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How everybody holds Africa back (1) – By Howard French on August 19, 2015

DISCUSSIONS about the fate of Africa have long had a cyclical quality. That is especially the case when it comes to the question of how to explain the region’s persistent underdevelopment. At times, the dominant view has stressed the importance of centuries of exploitation by outsiders, from the distant past all the way to the present. Scholars such as the economist William Easterly, for example, have argued that even now, the effects of the African slave trade can be measured on the continent, with areas that experienced intensive slaving still showing greater instability, a lack of social trust, and lower growth. Other observers have focused on different external factors, such as the support that powerful countries offered corrupt African dictatorships during the Cold War and the structural-adjustment policies imposed by Western-led institutions in the 1980s – which, some argue, favoured disinvestment in national education, health care, and other vital services. African countries’ unequal relationships with powerful international financial organisations and large multinational firms help explain the “resource curse” so frequently lamented in discussions of the continent’s economies. Rather than issuing from some mysterious invisible force, the curse is to a large degree the product of greed and the disparities in leverage between rich and poor – and its effects are undeniable. Burgis quotes a 2004 internal IFC review that found that between 1960 and 2000, “poor countries that were rich in natural resources grew two to three times more slowly than those that were not.” Without exception, the IFC found, “every country that borrowed from the World Bank did worse the more it depended on extractive industries.”

A case in point is the arid, Sahelian country of Niger, which for decades has served as a major supplier of uranium to France, its former colonial master. According to Burgis, the French company Areva pays tiny royalties for Niger’s uranium – an estimated 5.5 per cent of its market value. And the details of the company’s contracts with Niger’s government are not publicly disclosed. Reflecting on this situation during an interview with Burgis, China’s ambassador to Niger adopts a posture of moral outrage, proclaiming that Niger’s “direct receipts from uranium are more or less equivalent to those from the export of onions.” Read more 



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