Con Artists: Deception, deception and more deception

The typical con artist of the 21st Century is a puppet organisation whose employees have important sounding job titles, wear suits, have well manicured fingernails and sport pricey haircuts. None of that amateurish I have a gun give me your money or I’ll blow out your brains twaddle.

This morning, I found myself reading a hilarious article that suggested that the World Bank (of all the neoliberal outfits out there) was fronting some initiative designed to help Africa in preventing pricing irregularities of its minerals, in the process saving the continent billions of dollars?

Yeah, essentially that’s what it says…which is… how do I put it….dishonest, or at least not entirely truthful, if one is to be mild-mannered.

Yes, it will be good for people to know the actual price of their country’s minerals, but who exactly are we talking about here. Aren’t the prices of commodities evident and freely available to the public on international markets? Aren’t the people working in Natural resource departments of government agencies somewhat a bit more savvy (and knowledgeable) than the local man on the street? All you need is a computer (or even a mobile phone) and an internet connection. Don’t tell me government ministries of natural resources across Africa don’t have access to an internet connection to enable them to check the price of Platinum or Rare Earth Minerals on the international market…or are too incompetent to do so?

Which is why I think this initiative is merely a distraction. Having a map of your country’s natural resources and the cost thereof doesn’t immediately translate into physical or tangible gains. It doesn’t mean that you, the native, controls, owns or has the real benefit of those natural resources. Or does it?

At the most this is a PR stunt designed to mislead, a nefarious ploy to distract the people’s attention from the unfair, unethical and illegal state of play, where African resources are owned and exploited by foreign corporations who have no interest whatsoever in improving the lives of African people. It’s purpose in my view is simply to provide an illusion that something is being done, when the fact remains that nothing of any real substance is being done. It’s as hollow as announcing to the world that the UN is considering a resolution against Switzerland and other Tax Havens, to stop them receiving illicit funds from third world / developing countries, and then doing absolutely nothing else other than that annoucement….no action, zero! Meaningless.

So, you can mineral map the whole world if you like, but the locals in third world countries will still remain deeply afflicted by poverty, often going without, or with very little; there will continue to be poor or non-existent healthcare facilities, hunger and disease will continue to run amok, corruption will remain high, wars will tear the landscape and displace millions … as in the backdrop, an alliance of tycoons and wealthy billionaires multiply their wealth – their catalyst, a resource that should be owned by Africans, and yet isn’t.

How many African companies have contracts to mine minerals in North America? How many have contracts for oil extraction in the North Sea, or off the coast of Australia? What percentage of Canadians own Multimillion dollar companies registered in Canada? Similarly, what Percentage of Nigerian/ South Africans / Malawians own multimillion dollar companies in their own countries? Those are the questions the World bank or indeed any serious commentator should be asking, because addressing the disproportionate imbalances or anomalies in those questions is what has a far higher potential to reverse capital flight from Africa and third world countries. That’s what has a higher chance of improving the plight of the people of Africa. Not mineral mapping…or some silly PR stunt.

It can never be right, whether you have a mineral map or not, no amount of sugar-coating or window dressing will ever put that unfair state of play right. The truth is there has been a clearly indisputable economic unfair advantage gained by western countries (helped by wars, bad policies and stupid African leaders), and something serious must be done to reverse and rebalance the playing field. Half-hearted deceptive stunts fronted by agents of the neoliberal right will only harm the little sincere good that others are currently working on.

If you really want to know what this is all about, the ending of the article itself says it all:

BDs2

 

Imagine an African continent…” – Kofi Annan

Among the comments underneath the video on YouTube are:

1. “I want to be optimistic but judging from the butt licking seen at a recent Africa Business Forum (held in Dubai), I can assure you the African has a long way to go. It’s about change of mindset. Nobody is interested in HELPING you, they want your RESOURCES stupid! I almost plucked my lashes on hearing Prime Ministers, Ministers and top African leaders trashing each other and worshiping foreign. Over 50+ years after independence, you still cannot put your house in order! African Union my foot!”

