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Friday, 20 March 2009

Africa: The Curse of Being Resource Rich

Africa is the most underdeveloped and the poorest of all the continents in the world. The continent is lagging behind all the continents in the world in terms of economic and social development and political advancement. All the countries on the continent have similar problems namely high unemployment, higher deficits, poor economic and social infrastructures, and poor state of public services, poor waste management practices and political instability. A lot have been said about why the continent is the poorest but very few would admit that the continent is poor because of the abundance of her natural resources. This is an irony but it is a fact that the wealth of the continent has made her the target of all evil plots both within and outside the continent.

On March 7, 2004 Simon Mann a British citizen and former officer of Britain’s Special Forces (SAS) and 69 other mercenaries were arrested at a military airfield outside Harare, Zimbabwe and charged with trying to stage a coup to overthrow Teodoro Obiang Nguema, president of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, a nation of 600,000 people. During his defence he mentioned some powerful members of the British establishment as his financiers and backers including Jack Straw UK Justice Minister, Peter Mandelson former European Union Trade Commissioner and now Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise &Regulatory Reform, Sir Mark Thatcher son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Jeffrey Archer a key Tory member who was convicted for perjury and Ely Smelly Calil, a Lebanese oil trader accused of bankrolling the plot. Mark Thatcher was arrested in South Africa and charged with supplying the aircraft that carried Simon Mann to Harare. Mr. Thatcher pleaded guilty in South Africa and was later made to pay 300,000 pounds in exchange for a prison sentence. The coup plotters were to put Severo Moto, an opposition leader living in Spain in charge of the country and to give the backers unquestionable and free access to the oil resource in the nation. If the coup had succeeded Mann and his cronies would have turned Equatorial Guinea into one of the usual sad stories in Africa- bloodshed, corruption, mismanagement, poverty and what have you. The governments of Spain, South Africa and others in the West were seriously implicated for being privy to the plot. Thanks to the vigilance of the Robert Mugabe the coup was nip in the bud. Unfortunately, most resource rich countries in Africa have not been all that lucky. 

Centuries of slavery and colonialism deprived the continent of her able human and economic resources. The able men and women were carried away to work in the plantations far away in the Americas, the natural resources were looted by Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and Italy in the name of civilisation. The slaves worked for centuries without pay and without basic human rights. After slavery was abolished the looting of the natural resources continued. The irony is that practically all the income from these resources was used to finance the economic and the infrastructural development of the European countries enabling the Europeans to finance their schools, build hospitals, roads and telecommunications. Very little or in some situations nothing at all was used to develop the various African countries where these resources came from. 

The poverty and the problems started immediately Europeans started having contacts with the continent. However it deepened after the Berlin Conference of 1844 and in what became known as The Scramble for Africa where the continent, her peoples and resources were divided among the so called great powers of the time mostly Europeans. It is sad to say that during the conference no African was present even though they were the bonafide owners of whatever there was on the continent at the time. The artificial division of the continent unquestionably disrupted the people, their social and economic life and what they had worked to accomplish. People of the same tribe and ethnic background and groupings were divided a situation that has brought more problems to the continent than could have been anticipated.
Immediately after the Berlin Conference each of the powers went about administering her share of the continent, plundering the resources and looting as much as they could without anyone to supervise what they were doing.
A clear example is the case of Democratic Republic of Congo where King Leopold II of Belgium enslaved the Africans and looted the country of her resources and virtually nothing was used to invest in the country except guns which the Belgium army used to kill the Africans in their millions. When the DRC was transferred from Leopold II to the State of Belgium the looting and killing continued till DRC gained her independence in 1960. In fact DRC (Congo Free State) was the main supplier of rubber a vital raw material for the tyre industry and all the money from the sale of the rubber went to Belgium. King Leopold II was able to transform Belgium from one of the poorest countries in Europe into one of the wealthiest, courtesy the enslavement and looting of Africans and their resources. Leopold was 250 million Euros rich at the time when he was transfering Congo to the Belgium state and the state also gave him 50 million Euros as compensation.
Belgium was not alone in what they did to the continent. Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Italy all looted Africa of her gold, diamond, ivory, timber, cobalt, and all the minerals you can think of. The Africans who resisted the illegal activities were killed in their millions as happened in South West Africa (now Namibia) where the Germans in 1904 to 1907 committed the first genocide of the 20th Century by killing the Herero and the Namaqua people. Germany did all these to the people because of the rich diamond deposits in that country.
While Europe became richer, Africa became poorer and the trend continued till the 1950s when the African countries started gaining their ‘independence’ beginning with Libya in 1951, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia in 1956 and Ghana in 1957. It must be mentioned that the attainment of independence did not come on silver Plata. Algeria, Zimbabwe, Angola, Kenya, Namibia and to some extent South Africa all attained their independence from their colonial masters through arm struggles. They had to fight because the Europeans were unwilling to grant them indepence which would have meant a stop to their unquetionable access and looting of the resources.
After independence several attempts were made to recolonise the continent through the back door using mercenaries and the military to destabilise the continent and using economic means to manipulate, bribe and blackmail the leaders on the continent.

