What resource curse?

August 20, 2019

Late last month, the Senegalese government made it clear it was not going to cave in to pressure to revise state energy contracts. This was despite weeks-long protests and calls from the opposition...

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Late last month, the Senegalese government made it clear it was not going to cave in to pressure to revise state energy contracts. This was despite weeks-long protests and calls from the opposition and civil society to take action against graft in the wake of a large corruption scandal.

In June, the BBC released a documentary alleging financial impropriety by Aliou Sall, brother of President Macky Sall, in connection to a $10bn fraudulent energy deal with predatory entrepreneur Frank Timis, the owner of energy company Petro-Tim. The exposé stirred anger across the country.

According to the BBC investigation, the president’s brother, former country manager of Petro-Tim in Senegal, has received a $250,000 lump sum payment and a $25,000 monthly salary over a five-year period from Timis.

Timis’s strategy is simple and it works. It consists of getting into business with corrupt African presidents and their families to win tenders that are ridiculously unfavourable to African countries. In recent years West Africa has become his favourite stomping ground. Timis has been reportedly linked to dirty mining deals in Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Burkina Faso.

This, like other corruption stories in Africa, is often brushed off as the natural consequence of the “resource curse” and greedy elites, but what lies beneath it is a much grimmer reality. What enables people like Timis to profiteer with impunity is a centuries-old malaise which has afflicted the continent ever since European powers embarked on its colonisation.

The popular theory of “the resource curse” – that natural resources might be more of an economic curse than a blessing – is commonly used in academic and policy discourse to explain away the paradox that resource-rich countries tend to have less economic, developmental and even democratic growth than countries with fewer natural resources.

The theory, however, downplays global structural imbalances and ignores the adverse effects predatory capitalism has on resource-rich countries with export-oriented economies.

It rests too problematically on assumptions about ‘African greed’ and tropical fatalism. But corruption is not some virus that infects some predisposed to it and spares others with stronger immunity.

Africans are no more corrupt than others.

In fact, there is no such thing as a “resource curse”, only bankrupt policy choices. Resource-rich countries more often than not support economies that are heavily dependent on extraction - an economic model which encourages foreign patronage and rent-seeking behaviours that naturally lead to corruption.

Extractivism remains the most enduring economic model in Africa. The continent procures the world with bodies and brains, copper and cobalt, oil and gas, diamonds and gold, wood, fish, artifacts and cultural heritage. The model not only drains resources, it also blocks Africa’s capacity to create, produce and develop. It bleeds it dry at the expense of its populations already blighted by extreme poverty.

The foundations of this model were laid during colonialism, when imperial powers, through conquest and coercion, acquired sovereign prerogatives, from levying taxes and imposing customs duties to signing treaties and administering justice. The infrastructure for extraction was a mechanism perfected by chartered companies such as the British East Africa Company, a precursor to modern-day multinational corporations. The co-opting of a docile elite trained in colonial schools ensured continued loyalty to old colonial powers in lieu of real decolonisation.

In French-speaking Africa, France also developed such an extractive infrastructure. From Cote d’Ivoire to Niger, from Gabon to the Congo, France has deployed a geopolitical arsenal based on secret defence agreements and retrogressive interventionism. In fact, French colonialism faked its own death in ‘partnerships’ that depoliticised postcolonial transactions.

In reality, a (post)colonial pact continues to govern Franco-African transactions. This pact maintains African states’ dependence on France by enforcing a system in which the former provides natural resources exclusively for the benefit of metropolitan France and imports, almost exclusively, manufactured products from the latter.

Excerpted from: ‘The colonial origins of extractivism in Africa’.

Courtesy: AlJazeera.com

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