Tuesday, January 6, 2009



Commentary & Analysis
January 06, 2009

WRITING in a US magazine, Nigerian writer Sunday Dare eloquently elucidates how Western multinational corporations have financed and fanned deadly conflicts in strategic corners of the continent. The wars have decimated the lives of millions of Africans, especially in parts endowed with precious and/or strategic minerals whose prime beneficiaries are Western conglomerates.

Unacceptably many parts of the continent are still either haemorrhaging, smarting from ethnic conflicts, violent uprisings for political and resource control, and cross-border warfare which continue to gobble up billions of dollars in resources that would have otherwise been channelled into the fight against the triangular cancers of disease, poverty and illiteracy.

A study of armed conflicts across the world by the University of Maryland’s Cent for International Development and Conflict Management a couple of years ago, discovered that 33 countries stood a high risk for instability. Of these nations, 20 were located in Africa. In Kenya, the Sabaot Land Defence Forces are still scaling valleys and mountains in a deadly conflict with security agencies over the control of farming land.

Human-rights organizations have closely linked trans-national corporations to some of the most costly wars in the continent. Some of the bloodiest conflicts that litter Africa’s landscape, at least in the last decade, can definitely be traced to the expansion and domination of Western multi-national corporations that are intrinsically linked to powerful and politically-correct personalities occupying prime government positions.

This is especially true in extractive states where resources with global appeal, value, and markets are located. While the state’s interest in generating revenue from these resources coincides with that of the corporations, the latter’s interest in maximizing profits conflicts with the welfare of the citizens, most of whom are struggling for a meal-a-day below the poverty margin.

But African governments have also been chief culprits as Western corporations seek to profiteer from malnourished or starving populations. They have tragically failed to protect vital resources or the rights and privileges of citizens. Too often, African governments have leaned towards the alien interests in order to ensure the flow of donor support even when this has meant going against the interests of their citizens.

A notorious example is the oil-producing Niger Delta region which has been confined to perpetual conflict between the Abuja government and Western oil corporations on one hand and impoverished residents who claim ownership of the huge oil reserves on the other.

The genesis of the conflicts can be traced to the colonial era when most Africans fail to benefit from her resources. Traditionally, local economies were primarily geared towards cultivating raw materials for export to the West, as roads, health care, and other infrastructure were only available in areas where the materials were produced or extracted.

But the last couple of decades have unleashed struggles for political control, social emancipation, and access to resources - struggles that, in turn, have degenerated into conflicts and internecine wars. Retarded in development, unbridled in their lust for power, steeped in official corruption, chaotic in their political engineering, many African governments are now sprinting toward crises as poverty, unemployment and insecurity worsens. Basic social services are on slow but sure decay as politicians direct State resources to grandiose projects that serve or whet immediate interests.

This has left citizens more susceptible to taking up weapons in a bloody search for control of prime resources especially oil, diamond, and copper as recent and even on going conflicts in Sierra Leone, Angola, Nigeria, Sudan, Liberia, and the Great Lakes region all attest. The conflicts only confirm widespread fears that Africa can not rely on the current political elite to untie her people from the shackles of poverty, illiteracy and disease. As the impact of Kenya’s post-2007 poll conflict proved, the political elite and the ordinary population live in two planets that sail in opposite directions. The elite incite, fund and sustain the bloodshed for gullible peasants and jobless youth to take up arms against real and imaginary foes.

Meanwhile, the latter are reaping the fruits of the conflict in hyper-inflationary costs of basic commodities as the political class swims in luxurious pay cheques. Africa has a long, winding and torturous road to wade through.