- Category: Geoeconomics
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The national borders in Africa were drawn up by Europeans, with no concern for ethnic realities and tribal identity. More than ninety percent African States have conflict-ridden multiethnic identities (Glassner 1996). As if that was not enough, after the Second World War English-speaking countries expanded their territory at the expense of their neighbours, as Ghana did with Togo when they annexed those areas which were rich on natural resources (here first of all timber).
The banking system is wrecked in most African countries, likewise the insurance system. General corruption prevails. In the 1960s and 1970s many Western intellectuals imagined that the Third World could offer a superior value-system, a kind of liberation of the industrialized individual, a return to the essentials so to speak, to a simpler way of life. What do we find today? Most Third World projects have been failures, fostering corruption and nurtured the vilest dictators, ultimately creating social disorder. Some say that we decolonized too rapidly. Now it is too late to re-colonize.
Few young Westerners are willing to leave their comforts and work in a Third World country. Our missionary spirit has disappeared. Most Westerners who go to Africa today are either overpaid government-funded consultants, or civil servants searching for an exotic break in their otherwise monotonous careers.
China is succeeding where the Western world has failed in Africa. It is sending over thousands of its highlyeducated countrymen, who speak both English and French. Above all they are building, conferring gifts in the form of large-scale infrastructure projects in return for access to African consumer markets. Chinese are also being hired as executives in local companies.
As soon as African countries have generated their own elites, the members of these have moved to the Western world where they can live a more comfortable life. This is largely due to lack of national patriotism. Compare this with Korean students, who often write on their essays: “For the prosperity of my family and my country”. That spirit is unknown to many Africans. Forming an educated class in many of these countries means deposing their existing elites. Our involvement has often had a perverse side-effect: we have organized their non-development.
Hunger, indeed starvation, have been a major problem in much of the Sahara region, from Mauritania across to Chad, in Nigeria, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Angola, and Mozambique; and malnutrition is a problem for almost all of sub-Saharan Africa.
According to Johan Galtung, there are close to a billion people with no money, and 125,000 die each day from starvation (25,000)and from preventable and curable diseases (100,000). If you send money, it will be stolen. If you send food, you need to create jobs. By donating food we are easing our conscience, but neglecting our responsibility. The best thing we can do in Africa in the short run is to remove the subsidies we give our own companies to undercut African producers. We have been and are removing from Africans the only competitive advantage they have today: food production. Our export subsidies to Africa equal the amount we give in overseas aid.
If you take a closer look at the pot called “overseas aid”, you will see that most funds come back to our own companies and organizations in the form of administrative costs, consulting fees, accommodation, and educational programmes. But it looks very good on paper: “1 per cent of GDP”.
Sierra Leone was one of the biggest markets for arms during the first Gulf War. Like a number of neighbouring countries, its story has been a long series of social, political, and economic catastrophes.
The Islamic Sudanese government in the north sees no objection to killing their own (Christian) population in the South. In the meantime they have split into two countries. The Western world showed that it did not learn anything from the Rwanda massacre. We did not intervene in Darfur. There is not enough oil under the sand. Iran has terrorist camps in the Sudan to cause instability in Egypt. France has long supported the Islamic regime in Khartoum. Now they have changed to the Chinese. The American government supported the Christian guerillas in South Sudan (SPLA). France is losing country after country in Central Africa. The Anglo-American expansion is being checked by China.
When you have a quasi-democratic political system where the majority of the 155 million people large population belong to 250 different ethnic groups and live in great poverty, you get continuing despair and chaos. When a handful of people have access to all the easy (oil) money, you get rage. The only thing which is stopping Nigeria from going the same way as Sudan, splitting the country in two, into a northern Islamic state and a southern Christian and Animist state, is the question of how to split the oil revenues.
Somalia, Ethiopia, and the Horn of Africa
Somalia is in the hands of the local Taliban, the Shabaab, who are financing their armies of young devotees through piracy. Their influence stretches down along the coast of Kenya and over the border into Ethiopia. Somalia is as frightening as any country gets today. Not even relief workers dare come here anymore. The 62 per cent of Christians who live in Ethiopia are being squeezed from all sides: Islamists in Djibouti (north), Sudan (west), and Somalia (south and east), and border disputes with Eritrea in the north. Islamic extremists are slowly getting a grip on the Horn of Africa. Piracy pays better than fishing, even if it is more of a lottery.
Congo and the Great Lakes region
Congo is the crossroads of American and French interest in Africa. The Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) is under French protection, the Democratic Republic, formerly known as Zaire (Kinshasa), is under American influence. In addition there is rebel activity in South Kivu (Rwanda) and in the north-eastern corner of the country (Lord’s Resistance Army attacks in Uganda).
Congo is rich in minerals. It is the biggest producer of cobalt in the world (forty per cent of world share), and a major producer of copper and diamonds. Cobalt is essential for the electronics industry, for the manufacture of batteries, etc.
This used to be a region dominated by the interests of Belgium and France. That changed when Belgian mercenaries had Dag Hammarskjold (UN General Secretary) killed during a visit to Northern Rhodesia in 1961. Slowly the old powers were replaced by American and British interests. From their bastions in Rwanda and Uganda the British and Americans are continuing to push French diplomacy out of the Congo, the keystone of French interests in Central Africa.
Figure 13: World map of colonialism at the end of the Second World War in 1945
The Hutus are backed by France, the Tutsis by the USA. France has lost Rwanda. Congo will be next. This has been the deadliest battlefield since the Second World War, costing the lives of some 5.4 million people since the 1980s. The Tutsi-dominated RPF, led by former Ugandan intelligence chief Paul Kagame, now president of the Republic of Rwanda, is supported by the USA. His soldiers are conducting a secret war in Kivu Province.
