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Bond, Patrick & Sharife, Khadija (2012) Bangui to BRICS: if you carve Africa, Africa may carve you too. Eye on Civil Society : -.

Saturday’s combat deaths of more than a dozen SA National Defense Force troops were in vain: not in support of African democracy, for François Bozizé was such an embarrassingly awful dictator that not even France made an attempt to prop him up. Tragically, the troops were defending counterproductive, repressive military investments and potential mining businesses, as deputy foreign minister Ebrahim Ebrahim let on in a recent interview with Daily Maverick explaining their deployment in the Central African Republic.

This wretched Resource Curse reminder is stark, alongside the ongoing socio-economic and environmental chaos in Marikana’s platinum mines and Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields. Hopefully, the awful news from Bangui was a wake-up call to BRICS heads of state. Will they perhaps now clear their heads and contemplate the extractive-industry crises they are amplifying, hand-in-glove with the 15 African leaders meeting at Zimbali later today?

At Zimbali, by coincidence, Robert Mugabe is apparently putting finishing touches on a glorious mansion, maybe for his coming voluntary retirement. And might that precedent explain the BRICS delegation detour to the gated community far north of the city, quickly passing the ‘brics-from-below’ protest outside the Hilton hotel at lunchtime today, followed by their evening return to the International Convention Centre?

The likes of Ugandan tyrant Yoweri Musuveni will have a chance to check out the local real estate market for a future nightmare scenario when Arab Spring-type democratic revolts succeed. Two years ago, after Ugandans were inspired by Egyptians at Tahrir Square, Museveni outlawed organized walking-to-work – the favoured Kampala protest tactic – and his militarization of the territory now under oil exploration is the predictable precursor for Resource Cursed Uganda.

At Marange in eastern Zimbabwe, members of Mugabe’s closest faction – including defense minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, army commander Constantine Chiwenga and others running the junta known as the Joint Operations Command – are allied with a Shanghai company via a joint venture known as Anjin, which allows the Chinese to run a tight labour regime (paying unskilled workers just $180/month), while the military manages overall security.

Billions of dollars worth of Marange diamonds have already been extracted, with only a tiny trickle flowing back to the finance ministry in Harare. Chiwenga’s many trips to China sealed military deals including a recently launched $100 million army training school as well as arms purchases that everyone hopes are not used in coming weeks, as the national election approaches.

Meanwhile, with Johannesburg hosting the 10th anniversary of the Kimberley Process for corporate social responsibility in the diamond trade next month, we cannot forget how SA’s policy manager – and former dealer – Abbey Chikane shamed the country a few years ago by colluding in the five-week arrest (and torture) of UKZN PhD student Farai Maguwu, who in Mutare near Marange has been watchdogging the diamond trade and winning Human Rights Watch awards for his bravery.

Said Ian Smillie, a key architect of the Kimberley Process, “We don’t know where all the [Marange] diamonds went that were approved by Abbey Chikane. Chikane was a mistake on several levels. He was closely allied with the Government of South Africa, which had demonstrated a pathological inability to be critical of Zimbabwe’s horrendous human rights abuse in Marange. And he has extensive personal business interests in the Southern African diamond industry that should have disqualified him from the outset.”

Similar resource cursing spreads easily from diamonds – actually, starting back in 1867 – to platinum. In recent days, at the Farlam Commission hearings into the Marikana massacre, more Lonmin connections to the SA Police murderers have been revealed via emails from African National Congress deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa.

It all reeks of the crony-capitalism that we fear when BRICS heads of state and corporate interests crowd into the same Durban International Convention Centre hallways yesterday and today, with Pretoria’s foreign minister bureaucrats explicitly excluding civil society from attending.

In a debate on SAfm’s Forum talk show yesterday morning, SA BRICS Ambassador Anil Sukla even acknowledged Pretoria’s refusal to send a lowly representative to the brics-from-below civil society conference at Diakonia church, just a few minutes away from the BRICS meeting. Requests to participate in BRICS deliberations made over prior weeks by social movements, NGOs and even major trade unions were swatted away by Suklal’s colleagues – yet big business has pride of place inside.

That leaves BRICS and business to quietly plan the further looting of Africa with their 15 guests from up-continent. But subsidized funding is needed because banks know there are risks – like the SANDF troops just suffered.

To facilitate, the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) is lining up to play a crucial role, perhaps even to host the BRICS Bank, led by former chief spy Mo Shaik of its subsidiary Development Bank International. More than R7 billion was authorized for DBSA recapitalization last month in Pravin Gordhan’s budget, in the wake of the DBSA’s R390 million loss in part due to gambling in mining concerns like Ramaphosa’s Shanduka last year.

The pro-privatisation DBSA has, in recent weeks, been firing most of its social and environmental staff and shut down its development journal and library. Its record of infrastructure investment – including commercialized water and toll-roads like Gauteng’s – are not good for people or the planet. Expect the BRICS Bank’s subsidized rail, road and port credits to lubricate more multinational corporate extraction.

But as Bangui shows, when these elites carve up Africa, the backlash can be brutual. A different way is needed: with more respect for societies and nature than for corporate profits.

Patrick Bond and Khadija Sharife are based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society.

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