positive continue to outnumber the ones that we can all look at and think, well done.
Main Uses: Transportation fuels: gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, etc.
Main Sources: Nigeria, Algeria, Angola, Libya
Issue: The poor regulatory framework in the oil sector and the misuse of oil revenues remains a problem. The fear that oil-related conflicts of the past could erupt again, are a black cloud hanging over the oil exploration booms around the continent. As Kenya and Somalia argue over territorial land division issues in light of the recent exploration of oil, potential early signs of a larger problem may be on the horizon. Militancy, human rights violations and environmental hazards are prevalent in oil producing countries, further contributing to the debate that Africa’s oil is a ‘curse’.
However, the global interest in peaceful oil exploration in Ghana may have contributed to a more transparent process from the multinationals as well as the Ghanaian government.
Because of the oil "curse" precedents, some were concerned when the country became an oil producer following the discovery of hydrocarbons in commercial quantities, so there was some relief when the Ghanaian government set up two funds into which profits from oil could be channeled: the Ghana Heritage Fund – a fund for future generations of Ghanaians – and the Ghana Stabilisation Fund, a sovereign wealth fund to cushion the impact or sustain public expenditure capacity in periods of revenue shortfalls (decrease in oil prices). You can read more about this at Ghana Oil Watch. There is some evidence that some money is indeed making its way into the funds, but despite this, Ghana isn't proving immune from some of the problems that dog other oil-producing African countries.
FROM BLOOD DIAMONDS TO BLOOD COLTAN
Resource: Colombite Tantalite aka Coltan
Used in: Mobile SIM cards, DVDs, iPhones, Sony PlayStations, laptops
Main Source: Democratic Republic of Congo
Issue: DRC has suffered heavily polluted lakes and rivers due to coltan mining, and most miners for the coltan are children.
A report released back in 2002 by the United Nations Security Council stated that coltan profits were fueling war and allowing government officials and foreigners to pocket huge amounts of money. Despite the deaths, conflict and other effects of the ‘blood coltan’, ten years since that UN report there is yet to be an effective international embargo act or regulation put in place to ensure the safe mining of cobalt and the protection of affected communities. See “Five things You Need To Know About Coltan.”
Main use: Food self-sufficiency
Issue: 50 per cent of the world's uncultivated arable land is in Africa, but the continent is yet to work its way back to becoming a net exporter of food, which it was until the IMF and the World Bank came to the "help" of many African countries with a set of market reform policies known as the Structural Adjustment Programme. South Africa is a notable exception, selling 30% more agricultural goods abroad than it imported in 2010, according to the latest South Africa Survey.
Yet, instead of expanding our agriculture business on an industrial scale, a large amount of land is being sold and rented cheaply to foreign concerns (see also The Breadbasket of South Korea: Madagascar).
Self-sufficiency isn't only economically important, it's also a matter of security, and as Akinyi writes in Re-Colonization Of Africa Through Buying Agricultural Land, "Africans are selling the one natural resource they can’t afford to sell – their land."
THE BLUE COVENANT
In the 1990s, the World Bank had many African countries privatize their water supplies as a condition of economic assistance. Today, 300 million Africans do not have access to safe and affordable drinking water.
Scientists recently discovered underground acquirers of water that are 100 times the amount found on the surface of the continent.
The hope is that the Economic Commission for Africa's Water Vision 2025 prevents this from turning into the largest attempt at water privatization in history.
Hocking our future
The lack of protection of Africa’s wealth shouldn’t be blamed on those that gain from it, but on those who own it. The myopia of our governments and other profiting individuals is our greatest weakness. The billions that pour in as result of these partnerships aren’t going towards our long-term future, and aren't being invested in preservation. The last time I checked, Mother Nature doesn’t make deals.