Monday, June 23, 2008


Forty years ago, television images of semi-naked and starving children in poverty-trapped nations were broadcast to solicit financial donations for aid to feed the hungry. Two generations later, almost identical videos make us aware that the hunger not only persists, there are now hundreds of millions more who need feeding. Donations are needed. The Bono, Angelina and Madonna led save-Africa chorus appears perplexed and split between adopting/feeding and punishing. The confusion results in more of the same without amelioration.

Africa is rich in natural resources from which resurrection can be launched, however the overwhelming problem lies in the nature of the exploitation of such resources. Foreign corporations and investors make deals with whoever controls the guns, sharing the wealth with an elite powerful few, thereby strengthening and entrenching dictatorships and autocratic governments, or failed corrupt democracies. These rulers, their families, friends and military supporters are enriched with guarantees of wealth in foreign accounts that they can run to in the event of inevitable regime change. The vast impoverished populations of these countries are left to squeeze their soil for a meager existence while education, family planning, and good health remain vague concepts. The vicious cycle of poverty, violence, and lawlessness on the streets pursues a recursive loop.

In the meantime we continue to receive the message that if only we can send two dollars a day, a child’s life will become fulfilled with prospects of nourishment and education. Problem solved.

Some prescribe to the Chinese non-colonialist, and non-interventionist, no-strings-attached, type of investments as more reasonable approaches to the exploitation of Africa's natural resources. This of course assumes the West made deals with strings attached. It didn’t. Not the real deals. Only aid has self-serving and face saving strings attached. Exploitation of natural resources had no such imposition of humanitarian preconditions. This has been a gross misrepresentation of facts by government and UN representatives, as well as the Western media.

The right approach is for the private sector, in conjunction with the federal government and even with some of the UN auspices, to establish broader perspectives when addressing a country for its natural resources. This requires contractually committing to financing the infrastructure that will bring about positive change to a society while its natural resources are taken out of the ground. Even a deal with a dictator should include the building of schools to enhance the human capital, as well as hospitals, roads and other physical capital, with funds separated out at the source and segregated as national trusts.

Such deals should be made in very public ways, placing pressure on all parties involved so that the population of each country is enjoined of the deals, and is made aware of the process. The population also becomes knowledgeable of the structure governing the exploitation of the resources and commodities it owns. Local and initially some international oversight and accountability would reduce corruption and pillaging. This also enjoins the people in the process and knowledge of the benefits that the people can expect to accrue from such exploitation of their gifts from nature.

Back room deals between dictators and executives with little vision or care for long term consequences of their actions will only lead to more of the misery we have all been witnessing. It is not easy to make a deal with a well-entrenched dictator, however where there’s a will there’s a way, and using the media to maintain the tenor of any negotiation should be fair game. Such approach will also require an attitude different from the historically self-serving deal making methodologies that have been served up as the only way to do business. The resource curse needs eradication. Only then will the wall isolating the sub-Saharan Africa population from the world economies begin to dissolve. Their countries will become healthy cogs in the global community, participating in world markets.

It all begins with corporate executive resolve. Cynicism and narcissistic greed needs to be uprooted from its concentration on immediacy, and replaced with some wisdom giving attention to the long-term sustainability of all humanity. OK, so maybe we just need to be a little less human, and think and act outside the box. We’re all in this together and collectively beneficial solutions are the only ones that will work.


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