Tuesday, August 28, 2007.
By Ronald Elly Wanda
My journey from London to Durban on the south coast of South Africa that usually takes about 14 hours felt like a short matatu (taxi) ride from Kaloleni to Kawangware in Nairobi.
Thanks to Elite Transition, the last book by Patrick Bond that I read during the long-haul flight to the southern fraction of our beautiful continent. The book, appropriately titled, fast forwarded my existing knowledge of contemporary South African politics that came in handy during my active albeit short stay in Durban and later Johannesburg.
So naturally, I was inclined to read his latest book on an interesting subject “corruption” and the plunder of our continent’s resources. Most of us with East African derivation, understand if not sympathise with corruption which is often referred to as the “toa kitu kidogo” and or “chai” culture.
Once upon a time in East Africa, whether in Kampala, Nairobi or Bujumbura (I’m not sure about Kigali) one had to part with their hard earned cash just to access public services. I mean the bribery of officials (government or otherwise) was a common phenomenon. Optimistically, since the re-birth of the East African Community, things are slowly but surely improving.
Therefore, Patrick Bond’s latest book “Looting Africa: The economics of Exploitation”, at a mere 172 pages serves a useful purpose for any person seriously interested in understanding our continent’s economical position in the age of globalisation.
In the book, Bond rightly notes that Africa has been exploited for centuries and this continues today. He is also absolutely right in his cynicism of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his ‘Africa Commission’, whilst the Live8 concerts and the Make Poverty History campaigns, although they had good intentions, he argues that they had no impact.
Looting Africa is similar in writing to Bond’s other books (especially Elite Transition) and academic papers in tone, style and deliverance.
Patrick Bond, who is professor of Development Economics at the Kwa-Zulu Natal University in South Africa, elucidates proficiently on what he sees as the central problems that blight Africa’s economic and political environment, namely debts and an unbalanced financial relationship with the advanced world.
He goes on to label this relation “Phantom aid”, because, he argues, it contains unfair trade, distorted investment and has been the cause of the continent’s brain drain and skill shortage.
Bond quiet rightly goes on to argue that neo- liberal reforms have stimulated the rise of the exceptionally dominant elites in Africa. In Kenya, the continuity of the Mois’, the Kenyattas’ the Odingas’ et al is blatant evidence of this. Whilst in Uganda, the Kaguta clan and his paid regiment stand out. Overall, Bond sees all these as exemplifying the ‘Looting’ of the continent. It reminds one of the beautiful fruit yet ugly term: “Coconut”.
Having said all that, there are a number of issues that the professor raises in the book, but fails to adequately address. For instance how do we attract foreign direct investment? Or how do we prevent Wanainchis’ (Africans) hard work benefiting others?
It is now almost common knowledge that the money leaving Africa is more than what Africa owes, which according to the UN stands at $300billion. Bond is right when he argues that the debt, owed by the continent, should be wiped clean. The problem according to Bond is that those engaged in the serious acts of corruption, are still in power.
And rightly so, if we look at Uganda we see examples of the mis-handling of the Global Aids Fund by some high profile individuals, in Kenya the Goldenberg and Anglo-Leasing scandals, those implicated have either been exonerated and are sadly still at the centre of government.
The research by Bond raises another important question, given that there are over 100,000 African millionaires on the continent, worth more around $600 billion in total, how poor is Africa?
I certainly agree with him that there needs to be far greater commitment to racking down and returning illicit capital flight from Africa, most of it stashed in here in London and Europe.
The book forces the reader to start asking rigid questions about the moral/ethical practises of the entire western banking sector. This is because clearly, they are seriously involved in the wholesome looting of our continent.
Another problem that the book doesn’t address also is the lack of domestic hegemony in Africa. Within the majority of African political systems, those at the apex - the patrons - are unable to impose their hegemony and thus depend on periodic largesse to buy acquiescence.
Whilst Bond’s book points out at a great deal of valuable information and a compelling critique of Africa’s place in the world, it does not offer a clear set of alternative. Conclusively, it should be pointed out that Black Africa is currently experiencing a growth rate that in 2005 was equal to the overall rate of growth that the entire developing world has experienced since 2000.
The grand question is, in spite of some elements of corruption, are we going to continue letting local collaborators and foreign agents continue to plunder and enjoy the hard labours of the mwanainchi?
Ronald Elly Wanda is a political scientist and President of Pan African Society (UK).
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