How is it that Africa is so rich in resources and yet so poor?

The question is often asked as much by Africans interested in altering the continent’s fortunes as by those intent on blaming Africans alone for the paradox. We write about this from time to time, either directly or indirectly—our most recent article on the subject appeared just a week ago—and many others do the same, but it’s easier for people to blame it all on Africans because that absolves everyone else of any responsibility.

The question of how Africa can be so rich in resources yet so poor—relative to the other continents—is also central to the impressive 55 minute documentary Stealing Africa by Danish filmmaker Christoffer Guldbrandsen.

In the documentary, Christoffer Guldbrandsen reveals how one Swiss company, Glencore, is making billions from copper mining in Zambia while the country remains one of the poorest in the world. You won’t be surprised to learn that the IMF and World Bank were involved in the sale of the mines that led to this situation. When are African nations going to stop taking advice from these organizations? The neoliberal policies they “recommend” have been disastrous for Africa and for developing nations around the world, resulting in the continuous transfer of wealth from the south to the north. You can read more about this here Impoverishing a Continent, here How the IMF, World Bank and Structural Adjustment Program destroyed Africa, and here Globalization 101: Why is the IMF controversial? The IMF has even tried pushing its policies on China.

Glencore makes so much money from copper mining in Zambia that the mayor of the village in which the company is registered can’t spend all the money the company contributes to the public coffers. Meanwhile 70 percent of Zambia’s population live on less than $2.00 a day and 80 percent are unemployed.

When Glencore went public, the windfall tax earned by the Swiss village of Ruschlikon was so large that the mayor proposed a lowering of the tax rate by seven percent. But one local resident had a different idea. He suggested the tax rate be reduced by five percent, and that the difference between the two rates of tax reduction should go to the African communities affected by Glencore’s operations. A public meeting was called, but the village’s residents voted against handing anything back to Africa. They wanted to keep all the money for themselves.

This is far from an isolated case; wherever you are from in Africa, you can be sure that some of that country’s resources are making less for the country than for the western multinationals involved in extracting those resources. The popular perception is that Africa receives so much money in aid and it just wastes the money, and that western countries are very generous in providing any aid in the first place. But as the documentary points out, the amount of money flowing out of Africa is ten times the amount of aid the continent receives.

Even those familiar with some of the ways in which Africa continues to be sucked dry by these multinationals will despair by what they will learn from Stealing Africa.

The next time someone tries to blame it all on Africa or complains about how much aid the continent receives, send then a link to Stealing Africa. Watch the documentary now.

by Siji Jabbar from This Is Africa

Image: Close-up of ore deposits (gold, coal & bauxite) and an old map of Africa via Shutterstock