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

 

Airports and their importance to Economic growth – lessons from Mozambique, Switzerland and Norway

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AirportLilongwe

The images above show sketches of the new Nacala International airport  designed by Brazilian Architects Fernandes Arquitetos (who own the copyright to the images)  [More here]. According to the above Wikipedia entry,  “Once the airport is open people will not have to go to Maputo to get in to the country “. In other words, this will open up the North of Mozambique to the world, essentially removing the bottleneck that necessitated international passengers travelling by plane from the North, to go all the way to Maputo, which is ~1500km South west of Nacala, even when such passengers were destined for the north part of the country.

The impact of such an upgrade must not be underestimated. According to Laurie Price, Director of Aviation Strategy at Mott MacDonald, airports not only create employment and act as business getaways, but they are the main driver for tourism growth. He goes on to map a graph that lists aviation trips in countries in terms of their Propensity to Fly against Economic Strength (GDP).  Norway, a country with the highest Human Development Index features at the top with the highest propensity to fly, and interestingly, the highest GDP:

table on trips per capita against gdp - norway at top

He also makes reference to  an Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) September 2005 study that revealed that “25% of all companies sales are dependent on air transport.” and “70% of businesses report that serving a bigger market is a key benefit of using air services.”

Categorising Africa & Middle east, Russia & China and part of South America as restricted by regulation, Price appears to suggest that liberalised airline transport industries of Europe and North America make the greatest contribution to GDP.

table1

While the links between economic growth and air transport may not be welcomed news for the pro-green lobby who would have us each drive a Toyota Prius (or better, not drive at all),  similar views as those of Laurie Price have been reflected elsewhere; James Cherry, President and CEO Aéroports de Montréal, called airports

“..economic engines and most of all a reflection of the communities they represent “ [See here]

He gives an example of Canada where he says

“… airports generate an estimated $34 billion in economic activity and are responsible for 300,000 direct and indirect jobs “

This probably suggests that a thriving air transport industry that interconnects a country to the outside world is essential for economic development. For landlocked countries not receiving supplies directly via their own ports, one would imagine that the air transport industry (including Cargo services) becomes a much more crucial factor to their economic activity.

Looking at the airports of the countries on the above graph, it appears that most countries with thriving tourist industries either have an extensive airline communication network or have many international airports within them, for some an  international airport connecting each of their major cities (or tourist centres) to the outside world. Even Switzerland, a landlocked country smaller than Malawi in size (at  15,940 sq miles – roughly one-third of Malawi’s total area [~ 45,560 sq miles]) has at least 7 airports that appear to be international airports, with flights by the local carrier serving over 70 destinations in 38 countries.

The Mozambican project was made possible by a loan of $80 million from the Brazilian government via the Brazilian development bank, Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Economice Social (BNDES), as part of a $300 million credit line opened up to support projects in Mozambique.

While the airline industry in southern Africa currently appears chaotic and in tatters, with Malawi having recently flogged 49% of its airline to Ethiopian airlines,  it may be time to try different tactics. When some people have complained of unfair treatment and lack of understanding [See the sad story of Nyasa Express here] on the part of Malawian politicians regarding opening up Malawi to international travel, it would probably be wise, in my view to reconsider this issue, and abandon protectionist measures.

If Mzuzu airport, Chileka airport in Blantyre, Karonga airport and Salima airport were expanded and upgraded, to handle international flights, following a similar approach to what has happened in Mozambique with Nacala airport, it is not inconceivable to see how such measures  would create employment, begin to stimulate industry, attract investment and open up the Malawi to global trade.

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