Two days before the massacre in Rwanda, Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister at the time, said that a victory by the Tutsi Patriotic Front (RPF) was unacceptable. But ultimately France did nothing to halt the killing of more than half a million Tutsis by the very Hutus they had trained. When the French troops returned home many of them suffered mental breakdowns due to feelings of guilt.
The USA supported Laurent-Desire Kabila when he overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997. But the senior Kabila was too Marxist for Washington’s liking. After he was killed, his son Joseph Kabila became president of the Democratic Republic. The US wanted to replace him with the more loyal Laurent Nkunda, a Congolese Tutsi general. But Nkunda was killing too many innocent civilians. In the end Kagama had to call his dog to heel. The Americans have been trying to take control of the Congo for a long time. When Patrice Lumumba (the
first democratically-elected president of Congo) requested Soviet military help, the CIA initiated a secret war in the region. When the CIA caught Lumumba he was put on a plane and sent to his arch-rival Moise Tshombe, who had him executed (see e.g. Stockwell 1978: 10). In Congo the “ services speciaux” continue to support the Hutu militia against the government in Rwanda from bases in Equateur Province (Mbandaka).
Hired South African pilots fly in weapons bought in Eastern Europe. France is desperate in East Africa, and has made a series of bad choices “ dans la region des grands lacs”. Mobutu, who came to power in 1965, turned the Congo into one of the poorest countries in Africa. While in power he amassed an enormous fortune for himself, in gold, diamonds, and dollars, valued at 400 million francs, all deposited in Swiss banks. Chirac and Mobuto had known each other for a long time. Mobuto also supported the RPR election campaign with large donations in the 1980s. 10) In Uganda the USA is trying to defeat the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony, a Christian fundamentalist and a self-righteous crusader.
Chad and Niger
Chad may be next in line. France is about to lose another African country where it has influence as the Franco- American geopolitical struggle moves further north. Niger is again an unstable country. Military coups occur here about every year or so, the latest on 18 February 2010. People are killed in the hundreds in this part of the world, but the stories seldom reach Western mass media. Niger was the last country where Kaddafi recruited his mercenaries from, the same people which are now being tortured in Libya with very few Western reactions Burkina Faso, Togo, Mali, and Senegal
The French are losing ground rapidly in the region. The Chinese are already everywhere. Only the French language is hanging on, so far. (The Chinese offer free courses in Mandarin all over Africa now, while the Western world is starting to charge more for their language courses). The Chinese are winning hearts and minds with their combination of gifts on one hand and access to consumer markets on the other.
Everyone wants cheaper products, especially in Africa where people are poor. In Mali you can now buy Chinese motorbikes for a tenth of the price that a Western product costs. There are already Chinese cars on sale for a fifth of the price. Imagine what that means. If you think America changed with Wal-Mart it is nothing compared to how fast African economic reality is becoming Chinese.
Malians used to receive considerable gifts from Russia (university education) and Gaddafi (television and radio stations). Now the Chinese are bringing many more gifts (airport infrastructure, major roads, major bridge, and new buildings surrounding the presidential palace). From the Western world they get the usual political talks which in the end give them next to nothing.
This is a country which receives about forty per cent of its GDP in overseas aid each year. Despite its “good student” reputation, it is a country with few economic prospects. Mainlanders (former Tanganyikans) feel themselves to be Tanzanians. Most people from Zanzibar feel themselves to be Zanzibaris, not necessarily Tanzanians. Zanzibaris in general have less education than mainlanders, and are sensitive to mainlander taking their jobs. This often leads to sabotage.
Tanzanians are sensitive towards anything that might look like a master–slave relationship and remind them of colonialism. Religion is another sensitive issue. Muslims feel that Christians are favoured, since many Christians also have leading positions in business and political life. Native religions are practised by about thirty per cent of the population. Different tribes have different gods and religious practices. The political scene is dominated by one party, the CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduzi), even though the country has a multi-party political system. Investors who want to stay must ensure they are on good terms with CCM politicians.
Tanzania is a tribal society. People still favour one another on a tribal basis. Members of the larger tribes tend to have advantages over those from smaller tribes. Tribes in areas with more schools tend to have more influence on national politics.
All Tanzanians speak Swahili. This has served as a unifying factor for the people of this country in a way hardly seen elsewhere in Africa. “In Ghana and Uganda it can take one or two years to establish a business and become operational. In Tanzania and Mozambique, [it takes] 18 months to three years; and in Namibia, six months to a year” (te Velde 2002)
Once the best kid in the class, now the most hated. How did it come to this? Robert Mugabe simply became too fond of power, they say. It was too good to pass on. Slowly the State became more of a dictatorship. Now he feels he has to play out the game to the bitter end. It is an old familiar story.
It was the multinationals more than Western governments who put pressure on the apartheid regime. Apartheid was bad for business, and the system was corrupt: it did not help to foster a new middle class of consumers. Instead a bargain was made: we will give you political power, if we are allowed to keep the assets we have accumulated. The USA and its allies failed in Namibia (SWAPO won, and is now the majority party) and in Angola (FNLA and UNITA lost, and are now small minority parties), because they were on the wrong side, supporting the white minority against the black majority.
The new leaders in South Africa are reluctant to help overthrow Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, because they have shared a common struggle against the white minority.
Zuma coming to power marks the transition from meritocracy to mass democracy in South African, as conditions are getting worse. The South African homicide rate is four times that of the USA. Perhaps as many as forty per cent of the working population are unemployed. Poverty levels and social conditions have not much improved since the time of apartheid, and there are no obvious solutions in sight. As always in Africa, things will take time.