Sunday, 8 November 2015

AFRICA in the 21st Century: Legacy of Imperialism and Development Prospects PART III: The New Scramble for Africa, Narcotics and Human Trafficking

 There is a 21st century version of "the scramble for Africa", a continuation of what started in the 19th century (1880-1914) by the Europeans who pillaged the continent's resources, systematically exploited its people, caused tribal and regional wars, destroying its culture; and all of it by invoking social Darwinism and other Eurocentric theories, including ethnocentrism and 'Exceptionalism', to justify white hegemony.  The new round of neo-colonial race to carve up Africa's lucrative agricultural lands, mineral wealth, fishing rights within its territorial waters also extends to its geographical location that makes it so convenient for South American cocaine trade through West Africa and heroin-cannabis trade through East Africa.

According to the World Bank (September 2010), more than 110 million acres of farmland (the size of California and West Virginia combined) were sold during the first 11 months of 2009. This was all in a mad rush of foreign private and government investors to secure cheap land (and labor to work the land), and all during the most serious economic recession in the postwar period. Between 1998 and 2008, the World Bank provided $23.7 billion for agribusiness around the world, much of it in Africa promoting what it calls 'efficient and sustainable' agriculture. Along with the erosion of subsistence farming that sustained families, there is the corresponding erosion of subsistence fishing owing to competition from European and Asian commercial fishing operations in coastal Africa. All of this is an integral part of the corporate control of Africa with the support of governments in the advanced capitalist countries and with the backing of the IMF and World Bank Group’s subsidiary agencies like the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

In 2010 the IFC has invested an estimated $100 million for agribusiness in sub-Saharan Africa, compared with merely $18 million per year in the previous decade. Naturally, IFC and World Bank investment which runs into the billions focuses solely on corporate agriculture that displaces the small farmer. This despite the advice from experts in sub-Saharan countries who argued that the best use of farmland is to distribute it to villagers (about 12 hectares per family) and give them the means to cultivate it to end hunger while also generating a potential surplus for trade. Foreign-owned agribusiness backed by their governments and international financial organizations such as the IFC produce commercial crops for export, while the native population remains poverty-stricken. It should be noted that foreign aid for Africa's agriculture dropped by 75% since 1980, thus creating the need for private foreign investment in the sector. This is all in the name of furthering the goals of privatization that Western neo-liberal push across the world with devastating consequences for workers and peasants.

In the last one hundred years, agriculture in the industrialized countries has undergone a revolution that has resulted in just a small segment of the labor force earning its living from farming, animal husbandry and fishing. Technology and science applied to the sector has raised production and made agriculture less labor intensive just as specialization and concentration has resulted in higher productivity. Modernization of the primary sector of production entails that large commercial operations in the primary sector of production, backed by favorable government policies, have taken over the sector that requires expensive agrochemicals and machinery, and a distribution network to secure steady profits. In Africa’s case, only large invariably foreign-owned commercial enterprises are able to operate under this model of development, forcing the small farmers and peasants into poverty.

With each recessionary cycle more small farmers in Africa and around the world are squeezed out of the business, while neo-liberal apologists not just in the corporate board rooms and the media, but in government and UN continue to sing the praises of large scale commercial operations as the panacea for capitalism. The transition from subsistence to commercial agriculture in first in Western Europe and then in US freed the surplus labor force for the manufacturing and service sectors of production. In the case of Africa, however, there is no manufacturing or service sector large enough to absorb the surplus labor force that is uprooted from subsistence farming and animal husbandry.
The assumption by governments, banks, and mainstream economists is that commercial agriculture in the form of agribusiness is a necessary development of modernization. Another assumption is that only large-scale agribusiness, which is subsidized by government and international organizations like the World Bank and IFFC among others, can meet the rising demand the world's rising food demand while keeping costs low. After all, manufacturing is just around the corner for Africa, although it promises to be the kind of manufacturing we have seen in Bangladesh and other south Asian countries where living standards are very low and working conditions very poor.