Among those mercenaries who sought to return Africa to their former colonial masters was Bob Denard. In fact, Simon Mann is just a small fish compared to Bob Denard, a French who made a career as a mercenary overthrowing leaders in Africa. When Bob Denard died in 2007, he had more than a dozen of coups to his credit four of those coups taking place in Comoros Island alone. French author Jean Guisner, who has followed Denard’s career and written extensively about the French government, says Denard did nothing that was contrary to French interests - and Denard allegedly acted in close cooperation with French intelligence services. Denard’s mercenary career took place between the 1950s and the 1980s. During that period, he was involved in post independence Nigeria, Benin in 1977, Angola, Zaire – now DRC and the former Rhodesia - now Zimbabwe. Registering their frustration and lack of justice for the Comorians, Mr. Abdou Soule Elbak, former president of Grande Comoro said “This man sullied our history”. “I regret he was not made to answer to all the crimes he committed in our country, the murders and the torture which he was guilty of,” said Moustoifa Said Cheikh, leader of the Democratic Front Party. All these mercenary activities took place on the continent because of the natural resources.

After independence the looting of the continent’s resources did not stop as the continent became a battle ground during the Cold War. The two super powers and their allies vied for influence and control on the continent’s resources and those leaders who resisted the looting became targets of assassinations and coups. A case in point was the overthrow of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana on February 24th, 1966. Another example is the overthrow and assassination of Patrice Lumumba of Congo on January 17th 1961.Other leaders such as Nelson Mandela were imprisoned for either advocating for independence or improvement of conditions of Africans. The CIA and the Western intelligence community have been implicated for engineering the assassinations and overthrow of elected leaders of Africa. For example Larry Devlin, the CIA Station Chief in Congo during Patrice Lumumba’s era spoke to Washington Post in December 2008 saying he refused an order to assassinate Patrice Lumumba. But his refusal did not stop the CIA and the Belgium government from overthrowing and assassinating him. The assassination attempt on Gamal Nasser of Egypt on 24th October 1954 and the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981 were the work of Britain’s M16 because teh British wanted to take over the administration of the Suez Canal which the Egyptians vehemently opposed. The invasion of Egypt by Britain, France and Israel solely about the Suez Canal and her oil resources. The CIA, KGB and their allies encouraged and financed wars and political instabilities throughout the continent. Angola became the battle ground for the CIA, KGB and the Chinese as each tried to gain control over the country, her people and resources. The civil war that engulfed the country in 1975 only ended in 1991 after 26 years of conflict. When the war ended the resources had been looted and the few infrastructures that remained after the war of independence (1961-1974) were gone.

