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The exploitation of Africa’s land and people

By Ashahed M. Muhammad
and Brian E. Muhammad | Last updated: Feb 24, 2009 - 9:58:00 AM

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( - While images of Africa’s poverty and disease are regularly shown in western media, the corporations responsible for the continuous exploitation of the land’s mineral and human resources resulting in Africa’s dreadful condition see the world’s largest continent as the land of opportunity.

Emira Woods, director of Foreign Policy in Focus for the Washington D.C. based Institute for Policy Studies says the strategic resources coming out the African continent are the prize, the African people are the victims and multinational corporations driven by excessive greed are the culprits.

“The corporations use the labor and land, the people pay the price. It is absolutely modern day slavery. It is exploitation and makes you think about a 500 year history of exploitation of the African continent from its people during the days of slavery and now its resources,” Ms. Woods told The Final Call. “Very few people—those that have—getting more, those that don’t being exploited. That has been the process.”

Children living in the Mugunga II camp of the Internally Displaced Persons in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo courtesy, The United Nations/Marie Frechon
Kwame Nkrumah, the Ghanaian father of Pan-Africanism wrote that Neo-Colonialism will be the last stage of imperialism on the African Continent. According to the American Heritage dictionary, neo-colonialism is a policy whereby a major power uses economic and political means to perpetrate or extend its influence over other nations.
As an example, Ms. Woods cited Firestone, who for over 82 years has run the world’s largest rubber operation in the world in a financially exploitative relationship using child labor to extract rubber from Liberia without paying proper taxes to the government.

As it relates to available resources, Africa has surpassed the Middle East as the greatest supplier of oil to the United States responsible for 24 percent of the oil used here. Over 80 percent of the coltan used by companies like Nokia, Motorola, Ericsson and Sony for many of the world’s electronic devices such as cell phones, computers and DVD players comes from Africa. Additionally, 80 percent of the cobalt used in lithium ion batteries—a key component in the future development of green technology—including cars—comes from Africa.

In a recent column, Nicole C. Lee, executive director of TransAfrica Forum writes: “As a continent, Africa is still enslaved because of its vast wealth. The mining and extraction of precious materials—oil, natural gas, coltan and cobalt—enrich corporations but cast a shadow of poverty throughout the continent. Whether in the Niger Delta or the Democratic Republic of Congo, the people experience lives of misery and receive very little benefit from the richness of their land. This is known as the “resource curse”—the paradoxical relationship so many Africans have to the richness of Africa.”

According to the United Nations and several human rights organizations, many of the conflicts on the African continent can be traced to the control of mineral resources. However, instead of reaping the financial benefits of their considerable mineral resources, the African people are instead left with a deteriorating quality of life. The multinational corporations leave behind a shameful legacy of the manipulation of African governments, the mistreatment of generations of African people along with toxic waste dumped into the same water they use to bathe and drink.

Africa and the Obama administration

While President Obama has not shied away from addressing issues relevant to the African continent, analysts are waiting to see what actual policy directives resulting in tangible results an Obama administration will pursue in critical African flashpoints such as Kenya, Somalia, the Congo and Zimbabwe.

Long-time Pan-Africanist Dr. Mtangulizi Sanyika told The Final Call he anticipates that Pres. Obama will feel a special connection and obligation to deal with the problems gripping the African continent.

“I would anticipate there is a special place in his heart, in his soul and in his fiber for the obvious reason that he is of African descent, more specifically his father is from Kenya, he still has relatives there and has been back there. He has not shied away from his heritage or disassociated (himself) from it. Sometimes we of African descent have trouble with our emotional links, intellectual and cultural links, but Pres. Obama has all three working for him,” said Dr. Sanyika.

The Obama administration has pledged to double the annual investment in foreign assistance to Africa from $25 billion in 2008 to $50 billion by the end of his first term. The administration had pledged to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015 and to advocate debt cancellation for what they call “Heavily Indebted Poor Countries.” Consistent with those goals, the Obama administration has ambitiously pledged to modernize and reform the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as well as strengthening the African Growth and Opportunity Act to ensure that African producers have access to markets in the United States thus encouraging more American companies to invest on the continent instead of only extracting wealth from it. Currently, U.S. trade policies allow U.S. corporations to send their products to Africa, demanding that African countries lower their tariffs, but does not provide reciprocal means for African farmers to access U.S. markets.

Ms. Woods said there is “tremendous excitement” throughout the African continent resulting from Obama’s victory and his subsequent Inauguration speech indicating that there would be a change in America’s foreign policy, however, the degree to which there are actual policy changes, will determine whether the goodwill will last.

“Those great words have to be met with policy changes and it will take pressure from people in the United States and throughout the African world to demand that those wonderful words of mutual respect and mutual interest are also upheld in terms of U.S. policy with regard to Africa,” said Ms. Woods.