Given the trend toward corporate agriculture, in the last fifteen years, governments and private firms from around the world have been investing in sub-Sahara Africa because corporations chase the highest return for the lowest possible investment under the most favorable conditions to capital possible. Besides agribusinesses acquiring more land, banks, hedge and pension funds, commodity traders, foundations and individual investors have been buying land as part of portfolio investments for an average of $1 per hectare. This is in an attempt to cash in on low-cost land and labor amid a growing demand for raw food products and bio-fuels. 

The EU is hoping to reduce carbon emissions by using at least 10% bio-fuel of all fuel products by 2020. The US is aiming to reduce its foreign dependence on oil by 70% in the next 15 years. With the help of the World Bank and IFC, the EU and the US have been looking to Africa - more than 700 million hectares appropriated for agribusiness - as the continent to invest in bio-fuels; this at a time that the Europeans have also been eyeing Africa as the next frontier for solar energy. Latin America is also a target for bio-fuel and other agrarian investment, but Africa offers even more attractive prospects in part because of the Arab and Chinese interest as well.

In the past decade, India, China, Japan, and Arab countries have joined the 21st century scramble for Africa, in some cases because governments are concerned about soil, water, and natural resources conservation in their own countries. Private investors and governments are aggressively seeking to partition Africa's rich agricultural land as the cost of agricultural commodities is expected to rise once the current recession ends. Saudi Arabia has set aside $5 billion in low-interest loans to Saudi agribusinesses to invest in agriculturally attractive countries.  Another reason for the new scramble for Africa is because of what the UN Food and Agricultural Organization calls 'spare land', areas not under cultivation, or underutilized.

Developed countries have used Africa for its raw materials and as a consumer of imported manufactured products and foreign business services, but not as roughly equal trading partners as is France and Germany. Rather, Africa has been the victim of unequal terms of trade, and external control of its key extractive sectors. In short, Africa remains semi-colonial and continues to become increasingly dependent on developed countries for overvalued manufactured products and services while exporting raw materials at prices commodities markets in the West determine based on speculative interest. 

One is favorably impressed by the rhetoric regarding “sustainable development” that the media, governments, the World Bank, and even corporations promise as though such development translates into social justice. After all, the hypocrisy of corporate responsibility regarding the eco-system has been exposed repeatedly not just by oil companies operating in Nigeria, but even by Volkswagen as its flagrant scandal regarding emissions manipulation proved in October 2015. The EU and US quest for bio-fuel development in Africa, and for that matter in Latin America, has nothing to do with 'sustainable development' or engendering greater 'self-sufficiency' or helping to 'develop' Africa - rhetoric that the UN, World Bank, western governments and multinational corporations are using to make 'the new scramble for Africa' more palatable to the world. The rhetoric is obligatory to placate the masses to retain their trust in the corporate world.

Will the people of Africa solve the chronic problems of poverty and disease as a result of the exploitation of land and labor to satisfy the demand for food and bio-fuels in Western nations? Africa's food requirements will double in the next two to three decades, a point that foreign agribusinesses, governments and IFC and World Bank are using to justify the commercialization of agriculture under foreign ownership. In the process of the neo-colonial land-grab, evictions of peasants and small farmers, entire villages uprooted, civil unrest, and citizens' complaints of 'land grabbing' have been common. Protests owing to social injustice do not stop governments from approving agribusiness deals backed by powerful forces. One common justification used for the new scramble for Africa is that the acquired territories are not utilized or 'wasteland'. Governments often do not charge agribusiness for the water they use. Just a single agribusiness belonging to an Arab investor in Ethiopia, for example, uses as much water as 100,000 people - water of course is the most precious commodity in many parts of Africa. This is the reality of agribusiness and its role in drought-ridden East Africa. 

