Time to deal with our resource curse

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By Vince Musewe
INVESTIGATIONS correspondent at the Financial Times, Tim Burgis published a book in 2017 titled The looting machine. It is kaleidoscope of the penury of Africa caused by a coalition between an international predatory mafia and African Presidents and their predatory coalitions made up of party loyalists, the army, intelligence services and State institutions that are raping Africa’s resources at the expense of citizens and inclusive economic development. It is a shocking saga of the deliberate underdevelopment and theft of Africa’s resources by the very individuals who claim to have liberated it from colonialism.

The Looting Machine is a book which characterises a well organised orchestrated partnership between China and African liberation struggle elite, who initiate resource-based exploitation projects in Africa fronted by Western consultants and middlemen with contacts in Africa’s highest offices and families of the elite robbers.

From the Democratic Republic of Congo, to Angola, to the Niger, to Guinea, nearly every African country has been duped by smooth-talking and politically connected corporate criminals who peddle resource deals which significantly undervalue Africa’s resource endowments and are paid huge sums of “facilitation fees” through a network of fronting companies with dubious credentials and opaque shareholding structures. Billions of dollars are subsequently transferred to Asia and other secret tax havens at the expense of Africa’s development.

China is sighted as the main culprit where African resources are being exchanged for infrastructural project development. We now even have a case where China through its vast reserves and investment banks is buying out former colonial resource companies all over Africa and cheaply transferring vast amounts of resources to China. In return they will build roads, railways and military schools and even provide food aid as if theirs is the concern for Africa’s development and poverty, yet it’s really all about them. It fact, that China has a 50-year plan for African resources while Africa has no plan for China except to fill the coffers of a predatory elite. Most Africans are failing to read the pattern, but get excited at events.

No surprise, therefore, that whenever there is a huge find of new resources in Africa, China is somehow involved and there is a scramble by politicians to feed off the trough through facilitation fees that never reach the treasury. The resource curse, as we know it, is being fed through theft by a partnership between an international predatory cabal and Africa’s leaders.

In Zimbabwe the looting machine is alive and well as we fail to see tangible benefits from our resource revenues. Given its resource base, Zimbabwe should not only have more than adequate foreign currency reserves, but should be one of the richest countries in Africa. This of course does not only apply to extractive resources, but also to a number of infrastructure developmental projects that would benefit our economy, but remain controlled by a predatory class.

The private sector is also a culprit and complicit in fuelling the looting machine. In Zimbabwe, we have several allegedly successful private companies whose success is only because they have capitulated to political demands and will lavish those in power with gifts and fake loyalty for money. That is the nature of post-colonial Africa and no country is immune.

The sad news is that, in such cases where governments are able to plunder illicit funds from resources, dictatorships are strengthened and entrenched because they need no longer be accountable to the people. In fact, secret resource-based revenues prop up dictators and their cronies and they, therefore, are not accountable to the electorate nor do they need them. As a result elections become a farce to create a fallacy of democracy. The curse of resources to the majority is the blessing to the dictator and his cabal which includes foreign predators.

An interesting point raised in the book is that the liberation struggle elite are using exactly the same methods used by Cecil John Rhodes to subjugate Africa and its resources. They claim to be Africa’s liberators and yet by their very nature they are greedy, uncaring and
corrupt.

The above observations are also supported in the book “Rents to Riches – The Political Economy of Natural Resource–Led Development” where it has been found that many resource-dependent developing countries pursue short-sighted, sub-optimal policies for extracting resources and capturing rents, and they subsequently allocate those rents in ways that often privilege elite private consumption rather than public investments that enhance growth and collective social welfare. Mitigating the resource curse is, therefore, a governance challenge: the credibility, quality, transparency and accountability of policy-making processes, public institutions, the legal and regulatory climate and sector governance will determine how we can successfully channel our resource wealth into sustainable development.

According to this book, a “paradox of plenty” exists in resource-rich poor countries, where extractive endowments are not invested to improve public welfare and infrastructure, but are syphoned off by a predatory coalitions. In such countries, political power dynamics and not economics are at the centre of natural resource mismanagement at the expense of an inclusive national developmental agenda.

Clearly in Zimbabwe we have work to do. The reason why Zimbabwe is failing to unlock its vast mineral resource potential and utilise its land assets to produce enough food is not because of failed economics, but rather because of the looting machine which thrives in chaos. It is an undeniable fact that, as long a predatory selfish elite presides over this looting machine, Zimbabwe will not rise nor will we be able to achieve inclusive growth and development through maximising benefits to all citizens from our natural resources.