The Plight Of Africa’s Resources Muffled In Crusts Of Croaking Whispers
Oh Aridon, bring back my wealth from rogue vaults/legendary witness of comings and goings/memory god my mentor.
This winning poem by Nigerian poet Tanure Ojaide in the BBC Africa poetry competition, published in the book Fate of Vultures ( Heinemann 1989), sums up the feeling of African helplessness in the face of unrelenting plunder of its natural resources.
It took the death of the gallant Ken Saro Wiwa and a group of courageous activists to draw global attention to the despoliation of the Niger Delta to the benefit of others. It ended tragically. Shell Oil Company went to the Military government of Sani Abacha, Saro Wiwa's fellow African and countryman.
With speed and alacrity, Abacha rounded up Saro Wiwa and his group of eight, arraigned them before a kangaroo military tribunal, and hanged them on. The date of their murder was 10 November 1995. It has been the tale of a continent; recycled, edited, played and replayed. The African child has suffered serious consequences.
Many will wonder how many millions ended up in the offshore accounts of Sani Abacha and his gang. That money belonging to the Nigerian people is being used to develop Europe, and further recycled to bribe more traitors to assist in impoverishing the continent. Needless to say various half hearted attempts to recover the cash from rogue vaults have officially been fruitless. Where will it all end?
An audit of African resources is long overdue. Its proper geological survey and mapping is a matter of urgency. After all if you can't measure it, you can't control it. There are estimates that Africa has 10% of the world's known reserves of oil, 40% of its gold , gas, plenty of ferro alloys, coal and diamonds as well as 80 to 90% of the chromium and the platinum metal group. It is a catalyst for wars and conflict fuelled by greed.
The value of Africa's natural resources, in the trillions of dollars, dwarf other sources of capital such as remittances and aid. Yet sub-saharan Africa remains the poorest in the world.
Many years later, after Saro Wiwa, 70% of Nigerians still live on less than $1 a day and Shell is still making super profits. Equatorial Guinea, which has a major oil deal with ExxonMobil, got to keep a mere 12% of the oil revenues in the first year of its contract, according to a report on the CBS news programme 60 Minutes — a share so low it would have been scandalous even at the height of colonial oil pillage.
Sub-Saharan Africa also is the most profitable investment destination. It offers, according to the World Bank's 2003 Global Development Finance report, “the highest returns on foreign direct investment of any region in the world”. Africa is poor because its investors and its creditors are so incredibly rich.
Predation or the rule of the jungle lies at the heart of every anti-colonial struggle in history, before and after the Boston Tea Party when The United States of America got rid of the suffocating tentacles of Britain. In modern times international rule of law becomes a weapon. It comes in the form of “ free trade” and countless skewed trade agreements, informed by power relations.
Predation has its philosophical underpinnings and mutations. Neo-liberalism, as an ideology is so powerful it tries to pass itself off as “modernity” and as “the international community” while its true intention is the defence of ill gotten gains and self -interest.
THE MUGABE STORY
The vilification of Dr Robert Mugabe with false narratives, false imagery and economic sanctions is not without historical perspectives. Once contextualized with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher's resolute opposition to sanctions during South Africa's apartheid era, the picture becomes clearer. The argument against sanctions then was that it was going to hurt the blacks. So why are they hurting the Blacks in Zimbabwe now? It begs the question:
“Do Britain and America so love black people in Zimbabwean that they will commit much energy and resources to undermine Dr ( Sir) Robert Mugabe? And why was sanctions in apartheid times a bad idea because it was going to hurt blacks, while sanctions against Zimbabwe is a good idea?”
And the question that must be posed to Africans everywhere is “ Whose side are you on?”. The kindred spirits of Shell/Sani Abacha, or Ken Saro Wiwa/Ogoni eight? And why have African countries in whose interest Mugabe is setting a great precedent not rallied around to help Zimbabwe, same as African countries like Zimbabwe did for South Africa?
The African elder statesman, who has seen it all, shared his rich experience for posterity. Officially opening the Conference of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa ( Cissa) in Harare, May 2013, he called for the beneficiation of natural resources to increase value and to support industrialisation.
The man who fathered the notion of reconciliation with his Lancaster house agreement, long before the release of Nelson Mandela was contemplated, adds. "It is time for Africa to be proactive in using her resources for her developmental objectives bearing in mind that African resources have, hitherto, been predominantly foreign-owned and exploited with little benefit to Africans. "
The conference, running under the theme "The nexus between Africa's Natural Resources, Development and Security," comes at a time when Zimbabwe's implementation of resource nationalism has angered Westerners who were only deterred from invasion by the country's security reputation.
DEFENDING OUR OWN
Cissa was mooted in the wake of Zimbabwe's interception of a plane-load of mercenaries who were on their way to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea to depose the government of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema on March 7 2001 in the wake of discoveries of massive oil reserves off the Gulf of Guinea.
This sent everyone in intelligence services in Africa, rethinking closer co-operation culminating in the formation of Cissa in Abuja, Nigeria, on August 26 2004, bringing together intelligence and security services from 49 AU member-states.
Cissa's aims and objectives include assisting the AU and specifically the Peace and Security Commission to effectively deal with security challenges confronting the continent.