One reason for the rise of the informal economy that includes everything from hand-carved wood statues to cocaine from Colombia and heroin from Afghanistan using West and East Africa as hubs before sending the product to Europe is that the neo-liberal model of development has failed. In fact, it has failed so miserably that young impoverished Africans join rebel groups inspired by radical Islam or tribal loyalty. At the same time the combination of rebel activity, and violence linked to narcotics as well as human trafficking and weapons, also linked to radical Islam and tribal allegiances in some cases, is a reflection of a neo-colonial system, no matter the lofty claims by Western governments, NGOs, media, the UN and World Bank that they are looking after the interests of African people.


Africa's structural problems have contributed to a thriving narcotics trade through the Western and Eastern areas because of geographical considerations. Given that in sub-Saharan countries the percentage of labor force involved in agriculture, animal husbandry and fisheries ranges from 50 to 75, the result of agribusiness is to create a larger percentage of wage laborers instead of engaged in the subsistence economy. A percentage of this population will choose to make a living in illegal activities – human trafficking, weapons, and narcotics trade; others in piracy, still others in the thriving teenage prostitution business that has a ready market around the world.
All of this is an integral part of an informal economy that according to the African Development Bank contributes 55% of GDP in the sub-Sahara region and accounts for 80% of the labor force. “Nine in 10 rural and urban workers have informal jobs in Africa and most employees are women and youth. The prominence of the informal sector in most African economies stems from the opportunities it offers to the most vulnerable populations such as the poorest, women and youth.”

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has been warning for many years that a number of West and East African countries are now immersed in the international drug trade, a reality that has consequences for criminal activity and the overall subterranean economy and politics of Africa.  Because the drug trade is so lucrative, the income it generates is often larger than the entire GDP of some African countries. This is the case with Guinea-Bissau where the cocaine trade amounts to more than $2 billion and where violent crime in this former Portuguese colony has been rising steadily.  The situation is not very different in Senegal where the airport at Dakar has been used to transport cocaine from Latin America to Europe.

While West Africa is a hub for cocaine from Colombia and Peru, East Africa is a hub for heroin and cannabis coming to the region from South-East and Southwest Asia by air and sea, often onboard vessels that transport legitimate commodities, and often owned and operated by European shipping tycoons and of course European banks to launder drug money. A number of Greek shipping tycoons have been linked to the illegal narcotics trade in Africa, but they invariably enjoy European connections for distribution and laundering of enormous amounts of money considering the street value is 20 times higher than its original value when the products land in Africa.  

While the drug trade may appear that it is outside the mainstream of economic activity, it actually operates under the same laws of capitalism and in practice under similar routines. The laws of supply and demand apply as does the cooperation of government, albeit at a sub-level of illegality through bribery no different than when a multinational corporation bribes officials. Moreover, just as the extractive industries drain Africa of capital so does the narcotics trade. People involved in this business are in fact businessmen running operations of an illegal product but observing all other rules of the market within which they operate and which makes no distinction between drug money and corporate money. The bottom line for Africa is that both the corporate and drug business result in taking capital out of the area and leaving behind all the social and political problems.

 The process of de-capitalization, especially amid recessionary cycles in the world economy as in the current case of depressed commodity prices, 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 and human trafficking 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 the absence of official cooperation, everyone from custom officials, port authority, police, army and navy, all the way up to cabinet officials, the drug trade would not be possible. In short, the drug trade in Africa is an integral part of the political system and informal economy that enjoys protection from a wide variety of players. This makes transport low-risk in comparison with the Caribbean. With Russia as a new player in the international drug trade and oligarchs behind the regime, the activity has increased in the last decade.
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 25 to 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. 

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Somalia, currently in the process of establishing a central authority, is host to widespread illegal transactions, including drug and arms trafficking. There are two important international airports in the region, servicing the capitals' of Ethiopia and Kenya, which are used as transit points for drugs. Both airports have connections between West Africa and the heroin producing countries in South West and South East Asia. There is also an increasing use of postal and courier services for cocaine, heroin and hashish. 

