Thursday, 26 May 2011


The most significant challenge of Africa in the next few decades will be to transform itself from a largely informal and semi-legal “dependent outward-oriented” economy to a legitimate inward-looking one that is integrated intra-continentally under a model that is comparable to that of the EU and develops more equitable terms of trade with developed countries.

To achieve that goal Africa would need more than NGOs and UN intervention that only targets emergency areas, and more than regional integration that the World Bank has been advocating and without success by its own admission. The G-20, currently pre-occupied with planning to lift the world economy from the current mini-depression, could and must deal with Africa, especially now that the US has a president whose roots are African.

As a first step, the G-20 should agree to transform Africa’s public foreign debt into a UN/World Bank sustainable-development-continental-integration fund designed to foster an economic model that is inward-oriented–serving the needs of the indigenous population, instead of outward-looking (mass producing primary export products) catering to EU, US, and Asian markets.

Though more than 200 organizations have been formed in the past 60 years in order to promote regional integration as a way of helping with sustainable development in Africa, such efforts have failed to extricate the continent out of cyclical debt crises and endemic poverty. This is largely due to internal political causes, though not exclusively. A new centralized Africa super-fund administered by UN/World Bank offices would be a beginning toward easing the continent’s problems.

Foreign investment in Africa, under terms no developed country would permit, must also be regulated. Otherwise the drain of natural resource wealth will continue with Africa earning the lowest labor values on the planet. To attract foreign capital investment, African countries have to provide local financing under government-guaranteed loans and very generous terms that include profit repatriation, liberal terms on the environment, and minimal labor protection. The process of de-capitalization amid the current crisis only increases the problems with the informal economy that is a mere extension of the overall outward-oriented dependent economy and a colonial remnant that gives rise to illegal activities.

East Africa around the Gulf of Aden is already the pirate center of the world, and this in addition to the weapons trade. Everything from illegal handicraft items to diamonds and gold are illegally traded. West Africa is slowly transforming itself into the new world center for South American narco-traffickers. Guinea, Mauritania, Guinea Bissau, Ghana, Benin, Sierra Leone, and Senegal are among the most significant intermediary narco-traffic countries linked to the Colombia-Venezuela coca trade.

In 2002 West Africa authorities confiscated a mere 95 kilos of coca, while in 2007 the number rose to 6.4 tons. It is estimated that more than 50 tons of coca goes through West Africa, with an estimated wholesale value of $2 billion. The low risk of transporting by planes and ships along West Africa waters and through African countries vs. the high risk of transporting through the Caribbean makes transport more lucrative, especially given Africa’s proximity to the end users–the Europeans.

Drug use and trafficking has increased substantially not only in Europe, but in the former Soviet bloc and especially Russia where oligarchs of varying types are the real power behind the regime that gave birth to them. During the “just say No!” campaign of the Reagan era the US had the highest per capita use–US population was around 4% but consumed 40% of the world’s illegal drugs–and this is not to say that a legal pill-for-everything panacea in the US is not at its root a cultural trait.

Today, however, both UK and Spain surpass the US in per capita use of cocaine, and both countries along with Portugal and France are the major destinations for coca that comes from Latin America through West Africa. Wholesale drug traffic requires cooperation of key officials, corrupt shipping companies, and of course banks.

It is cheaper and easier to bribe everyone from policemen to military officials, all the way up to govt. ministers and entire political parties in poor African countries than other parts of the world. But considering that multinational corporations from Shell Oil to Siemens have a long history of bribing African officials as they do non-Africans, narcotics traffickers’ mode of operation is no different than that of “legitimate” businesses. And if the opportunity presents itself to make a living why is “dirty money” any less valuable than “clean money,” the latter of which seems to be less than $500 a year for most Africans?

Judging on the basis of postwar recessions when per capita income has dropped as much as 50%, this means that in this current crisis Africa will not only suffer greater impoverishment than the rest of the world, but its economic problems will cause more ethnic and tribal conflict, more epidemics, more intra- and inter-continental emigration, and more political turmoil than any developed nation can expect. Such a climate is ideal for more piracy, more weapons and narcotics transfer, more human trafficking, and all of it part of the colonial and neo-colonial legacy of outward oriented economy benefiting the developed countries.

My guess is that although Brazil is a major player in the G-20 and former President Lula had made some noise about the role of “lesser players” (Brazil, Russia, India and China - BRIC nations), deliberately merciless neglect not only for Africa but for the Third World is inevitable because it is advantageous for the advanced countries as well as the semi-developed ones that have an intermediary (comprador) role.

Though the continent is in need of debt-relief and development assistance for the short-term, the solution for the people of Africa is inside the continent. Uniting and organizing to end racist neo-colonial exploitation whether in the form of the formal economy based on mineral and agricultural exports or in the informal economy that includes narcotics is the only solution for Africans. Working toward sustainable development can only come from indigenous movements that first change the externally-dependent political regimes and then undertake to change the social order that would engender economic growth under an inward-oriented model.

Given the deep historical tribal and ethnic antagonisms in Africa for which westerners are partly to blame, and the even stronger western neo-colonial foundation the prospects of any of this taking place in the forthcoming decades is highly unlikely. Africa will remain the continent of contradictions with the world’s poorest people, but some of the world’s richest natural resources.

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