The coup attempt was spectacularly nipped in the bud. Since then we have heard numerous false narratives of what a terrible person Teodoro Obiang Nguema is.
Mugabe is in no doubt that "If we arrest the scourge of conflicts, a bright future for Africa becomes a reality as the necessary tranquil environment will then obtain. Consequently, Africa will be fully capable of exploiting her own resources for developmental purposes”
Estimations are that Africa loses US$18 billion per annum through conflicts often backed by the same people who further gain from arms sales
The continent loses even more if we factor in resources siphoned out by erstwhile colonisers during times of military conflict, as well as the loss of human capital, as skilled manpower is sometimes constrained to seek seemingly greener pastures abroad.
Mugabe has urged African countries to unite in resolving their domestic affairs without outside interference adding "Accountability should be the ultimate phase towards Africa's self-interpretation in the broad trajectory of charting our Pan-African destiny" .
Is Mugabe right or wrong? Or is Africa fearful.
The conference was also attended by the Deputy Director General for International Cooperation in the Ministry of State Security of the People's Republic of China Mr Liu Yang and representatives from Italy, Portugal and the United Arab Emirate.
WINNING THE FUTURE
There has been plenty of talk in Africa about good governance, transparency and accountability. It is extremely important. So is African unity underpinned by a strong pan- African philosophy. An African- centered education, curriculum and books should permeate the educational system, so that African children don't fall into the same traps.
Lack of proper statistics and information and bad contracts should be a thing of the past. Good contracts should be designed that allow for contingent events, and must be founded on a well designed tax system. How Western countries deal with their resources should be a template. What is good for the goose is also good for the gander.
The issue of contractual expertise is fundamental, preferably both in a colonial and an African language. And there is no reason why the transcripts and outcome of deliberations on contractual agreements can't be posted online, or videotaped to be posted online? There is also no reason why a nation's audited accounts can't follow suit. After all corruption and dark deeds thrive in dark places.
LESSONS FROM HISTORY
Treaties and contracts are old colonial tricks working in tandem with force and coercion. During the scramble for Africa, Ethiopia in the 19th century was wise enough to have an Amharic version of the Treaty of Wuchale, a co-operation agreement signed with Italy.
Strangely the Italian version made Ethiopia a protectorate of Italy, completely different from the Amharic version. The Italians then decided to enforce their version. The ensuing war to colonise Ethiopia resulted in a crushing defeat of Italy at the battle of Adwa ( 1895-96). Italy subsequently had to pay indemnities to Ethiopia.
The war was won because Emperor Menelik 11 understood the importance of having his language version of contracts and most decisively he convinced all the rival Princes ( Ras) to unite under his leadership. They contributed 100 000 troops to defeat the invaders. It is a great argument for African unity.
In modern times wars will be fought with superior knowledge and technology, both economically and militarily. Is there any doubt as to where Africa's resources should be invested?
And what will be the use of resources if Africa cannot use them and trade them amongst one another, and be able to control the price. OPEC has demonstrated what can be achieved by organisation, resolve, and proper investment of resources that has made a desert now called Dubai, an international destination.
THE CONFIDENCE FACTOR
The biblical story goes that, Peter was able to walk on water when Jesus told him to do. But when he saw the boisterous winds he was afraid, and he began to doubt. And when he began to doubt he began to sink.
Whether you are a Christian or not, the story iillustrates the disproportionate value of confidence in everything we do? With confidence comes self respect, and respect for one another. It dispels fear, the boisterous winds.
A long oppressed African does not have confidence in himself and other Africans . And it becomes a self fulfilling prophesy. The institutions left in place by the colonialists were designed to perpetuate self serving interests and subjugation including the British commonwealth and Francophone arrangements.
How to dismantle neo-colonialism is another war that must be fought.
Up till today the European slave trade is called the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Africans who bore the brunt have not had the temerity to call a spade a spade, and not a big spoon. The truth is that Europeans were trading Africans as goods, with their kith and kin in the Americas.
When a certain modern day robber called Michael Mann, in cahoots with Sir Mark Thatcher, son of Margaret Thatcher ventured into Africa on their way that fateful night to plunder Equatorial Guinea, the fearless Robert Mugabe had the confidence to intercept Michael Mann and put him in jail , complete with prison garb and shackles, and on equal terms with local criminals. That should be the fate of vultures.
Across the border in South Africa, the Son of Thatcher, the brain behind the plot to steal milk from African children was given a measly fine and allowed to go home. The South African print and broadcast media went ballistics on the bad Mugabe who had captured innocent miners on their way to mines in the DRC.
Tanure Ojaide concludes with a supplication to the gods of Africa: Blaze an ash trail to the hands/that buried mountains in their bowels/lifted crates of cash into their closets...... they live/in the prison houses of their crimes and wives/ And when they die, of course/Only their kind, shower praises on vultures.
Pusch Commey is a Ghanaian-born Writer and Barrister based in Johannesburg. He is also an Associate Editor of the London based New African Magazine. His bestselling book 100 Great African Kings and Queens, that chronicles ancestral pride is available on www.amazon.com, and all major online bookshops.