Friday, July 23, 2010

The Looting of Africa

In terms of natural resources, Africa is the most abundant continent on earth.

BP has stated that Africa holds 127 billion barrels of untapped oil, almost ten per cent of global reserves.Oil was first drilled commercially in Africa in Oloibiri in the Niger Delta, in 1956 by the Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell. There are now ten oil exporting nations in Africa, with another three soon to join that list.

There are ten major diamond producing nations in Africa, the largest being Botswana, where the industry is worth $158bn a year.Diamond production remains a major source of revenue for Africa. In Sierra Leone, income from the diamond trade rose by a quarter to $35m in the first six months of the 2010.

Coltan or "colombo-tantalite ore" is a mineral used to make electric capacitors in computers, gaming consoles and mobile phones. One of the world's largest reserves is in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But rather than a blessing, most of Africa's commodities have proved a burden; allegedly stoking conflict, funding wars and leading to rampant labour market abuse.

Africa's largest single oil exporting nation is Nigeria. While no official figures exist, Standard Bank estimates the country has made $6 trillion in oil revenue over the last 50 years. The International Energy Agency says Nigeria holds 37 billion barrels of reserve oil, dwarfing that of Norway which has just 6 billion. Yet 70% of Nigerians live under the poverty line and the country has consistently been ranked among the most corrupt on earth by international observers.Despite its oil wealth, Nigeria has to import 60% of its own fuel.

The portability and high value of diamonds have made them a favourite source of funding for rebel groups across the continent. Angola, Congo and the Cote D'Ivoire have all been subject to the trade in so called "blood diamonds"..During the brutal 10 year civil war in Sierra Leone, the diamond mines in Kono were controlled by the rebel RUF forces, led by Foday Sankoh. Diamonds smuggled from the region were allegedly passed on to Charles Taylor, president of neighbouring Liberia, who in turn helped arm the rebel movement.Diamonds from blacklisted countries like Zimbabwe are still routinely being traded on the international market.

Most of the coltan mines in the DRC are in the remote South Kivu district. In 2001 a report by the United Nation Security Council claimed that rebel forces, regrouping in the country after the Rwandan genocide, had taken control of the mines and were using coltan to fund their operations, often using forced or child labour. These groups included the CNDP, a Tutsi rebel force led by General Laurent Nkunda, and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a Hutu rebel group responsible for the Rwandan genocide of 1994, which had the backing of the Congolese government under President Mobutu.The report concluded that the DRC was suffering a "systemic and systematic" looting of natural resources, with the CNDP alone raising $250m over 18 months by selling coltan.A follow up report by the UN in 2008 claimed the looting of the mineral in the DRC was still rife. Rwanda is estimated to have made $19m from coltan sales in 2008, a rise of 72% on the previous year, even though no coltan is mined within Rwandan borders.

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