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Resources, graft and Africa’s curse

AFRICAN countries have often been accused of turning conferences into talk shops which fail to come up with meaningful policy proposals and resolutions to tackle the myriad of problems bedevilling the continent, including poverty, disease and human rights abuses.

By Herbert Moyo

Throughout the year, different countries on the continent play host to various international gatherings — from the African Union meetings to regional gatherings such as the Sadc summits — and quite often African leaders choose to divert attention from their own shortcomings, while blaming outsiders for their own problems, in the process doing nothing and leaving critical issues unresolved.

Despite having an abundance of resources, solid skills base and a huge market, Africa remains poor due to conflicts, bad governance and mismanagement.

While historical exploitation, exogenous factors like skewed global trade practices and exploitation by big economies are a major factor, internal problems also play a major role in keeping the continent underdeveloped.

Although a number of countries are increasingly becoming democratic on the continent, wars and coups continue in countries like Mali, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), while governance issues are still unresolved in states like Zimbabwe, one of the African countries failing to derive meaningful benefits from its abundance of mineral resources.

Only the powerful and rich are benefitting at the expense of the country and the poor.

Last week, Zimbabwe hosted the 10th Conference of the Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa in Harare, during which State Security minister Sydney Sekeramayi urged African countries to work closely in tightening security across the continent to curb the unbridled plunder of natural resources by Western countries.

“This imperial competition for our resources has, of late, been interfaced with the threat of illegal regime change,” Sekeramayi said. “Africa is at crossroads; either we allow our erstwhile oppressors unfettered access to our natural resources and, thus, face the wrath of this great continent’s future generations, or we grasp the nettle and take full charge of the exploitation of our natural resources.”

Like many other Zanu PF officials, Sekeramayi grabbed the opportunity to ratchet up the party’s stale mantras on sanctions and regime change while appealing for “African solidarity”.

Analysts say while there are external problems retarding development on the continent, some of the issues confronting African countries, including Zimbabwe, are self-inflicted. They say resources are being plundered in countries like Zimbabwe by the ruling elites, including security forces which are supposed to be safeguarding the country’s riches.

Finance minister Tendai Biti last year lamented that Treasury’s revenue targets were not met partly because diamond proceeds fell far short of projections.

Political analyst Godwin Phiri says: “One needs to look no further than the security forces and Zanu PF chefs working in cahoots with corrupt foreign interests, particularly from China, to see who is plundering Zimbabwe’s resources while the economy receives little or no benefits”.

Phiri’s claims are supported by Global Witness whose 2012 report, titled Financing a Parallel Government: The Involvement of the Secret Police and Military in Zimbabwe’s Diamond, Cotton and Property Sectors, fingered the security forces, including the army, police and Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), in shady dealings in the diamond, cotton and property sectors.

Global Witness alleged the CIO received millions from Hong Kong businessman Sam Pa as well as 200 Nissan pick-up vehicles in exchange for resource exploitation opportunities.

“In return, Sam Pa received diamonds and accessed business opportunities in the cotton and property development sectors,” reads the report.

A Canadian campaign group, Partnership Africa Canada, also recently said at least US$2 billion worth of diamonds have been stolen from the Marange diamond fields with most of the money allegedly enriching Zanu PF leaders and their cronies.

Marange fields have seen “the biggest plunder of diamonds since Cecil Rhodes”, the colonial magnate who exploited South Africa’s Kimberley diamonds a century ago, charged Partnership Africa Canada, a member of the Kimberley Process, the world regulatory body on diamond trade.

Marange fields — one of the world’s biggest diamond deposits — has been mined since 2006 and its vast earnings could have turned around Zimbabwe’s economy, battered by years of meltdown and political turmoil, the group said.

Zimbabwe also continues to lose out on real benefits from its resources due to badly negotiated and secretive mining agreements entered into by the cash-strapped government with foreigners, analysts say.

Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association (Zela), which has been monitoring developments in the mining sector, says lack of transparency in the Zimplats and Zisco-Essar deals, for instance, illustrates the problem of shady dealings.

“It is surprising that contract negotiation has remained the preserve of a few individuals at times without the competency to craft good mining deals for the country,” Zela said.

Zela’s assertions were supported by Kambuzuma MP Willias Madzimure who demanded legislators to be involved in negotiations with potential investors to prevent corruption by ministers who give away Zimbabwe’s precious natural resources for kick-backs.

Analysts say Sekeramayi and fellow government ministers would also do well to examine malpractices by companies from other African states involved in resource extraction in Zimbabwe.

Findings by Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARC) investigating corporate governance and social responsibility of South African mining companies in five African countries, including Zimbabwe, shows the plunder of resources and failure to uplift ordinary people’s lives is rampant on the continent.

Reads the SARC 2010 report: “It is clear that South African companies are not behaving any differently from Western and Asian companies, making a mockery of the African Renaissance (touted by former South African president Thabo Mbeki.)

“South African mining companies are taking advantage of regional governments’ weak legislation framework and lack of capacity to monitor the development agreements to disregard some of the most basic human rights.”

While South African companies have not been good corporate citizens, Zimbabwe’s security forces, apart from pillaging Marange, were accused of looting DRC resources during their involvement in the country’s war from 1998 to 2002.

In Sierra Leone and Liberia, former Liberian president Charles Taylor abused the two countries’ diamond resources to fund civil wars in both countries. Taylor was subsequently found guilty of crimes against humanity using proceeds from “blood diamonds”.

Nigeria is Africa’s biggest crude oil exporter yet the country is forced to import 85% of its fuel because of failure to develop its own refining capacity, partly as a result of corrupt government officials who allegedly receive kick-backs from multinational oil companies for stakes in the lucrative industry.

Over the years, different ethnic groups have been locked in violent clashes to control the huge oil reserves. Thousands of lives have been lost, including those of famous author Ken Saro Wiwa and nine others who were executed on the orders of former military ruler, the late Sani Abacha, in 1996.

Analysts also say that while the West has a well-documented history of human rights violations and plunder of African resources, Zimbabwe and other African countries should accept their own shortcomings and stop playing the blame game.

Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya said: “There is need for introspection to come up with policies that ensure that Zimbabwe adopts policy frameworks that benefit the generality of the population, not just a few elites.”

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