Heroin trafficking from Pakistan, Thailand and India to East Africa has been rising in the last two decades. Some of this heroin finds its way to West Africa that also exports to Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya through Ethiopia. Increasing number of Tanzanians and Mozambicans are involved in the trafficking of heroin from Pakistan and Iran, given that there the limited options in the formal economy. West African and East African drug syndicates are inter-connected as they are to smugglers from Latin America and South Asia, reflecting high level of organization.  

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. Though the continent is in need of debt-relief and development assistance for the short-term, the solution for a small segment of unemployed and destitute young Africans is drugs, guns, and human trafficking that generates money, although most of that money does not stay in the region and creates violence that disrupts legitimate economic activity.


Using the pretext of “terrorism”, a guerrilla movement under the flag of jihadists in recent years, the West and pro-West regimes default all problems on such fanatics in Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Niger, Cameroon, Mali, Uganda and Mauritania. In other words, the US and its European partners would have the public believe that for decades when there were no Islamic jihadists, sub-Sahara Africa under colonial and neo-colonial rule enjoyed social justice and upward social mobility under democratic regimes. Even more insulting is the implication that the Islamic militants are the cause and not the symptom of Western exploitation of Africa and that if they are eliminated the continent would have no problems. As counterproductive as jihadist warfare has been, and as futile in achieving its goals, it is not the cause but one more symptom of the neo-imperialist structure in the continent from Libya to South Africa, from Nigeria to Kenya.

Besides defaulting Africa’s problems on Islamic ‘terrorism’, there are also the advocates of the neo-Malthusian theory - too many people too few resources, rather than unequal income distribution. It is true that drought is a cyclical natural disaster in parts of Eastern and Southern Africa and generally a problem in a few other parts as well. However, does drought justify Malthusianism and does it explain structural impediments to African development? This is not say that a form of managed population control is not desirable, but this is a matter of resources and education for the general population. 

The social fabric disrupted yet again by 'the new scramble for Africa', continued political instability is a guarantee as much as a rise in crime and social unrest. Amazingly, the same institutions that contribute to Africa's devastation claim that they are acting in the name of 'progress, sustainable development and efficiency, helping to raise productivity and exports, to create jobs by bringing foreign investment,' etc.; the modern versions of "The White Man's Burden". The 'politically palatable' rhetoric of 'efficiency and sustainability' has resulted in an outward-oriented agrarian sector catering to foreign markets instead of inward-oriented economy designed to meet the rapidly rising population's food needs. In 16th century England, farmers switched to animal husbandry owing to rising demand for wool textiles. Peasants starved as the cost of grain increased, thus "sheep ate people". In this century, 'agribusinesses will be eating Africans'.

Apologists of agribusiness justify their support by various arguments including ‘no country has developed’ with two-thirds of its labor force living off the land and dependent on extractive industries. It is an interesting coincidence that just as sub-Sahara Africa has been targeted by drug lords in the last few years, it is also targeted by corporate farm investors whose mode of operation is to use the low-valued land and labor and corrupt public officials in order to serve foreign market demands. Rural poverty will rise as a result of foreign corporate investment in African agriculture.  Will the 'new scramble for Africa' by corporate investors and drug lords result in the elimination of famine and disease; will it result in higher rising living standards for the native population, or will it be another form of neo-colonialism in the name of progress?

Uniting and organizing at the grassroots 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 largely to blame, and the even stronger western neo-colonial foundation that precludes horizontal development with the goal of raising living standards across the voard, 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 that foreign capitalists will continue to exploit.


Anonymous said...

So you are saying that the Public-Private Partnerships are coming to fruition having used complex strategies and courts. These strategies depend on a fulcrum point that intercepts and exploits Gaia. It is thus urbanized and allows an environment of friendships--friendships that transcend the many divisions uniquely and often violently evolve in Africa.

And, non-lineage (or non-GMO) urban entities insure that innovative financing shifts debt debilitation away from these partnerships?

Poor Tiny Tim

Anonymous said...

Is it any wonder that Jesus wept?
That He had to raise Eleazar from the dead?