When you hear the phrase “children dying of hunger in Africa” it probably sounds stale and without meaning. It has been said a countless of times by parents trying to get their children to clean up their plates, by celebrities acting as representatives for charities, in one of those garish adverts that fails to draw any sympathy from you, and even regurgitated by people who are still unsure if Africa is a country or a continent.
Let me jog your memory, remember one of those days you were commuting from work/school and during your journey you hear your stomach growl and grumble. You feel a weakness descend on you and you salivate when you think of the food stored in your fridge at home. You remember the crispiness of the chicken you’ll buy or the crunchiness of the carrots. Now, imagine you got home and there was no food or you lost that last fiver you were going to use to buy the chicken. You go to bed, but turn and tussle as sleep eludes you, so you sleep late. However, the pangs of hunger awake you hours after and its dawn, you’ll have some cereal maybe but alas there is no milk. You’ll wolf down the cereal dry right? But imagine it was infested with bugs, you’ll probably still eat it.
Now, what if you had an empty cupboard and no money? Even then, you won’t die. It’s only been a day. I have gone without food for three days as part of a religious rite. Now, think about that phrase again “some children die of hunger”. Yet, these children live in a continent that thrives in agriculture, a continent whose farmers produce enough food to feed the continent. A continent rich in scarce resources; oil, gold, rubber, uranium, copper, platinum, tin, diamonds, timber, export-based agriculture, bio-fuels, biodiversity, land.
So then, what indeed is wrong with Africa? Why is the distribution of wealth so imbalanced that a minority live in opulence and a great majority in so much lack, that some starve to death?
When we talk about the many dilemmas plaguing Africa, we compare the natural resources, favourable weather, skilled labour and manpower the continent is blessed with and we conclude the problem is bad governance, mismanagement of funds. We think of the $30 billion in aid donated yearly by first world countries, of all the charities constantly clamouring for donations to Africa. We see aid workers risking their lives and students taking gap years to volunteer in Africa. We see all these.
What we don’t see, however, is the vast resources, calculated at $192 billion yearly, leaving Africa illicitly to Europe and America; $46.3b that leaves Africa each year through the repatriation of profit from multinational companies; $35.3 in tax evasion facilitated through tax havens; $21b in debt repayments often resulting from irresponsible loans; $6b in the loss of skilled workers; $17b in illegal logging; $1.3 in illegal fishing, and the $36.6 imposed cost as a result of climate change.
We neglect to reflect on the incessant exploitation of people and resources, the unfair trade agreements in which multinational companies operate, offering little to no financial retributions to the countries they are based. These companies can pillage Africa of its raw materials, export it to their laboratories, make them into patented products and make millions from it without a single repayment to the country where they are sourced. SR Pharma’s final director Melvyn Davies explains it as; “If you pick up a natural substance from the street, does that mean it belongs to the country in which you found it? [Our researcher] just happened to be in Uganda.” How convenient!
We fail to reason why one of the poorest countries in the world, Niger, is an exporter of Uranium. In 2010, Niger supplied France with a total of 114,346 metric tonnes of uranium, representing an export value of 2.3 trillion CFA francs (over 3.5 million euros). From that sum, Niger was only paid 300 billion CFA francs (approximately 459 million euros), or 13% of the exported value. Or that DR Congo, a country where out of every 100 children, 17 will not reach their 5th birthday, generated a profit of more than 400% for offshore companies with unspecified owners in the British Virgin Islands, by selling mineral rights of 5 mining fields. DRC sustaining a loss of $1.36bn in this deal alone.
Zimbabwean investigative journalist, Stanley Kwenda, also talked about the case of the Marange diamond fields, where though millions are being made from the mining of the field, the community suffers in impoverishment. Stanley Kwenda, expressed dismay at how easy western mercenaries, for a fee, are willing to hide huge sums for corrupt leaders. To raise awareness, he produced the film, How to Rob Africa.
While the aim isn’t to exempt African leaders from all responsibility or excuse their greediness and its detriment to the growth of Africa, it is to draw attention to the West’s culpability to the corrupt practices of African leaders. The billions of dollars stolen from the continent by its leaders are often stashed in western countries. These western mercenaries turn a blind eye to the source of the loot and even erase all traces of the transactions with offshore accounts and disguised business ownerships. It is also common knowledge that these stolen money do not just sit in the bank, they are funnelled into the western economy while the countries these money were stolen from continues to wallow in lack.
The scramble for resources in Africa by Western countries which led to WW1 still continues. As Africa has in olden times aided the west through slavery, colonisation and economic exploitation, it continues to so do at the disadvantage of its citizens. Malachy Postlethwayt, minced no words when he said in 1745: “British trade is a magnificent superstructure of American commerce and naval power on an African foundation.”
Though Beckford experts have estimated Britain’s debt to Africa in trillions of pounds, Drayton concludes that the debt is actually incalculable “for without Africa and its Caribbean plantation extensions, the modern world as we know it would not exist.” This echoes what Jacques Chirac, ex-president of France also confirmed; “we have to be honest and acknowledge that a big part of the money in our banks comes precisely from the exploitation of the African continent. Without Africa France will slide down in the rent of a third world power”, and to add insult to injury, African countries are paying repayment for debts to the Western world. A debt Richard Drayton, of the Guardian, says only exists on paper as the money never left the western world.
The West with its vast array of charities, which in themselves have become a money making scheme, portrays Africa as poor and helpless and gives to it in full view of the world, under flashing camera lights whilst robbing it in secret.
Africa is exactly where the West wants it to be, and “aid” is just a cover up.