Resource extraction: The new Scramble for Africa

This is the third instalment of a series of articles of the introductory part of a book, Rethinking and Unthinking Development in Africa, by the two scholars.

Busani Mpofu & Sabelo J Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Academics

Western rationality must be rethought. (Chabal 2012: 335). Therefore, trying to reform the development ideologies, but from within the confines of mainstream neoliberal ideologies, is very problematic. Ideologies cloned from mainstream neoliberal ideologies fail to confront present structural and agential sources of social injustices, asymmetrical power structures, patriarchal ideologies, logics of capitalist exploitation, resilient imperial/colonial reason, and racist articulations and practices (McNally 2005; Santos 2008).
In this volume, we argue that racism, the slave trade, imperialism, colonialism, apartheid, and neocolonialism do not only constitute global coloniality as a modern power structure, but are also manifestations of the “dark side/underside” of modernity (Mignolo 1995, 2011, 2012). As Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1986: 2) argued, African predicaments are “often not a matter of personal choice”, but are a product of a “historical situation”. Africans do not yet have a choice to choose the type of economy they prefer. Ngugi wa Thiong’o identified imperialism and colonialism as well as neo-colonialism not as mere slogans, but “real”. This meant that if the problems of development arose from a historical situation and were structural, then “their solutions are not so much a matter of personal decision as that of fundamental social transformation of the structures of our societies starting with a real break with imperialism and its internal ruling allies. Imperialism and its comprador alliances in Africa can never develop the continent” (Ngugi wa Thiong’o 1986: xii). This structuralist decolonial argument provokes the question of possibilities and potentialities of African people being able to create African futures within a modern world system structured by global coloniality.
Even after the entry of China, Russia, Brazil and India into the African market, which has boosted the sale of primary commodities, Africa is still forced to celebrate an economic growth that is premised on a problematic “intensification of resource extraction through diversification of partners, while inequality and unemployment increase and de-industrialisation continues apace” (Taylor 2014: 160).
China’s presence in Southern Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa) gained prominence through its support to liberation movements in the region from the 1960s and the construction of the Tazara railway in the 1970s (Moyo 2016: 59). Its presence has increased in Africa since 2001, when the Chinese economy grew sharply and its demand for raw materials increased (Moyo 2016: 61). Today its presence is more visible in those countries with extensive energy resources, which it is increasingly extracting (Moyo 2016: 59).
New Chinese small and medium-scale commercial enterprises have also become active players in the construction of new infrastructures, including the rehabilitation of new roads, railways, dams, stadiums, office complexes and so on (Moyo 2016: 62). Chinese leader Xi Jinping committed to a new round of loans and aid totalling US$60 billion in 2015, with a large portion of the funds directed at South African infrastructure, Zimbabwean projects and other initiatives (Wengraf 2017).
In Zimbabwe, while Chinese companies have invested in mining chrome, diamonds and platinum, South African, American and British companies remain the dominant investors in these minerals in Southern Africa. South African supermarkets are also becoming a dominant commercial force in Africa in general (Moyo 2016: 62). However, in spite the involvement of China, industrialisation has failed to gain any momentum in much of Africa (Wengraf 2017).
According to Moyo (2016: 59), China’s presence is viewed from three perspectives. The first is that China is recolonising Africa. The second view sees China’s presence in Africa favourably in the global arena, with the diversification of markets and its presence as an emerging power providing room for manoeuvre for African states, which have been marginalised by Eurocentric domination for longer periods. Third, China’s presence in Africa is viewed as a “sub-imperial/force leading the new scramble for African resources hand in hand with the Eurocentric-American capitalism” (Moyo 2016: 59).
For Moyo, while China has become influential in Africa through trade, investments and geopolitical relations, it is far from being a hegemonic recoloniser (2016: 58). Stephen Marks (2006) argued that for China, Africa represented a key source of raw materials and a market for cheap Chinese-made products. As a result, Moeletsi Mbeki labelled the trade relations between South Africa and China “a replay of the old story of South Africa’s trade with Europe”.
According to Marks (2006), Mbeki noted that the selling of raw materials to China and importing their manufactured goods resulted in an unfavourable balance of trade against South Africa. In March 2018, Chinese companies topped the list of businesses entities that were identified by President Emmerson Mnangagwa as “looters” who illegally externalised foreign currency from Zimbabwe (Share 2018). Therefore, any development in Africa based on the intensification of resource extraction by diverse powers, whether European, North American, Brazilian, Indian, Chinese or Russian, rather than industrialisation is simply a manifestation of the coloniality of markets, which is at the centre of capitalism and is driving the new scramble for African resources today (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2015: 35).
The tragedy is that those who have been advocating empowerment of the poor or the distribution of the world’s riches also indirectly support the reproduction of neo-colonial power relations (Banda 2004: 99). It is clear that African intellectuals need to come up with policies and trajectories that can be implemented easily. Perhaps development prospects for African countries may lie in initiatives anchored by some form of an African modernity.
The challenge is how Africa can adapt some Western development models to suit its political, economic, social and cultural circumstances. If successful, while they would make Africa very much more Western in most respects, perhaps like Japan or China, they will not be lacking in distinctiveness and will certainly not be following self-interested advice from Western sources of mainstream technocratic approaches (Easterly 2007).