Citing the fact that UN Ambassador Susan Rice has advanced the idea of U.S. and NATO unilateral military action in Darfur as an option, the hawkish presence of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the continued presence of Defense Secretary Robert Gates—a holdover from the Bush administration—Ms. Woods said many on the African continent are still waiting to see if real policy changes are forthcoming under an Obama administration.


Kwame Nkrumah, the Ghanaian father of Pan-Africanism wrote that Neo-Colonialism will be the last stage of imperialism on the African Continent. According to the American Heritage dictionary, neo-colonialism is a policy whereby a major power uses economic and political means to perpetrate or extend its influence over other nations.

The advent of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) on the continent bears witness to the fulfillment of Dr. Nkrumah’s words. In 2007, former Pres. George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the creation of U.S. Africa Command. The decision was the culmination of a 10-year process within the Department of Defense acknowledging the emerging strategic importance of Africa and recognizing that peace and stability on the continent impacts not only Africans, but the interests of the U.S. and international community.

Some critics of AFRICOM see it as nothing more than an extension of the military wing of the Neo-Conservatives desirous of protecting their strategic interests related to Africa’s resources. Others see AFRICOM as the U.S. attempting to militarize the continent in order to remain an economic competitor against the European Union and China, under the guise of fostering peace and security.

“Domination of Africa’s resources would give America, so the capitalists think, the competitive edge over the rest of the world in the area of trade and the extraction of Africa’s resources,” said Sekou Nkrumah, activist, writer and son of the late Kwame Nkrumah.

The younger Nkrumah further wrote that American neo-colonialism in Africa is equivalent to “international state terrorism,” strangling African economies. America helped enslave African nations to debt from IMF and World Bank loans to enable the “extracting and exploiting of resources, thereby creating starvation, wars, division, disease, poverty, and under development,” all acts of terrorism, he said. In addition, armed reactionary mercenary groups destabilized African governments, inspired coups, fomented ethnic violence, propped up dictatorial puppets, and now AFRICOM is its latest strategy to establishment of U.S. military bases on Africa’s soil in the name of peace and security.

According to a policy statement on Barack Obama’s campaign website, “An Obama administration will pursue significant UN reforms at the same time as it improves the UN’s ability to conduct future peace and stability operations. It will also work with other multinational actors that deploy peacekeeping forces like the African Union, the European Union, the Economic Community of West African States, and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to help strengthen their capacity to conduct such missions.” Perhaps more importantly, the statement goes on to say that an Obama administration, “believe(s) that the U.S. must provide the political leadership required so that UN missions are backed by workable political strategies. They will lead in the UN Security Council, work with Congress to ensure the U.S. pays its peacekeeping assessments on time, and marry peacekeeping missions with serious diplomatic initiatives.”

Observers say Amb. Rice, who served as undersecretary of state for Africa during Clinton’s administration could play a pivotal role in US-Africa relations but her challenge will be to avoid repeating the mistakes Pres. Clinton made. It was during the Clinton years that a deterioration of America’s involvement on the continent occurred from the illegal bombing of a privately owned pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan to the Somalian fiasco in 1993 when the U.S. attempted to overthrow President Mohammed Farrah Aideed by military force resulting in the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident. The Rwandan genocide of 1994 also took place on Pres. Clinton’s watch. Amb. Rice is positioned to help shape the Obama administration’s policy in Africa and the relationship of the U.S. to African countries at the UN that are still marginalized by larger nations who dominate the world body.

The African Union

Central to the economic restoration of the African continent is the existence of the African Union. Africa is a critical part of the emerging world economy and the strength of the African Union will allow many of the African nations to be better able to negotiate with multinational corporations.

The African Union (AU) was established in 2002 and is the outgrowth of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) that was started in 1963 by many of the African independence leaders such as Presidents Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea, Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria and others.

The OAU had two primary aims, to promote solidarity between African states and speak as one collective voice for the continent. This was important to secure Africa’s long-term economic and political future. Years of colonialism had weakened it socially, politically and economically. Though rich in ideas, the OAU lacked power to deal with the massive poverty, political corruption and tribal conflicts that gripped many of the nation states.

In 1999 Muammar Gadhafi, leader of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Great Jamahiriya called an emergency summit of the African heads of state in Libya to discuss the condition of the OAU and the need to transform it into an African Union, with the ultimate goal being the formation of the United States of Africa. The idea of a United States of Africa was a central theme to the OAU from its inception and espoused by Dr. Nkrumah.

The decision to change the OAU to the AU was ratified in Lusaka, Zambia South in July, 2001 and witnessed by 41 member-nations. The only delegation from the African Diaspora was led by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. The vision for the unification of Africa, and its transformation from the OAU into the AU has been consistently advocated by Mr. Gadhafi who was named its chairman on February 2.