Corporate Looting of Africa 500 years later

Looting can be described as robbing or stealing goods, on a large scale, often after a significant event.

There stands a long (often systematic) history of the looting of Africa, Patrick Bond, in his book Looting – The Economics of Exploitation, asserts that Africa’s poverty not only stems from historic injustices such as slavery and colonial era resource mining but the modern equivalents of debt repayment and poor trade and investment relations. At the end of the 19th century, the competition to unearth and control sources of raw material drove the foreign – predominantly European – incursion and eventual colonisation of African states. Throughout this and most of the 20th century, Africa and the Caribbean’s resources were extracted to support the European development. As asserted by Claude Kabemba, “Africans have nothing to show” for these years of exploitation. Most questions surrounding Africa today attempt to answer the paradox of a continent with great mineral and natural resource wealth and its impoverished people, particularly mining communities.

The new scramble for the control of African resources by foreign governments and companies over several past decades documented in the War on Want 2016 report  focusing on Britain, details that the 101 companies listed in the London Stock Exchange with mining operations in Africa control resources worth over $1 trillion. However, as War on Want contributor Tom Lebert asserts in his work, the appropriation of African natural resources heavily infracts on social, environmental and human rights. A clear example of this is the six LSE listed companies with permits from the Moroccan government for the active exploration for oil and gas resources in Western Sahara. Morocco’s illegal occupation of the Western Sahara has been denounced by the International Criminal Court, who declared the Saharawi people living there, independent and self-determining. These permit-holding companies are therefore colluding and benefitting from the repressive regime with active government backing. As is asserted by Lebert, British foreign policy regarding the content remains steeped in access to (extraction and control of) raw assets and mineral wealth. The ongoing legacy of colonialism, slavery and resource extraction, Economist Andre Gunder Frank argues, is the machine that profits the rich countries while maintaining serfdom in poorer ones. Niger and France are a clear example of this; Niger’s uranium powers France’s nuclear reactors whilst 48% of Nigeriens live below the national poverty line according to the World Bank . Other foreign powers’ investment in Africa, such as China, has been cast in a suspicious light. It receives roughly 22% of crude oil imports from African oil rich countries daily . The Chinese government is estimated to have loaned $86bn to African countries raising questions about the likelihood of a debt crisis in future . Controversy surrounds China’s relationship with Africa with gripes regarding the flouting of safety and environmental standards, infraction of business practices and local laws and poor labour practices which have led to civil strife and even deaths. Questions have then been raised about China’s growing economic influence in Africa and the future of the relationship based on resource exchange.

A counter argument to this assertion maintains that for the richer countries to successfully exploit the poorer ones, there must be some benefit from the exploitation to those ruling at all levels in the poorer countries. This is echoed in Tom Burgis’ The Looting Machine which discusses the involvement of African rulers and elites and their middle-men role in the systematic looting of Africa. It exposes the foreign influences at work in the natural resource and mineral scene: from Israeli mineral kingpins in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s lucrative diamond trade to a Chinese middleman’s (Sam Pa) murky deals in the institutional looting of Angolan and Nigerian oil through national energy companies. His involvement in the dislodgment of workers in a Zimbabwean mine in a bid to municipalise it brought it under the government’s control in good time to serve as an election campaign fund resource. Regarding the involvement of African leaders in the plundering of African resources, it can be argued that African leaders are involved in a global struggle of class and power, resulting in them keeping their people in an impoverished state. Furthermore, some experts believe that African Finance Ministries, central banks, bureaux overseeing privatisation and commercialisation often form front runners for the neo-liberal orthodoxy that facilitates the resource extraction.  However, it is also argued that African leaders and elites have not always embraced neoliberalism and face complex decisions in responding to the compulsion to accept this ideology and its consequences.

The use of aid and loans in this methodical exploitation cannot go undiscussed. An investigation by UK and African NGOs reveals that there is a wide difference between inflows in aid and outflows in resources. Outflows such as unlawful financial flows, costs incurred due to adapting to climate change, tax evasion, debt payments, multinational profits, and illegal fishing and logging make it so that every £100 aid contribution sees a £640 loss . The continent suffers a $58bn net loss as compared to all inflows. In 2015, African states received $162bn primarily in aid, loans and; and in the same year, $203bn outflowed .

Two main responses to the destitution of the continent; the first, a paternalistic mainstream effort, such as the Global Call to Action Against Poverty movement, and the latter radical grassroots civil society movements.

Conclusively, the looting of Africa not only has a rich history, it is ongoing. As partakers of all the continent’s wealth, we should all take both responsibility for it and action against it.

Claude Kabemba, Undermining Africa’s Wealth | Open Society Initiative Of Southern Africa (OSISA)
Tom Lebert, The Scale of The UK’S Involvement in Africa’s Resources Is Staggering. So Too Is Its Disregard For The Rights Of Those Affected – African Arguments
Tom Burgis, The Looting Machine – Paul Adams, Book Review
Patrick Bond, Looting Africa: The Economics of Exploitation – Francis Owusu, Book Review

By Patience Nasieku