For example, the AU’s Agenda 2063 envisions an African future that emphasises pan-African unity, integration, prosperity and peace. Africans have to drive the processes of self-improvement unencumbered by external forces that want to maintain the status quo. While global coloniality works through the division and atomisation of Africans, the AU has identified pan-Africanism as the overarching ideological framework for unity, self-reliance, integration and solidarity (African Union 2013).
Before gaining political independence from colonial rule, Africa’s political leaders often embraced the panAfrican ideal, unifying all people of African descent to drive out colonial rulers (Hart and Padayachee 2010: 423). In 2006, the AU conference issued the “Livingstone Call for Action”, which emphasised that every African country should have social programmes, “including the social pension and social transfers to vulnerable children, older pensions and people with disabilities” (Hanlon et al. 2010: 2). This was perhaps after the increasing realisation of the failure of the belief that low-income countries should focus on market-based economic growth in order to grow before they could “start redistributing wealth and combating poverty”.
Equity and social protection are now accepted as crucial pre-requisites to growth and development (Hanlon et al. 2010: 143). However, South Africa has a complicated history of relations within the southern African region. Since 1994, Africans in South Africa’s “rainbow” nation have been hostile to their African neighbours that supported them in the struggle against apartheid (Hart and Padayachee 2010: 412, 413).
According to Hart and Padayachee (2010: 420), under the ANC, South Africa has increased, rather than reduced, the sense of division between its own citizens and the many Africans who emigrate there to live and work. Social movements in the country do not possess a broader vision of Africa’s emancipation comparable to pan-African resistance to colonial empire, which was the most inclusive political movement in the first half of the 20th Century (Hart and Padayachee 2010: 412). As a result, there have been tight restrictions on the movement of people, goods and money within Sadc, with South Africa restricting the entry into its relatively more developed economy (Hart and Padayachee 2010: 412–13).
Currently, visas are still required for travel between many Sadc countries, and a plethora of bilateral deals and tariff barriers prevent the establishment of any meaningful economic co-operation or community. This is in spite of the attempted revival of the pan-African impulse that former president Thabo Mbeki supported through his African renaissance ideas. However, on the ground, African communities have since colonial times perfected clandestine patterns of transborder movement and exchange, which persist despite their rulers’ attempts to force the economy and society into national boundaries (Hart and Padayachee 2010: 423–25).
Ferguson (2015: xi) now believes that simply “giving” money directly to the poor could yield better results in terms of reducing poverty than spending development project funds on Land Cruisers and foreign consultants. In his book Give a Man a Fish: Reflections on the New Politics of Distribution, he focuses on the rise of social welfare programmes across Southern Africa through which governments have adopted non-contributory social protection schemes transferring small amounts of cash to the elderly, disabled and women caring for children.
Citing South Africa, which has led the way in this, Ferguson noted that by 2013, more than 30% of the entire population received the monthly cash payments from the national government (2015: 5). He believes that this is a “quiet revolution” in development practice in the Global South, where capitalism has rendered a growing percentage of the population chronically unemployed (Ferguson 2015: 5).
Traditional (industrial capitalist-based) development initiatives that sought to prepare people to work have not yielded the desired results in the economies of the Global South, where many people are not in formal employment. Ferguson thus believes that the social welfare grant in South Africa could be the firm basis upon which the radical proposal circulating in South Africa and Namibia that every member of society should receive a basic income grant (BIG) without reference to their age, gender, employment and family configuration could be implemented. He believes that this could be the basis of the “new politics of distribution” that he is proposing (2015: xii).
The cash transfer programmes are not unique to Southern Africa, as they have been implemented in Latin American countries. Hanlon et al. (2010: 1) characterised the cash payment transfers as a “development revolution from the global South” that pointed to “a wave of new thinking” rooted in the conviction that “it is better to give money to poor people directly so that they can find effective ways to escape from poverty” (Ferguson 2015: 13).
Mpofu is a senior researcher at AMRI, College of Graduate Studies, University of South Africa. His main research interests include Third World urbanisation and the history of African cities, urban poverty, inclusive development, development discourse and theory. His publications include The Urban Land Question, Land Reform and the Spectre of Extrajudicial Land Occupations in South Africa, Africa Insight (2017) and The Land Question, Agriculture, Industrialisation and the Economy in Zimbabwe: A Critical Reflection, in O Akanle and JOT Adesisa (eds), Development of Africa: Issues, Diagnoses and Prognoses (2018). Ndlovu-Gatsheni is the acting executive director of Change Management Unit (CMU), vice-chancellor’s office at the University of South Africa. He has published extensively in African history, African politics, and development. His major publications include The Ndebele Nation: Reflections on Hegemony, Memory and Historiography (2009); Do ‘Zimbabweans’ Exist? Trajectories of Nationalism, National Identity Formation and Crisis in a Post-colonial State (2009); Redemptive or Grotesque Nationalism? Rethinking Contemporary Politics in Zimbabwe (2011); Empire, Global Coloniality and African Subjectivity (2013); Coloniality of Power in Post-colonial Africa: Myths of Decolonisation (2013); Nationalism and National Projects in Southern Africa: New Critical Reflections (2013); and Bondage of Boundaries and Identity Politics in Postcolonial Africa: The ‘Northern Problem’ and Ethno-Futures (2013).