The product of these assassinations and coups were the political instabilities and the wanting destruction of lives and property including infrastructures that have bedevilled Africa till today. As the elected leaders of the continent were assassinated, overthrown and subjected to all forms of cold war tactics including bribery, arm twisting and blackmail the continent degenerated and faulted on all aspects of human endeavour. The new crop of leaders who replaced the post colonial independence and who were largely puppets of the European and American governments became increasingly authoritarian and corrupt. Because they were puppets they had little control over what the corporations who had been drafted into these countries to extract the resources were doing. For example Joseph Mobutu who became the choice of the Americans after they helped to assassinate Lumumba ruled Congo for 32 years and in those years the country became poorer as Mobutu and his cronies got richer and the Western countries notably USA, Belgium and their allies had free hand looting the mineral resources most importantly cobalt, a very important mineral needed for missile development. Little infrastructure activities was carried out by Mobutu as a result Congo can only be accessed by boats and canoes mainly through the River Congo. 

Today DR Congo is still suffering from the policies of King Leopold II and the Belgium State. DRC is a country equals the size of Western Europe has hardly known peace since the Stanley entered the place. Its population of about 60 million mostly scattered and live in the jungles of the forest with little or no infrastrcuture the billions of dollars of revenue were taken away by Belgium and the corrupt leaders who came after Lumumba. In 1884 the Congo Free State became a personal fiefdom of King Leopold II who administered the country with extreme brutality using force labour, massacres, kidnappings, rape, torture and intimidations to get the Africans to work for him without pay. It is estimated that about 10 million Congolese died under King Leopold despotic rule. Apart from the human casualty, King Leopold and later the Belgium state plundered the country of her natural resource and never used any of the revenue to develop the country. When bicycles and cars were first invented it brought with it the demand for rubber for tyres production and no country had the resource for rubber production at the time than Congo. And to get the Congolese to work for him Leopold’s barbaric soldiers used extreme force including the cutting off the right hand of those who failed to meet their daily target. All that King Leopold did to the Congolese have been documented but Belgium has locked them away from researchers and the public. The war is still ravaging on in Congo not for anything but for her rich natural wealth. 

As tyrants and dictators gained the support of western governments and did whatever they wanted with their economies without questions their people grew poorer, hopelessness and despair. As the little money that came into government coffers were taken by corrupt government officials and civil servants there were virtually no money to carry out infrastructural development and the poverty deepened. Poverty, desperation and hopelessness that engulfed the people coupled with their inability to change their leaders democratically sowed dissent among the population which serve as breeding grounds for more coups, civil wars and civil disturbances. This was evidence in Ghana, Nigeria, Niger, Ivory Coast, The Gambia, Liberia, Mauritania, Algeria, Gabon, Togo, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Central Africa Republic, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda and Sierra Leone all experienced coups in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and even to the early 1990s. These waves of coups was followed by civil wars that hit Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Congo, Chad, CAR, Somalia, Uganda which also contributed to the destruction of roads, harbours, airports, rail lines, telecommunication, hospitals, schools and many more.
Today in the Delta region of Nigeria a serious instability is going on with young men kidnapping oil workers for ransom. The Nigerian Army is battling a growing insurgence in the oil rich Niger Delta region because of the black gold that is found there. In Sierra Leone and Liberia the civil wars that took place there in the 1990s were about resources. Gold and diamond found in large quantities in Sierra Leone fuelled the war resulting in the death of many and destruction of property worth several billions of dollars. The diamond from those parts of West Africa has been termed blood diamond. In South Africa apartheid was instituted to deny Africans from having access to land and mineral deposits in the country. In Zimbabwe the white minority took 85% of the rich soils and Robert Mugabe had to go to war in order to get a share for black majority. 

This has been the state of affairs in Africa, the presence of oil, gold, diamond, gas, timber, coltan, uranium, tin ore, manganese, iron ore, bauxite and rich soil have been a curse for Africans. They are poor even though the continent has a 50% share of the world’s natural resource stock. Conflicts and instabilities are everywhere because of these resources. Coups and dictatorships are everywhere because of the resources. 

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