||On December 3, Time magazine’s ‘Africa Rising’ cover story pronounced, “Africa owes its takeoff to a variety of accelerators, nearly all of them external and occurring in the past 10 years:
• billions of dollars in aid, especially to fight HIV/AIDS and malaria;
• tens of billions of dollars in foreign-debt cancellations;
• a concurrent interest in Africa’s natural resources, led by China; and
• the rapid spread of mobile phones, from a few million in 2000 to more than 750 million today.”
As 2012 closes with the world economy heading into a ‘double dip’, a reality check is sorely needed. For Africa owes its economic decline to a variety of accelerators, nearly all of them external and occurring in the past centuries during which slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism locked in the continent’s underdevelopment, but several of which – along with climate change – were amplified in recent years:
• stagnant overseas development aid – around 60 percent of which is ‘phantom’, anyhow – to most African countries (except to 14 ‘fragile states’), with Washington making further cuts in funding to fight HIV/AIDS and malaria;
• notwithstanding foreign debt cancellation (of what was mainly unrepayable ‘Odious’ loans to dictators) in 2005, a squeeze was quickly put on low-income African finance ministries that in turn actually caused a dramatic rise in debt repayments (from 5 to 8 percent of export earnings);
• a concurrent looting of Africa’s natural resources, led by China and the West, resulting in the continent’s fast-declining mineral and petroleum wealth; and
• the high costs of telephony and low internet connectivity have done very little to solve the digital divide.
Everything argued by Time’s Africa correspondent, Rick Perry, is dubious. Moreover, Perry neglects to add, capital flight from Africa continues to outpace aid and investment, amounting to an estimated $1.4 trillion in capital flight from 1970-2010, according to a recent study by University of Massachusetts economists Leonce Ndikumana and James Boyce.
Indeed, Sub-Saharan Africa is losing a net 6 percent of gross national income each year thanks to the Resource Curse. This World Bank calculation is a correction of Gross Domestic Product, which measures raw materials stripped from the soil as once-off credits to GDP. More appropriately, we should consider them as debits: the decline in ‘natural capital’ available to future generations, because the minerals and petroleum are non-renewable.
According to the Bank’s 2011 book The Changing Wealth of Nations – from where the 6 percent figure comes – even South Africa’s annual ‘adjusted net savings’ was negative R2150 per person in 2005 (the last available data). In contrast, the wealth of resource-based countries Canada and Australia soared because extraction is done largely by home-grown companies that reinvest and return profits to local shareholders. Most of the extractive corporations operating in SA send profits to London, New York, Melbourne and Toronto.
In most Afro-optimist reports, information about the role of these firms in causing the African Resource Curse is scarce. To illustrate, other telling quotes Time used last week are from the inimitable Bob Geldof: “The continent has 60% of the world’s unused arable land. As Geldof says, ‘In the end, we all have to go to Africa. They have what we need.’ And it is in that second scramble for Africa that the continent’s best hopes lie, because if the first scramble for Africa – as historians dubbed the period from the 1870s to 1900 – was a European imperialist carve-up, the second should leave Africa as the big winner.”
More likely, Africans will be the big losers of a BRICS sub-imperialist carve-up of the continent’s land, minerals and hydrocarbons. More likely, Durban in March 2013 and subsequent BRICS summits will resemble, economically, the political deals of Berlin in 1885. “They have what we need” says it all.
Moreover, with climate change causing only a 2 degree average warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that Africa’s crop revenue will fall by 90 percent by 2100. Already 400 000 die from climate change each year, and Christian Aid estimates that 185 millon Africans will perish this century. As the Doha COP18 and Durban COP17 and every other climate gathering shows, those with power from Washington and Brussels to Beijing and Pretoria don’t really care. Time’s praise for ‘Africa Rising’ doesn’t mention climate change even in passing.
However so as to not end in despair, it is also crucial to recall growing evidence of Africa uprising, from Egypt and Tunisia, to Senegal and Nigeria, to Kenya and Uganda, to the militant poor and working people of southern African. Using business polling data gathered even before Marikana, the Davos World Economic Forum’s 2012-2013 World Competitiveness Report assessed SA workers as the most militant anywhere, compared to 143 competitors. It is the intensity of these Africans’ critique of status quo political economy – and perhaps, soon, a growing breadth and depth, as strike committees fuse with community groups and environmentalists to transcend South Africa’s fabled popcorn protests – that provide the only real hope for a durable rising by a very oppressed continent’s peoples.
Patrick Bond directs the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society.