2. “I wish this message is played over over in the bedrooms of these insensitive leaders in Africa.”

and

3. “Bless u Papa”

The issue Annan addresses is one that is critical to Africa’s economic development. Africa will not develop if African leaders are squandering African resources. If they are giving away Africa’s riches liberally. It appears like few African leaders ever question whether the contracts they sign with investors are truly in the country’s best interest. Do they ask third-parties for comment, or solicit views from across the country? Is there even a consultation?

Remember my observations here, about ENI which has been given a 70% interest in a Natural Gas finding off the coast of Mozambique? That’s precisely the unwise decisions which Annan refers to. Surely, there is little justification in giving away such a large interest, when Mozambique has more need for such resources which are essential to help it in eradicating poverty. Mozambique could have bought the required equipment and done the appraisal or exploration themselves. In the current global economic crisis, where jobs are scarce, I’m not convinced that anyone would have struggled to find the right talent, with the right experience to do the job to a satisfactory level of competence. In any case, no Mozambican (or African) company is likely to ever be awarded such a large interest in a natural resource in Italy (or indeed in Europe, America, or in Asia).

It’s simply not going to happen, and the Italians would never allow their government such obtuse liberties. Certainly not to the tune of $10 billion.

How then can African leaders justify giving away that much wealth, when their country folk are poor, and when the technology for mapping, finding and extracting Natural gas is somewhat elementary? And readily available. It’s not Space Science, or Nuclear Physics. But even if it were, in the current recession where governments are pushing for cuts throughout the western world, how many Nuclear Physicists or Space scientists, or Geophysical surveyors or Engineers out there are currently out of a job, and would relish such a challenge for less than $150,000 a piece, saving Mozambican government billions? Did the Mozambican government even consider doing the exploration or extraction itself using employed staff?

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a sobering question. Despite the fact that ENI have already sold part of that stake to the Chinese, do you know where the money they get from this deal will go? As in what does a company that makes billions in profits do with an additional $10 billion or more?

Will it be used to build schools or hospitals in Mozambique, some of which unfortunately look like this:

Or would the majority of such funds be used to multiply ENI’s wealth, possibly to issue dividends to ENI’s shareholders in Italy & Europe (or other industrialised and rich countries), where their schools and hospitals look like this:

Where will the majority of this money be invested? In Italy, in Europe? Or  in Africa?

If you showed the contents on this blogpost to any Mozambican, and asked them where in their view those resources are most required, what do you think they will  answer you?

I’d like to know how much (if any) of the actual monetary benefit ENI receives from this interest eventually remains in Mozambique ( for use in development, for Mozambican banks to make investment in foreign markets, etc). Surely if we are to take what Annan seems to clearly allude, Mozambique is the rightful owner of the natural resource. Why then should they receive peanuts from it? Shouldn’t they receive the lions share?

I’m not saying that ENI hasn’t contributed to social programs in Africa, or in other parts of the world, where they have operations,no that’s not what I’m saying. To the contrary ENI has supported social programs, most recently in Libya.

My point is, if European and American companies display wildly unrestrained greed in the form of behavior that suggests that they do infact own African resources, and African politicians are unable, unwilling or pressured from objecting to grossly unfair deals that are ‘discriminatory’ in every meaning of the word, and clearly unfair; and if civil society is unable to force African governments to renegotiate these unfair contracts (ideally before they are signed), how does anyone expect the continent of Africa to ever achieve economic development??When the resources that matter, and could make a huge difference to millions of lives, are given away so easily, moving only from South to North, or only from South to East, or from South to West??

Similar:

1. Who Owns the Land? Cameroon’s Large-Scale Land-Grabs

2. ‘The Resource Curse’: Why Africa’s Oil Riches Don’t Trickle Down to Africans

3. Africa Debate: Will Africa ever benefit from its natural resources?

4. Scramble for Africa

5.  Resource curse not the only reason for Africa’s poverty

6. Gazprom Said to Seek Stake in Eni’s Gas Assets in Mozambique