Can Africa break its resource curse?

CNN.com on August 23, 2010 carried a report titled: “Can Africa break its resource curse?” by its London based reporter Mark Tutton. According to the report, “many African countries are blessed with oil and mineral wealth that has the potential to transform their economies. But historically, those resources have often been more of a curse than a blessing.”

The CNN report added that “there are numerous examples of African nations where the discovery of natural resources has been followed by economic instability, conflict and environmental damage. So common is the phenomenon that it even has its own name — the ‘resource curse’.”

Rebel groups enjoy support from the West

CNN in that report noted that the result of discovering resources in parts of Africa has resulted in “repressive governments that cling to power, so they can monopolize the collection of resource wealth, and an impoverished population — a recipe for conflict.”

The report further pointed out that “Government forces and armed groups have vied for control of resources, with the proceeds from their sale funding more weapons, which prolongs the violence,” and cited the bloody conflicts in DR Congo, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone as examples of conflicts which “have all been partly funded by the sale of blood diamonds.”

“Sometimes, separatist groups try to claim ownership of the land where that resource originates — such as in Angola’s oil-rich Cabinda region” the CNN report said.

Looking at the CNN report, a reader, viewer or listener will be left with the impression that repressive governments, bad governance, and natural resources are the causes of the wars and civil unrests witnessed in some African countries; and that it could have been better if Africa was not blessed with natural resources such as oil, diamond and other minerals since these are resources that are “cursed” in the words of CNN. Painting such a picture only helps to distort the course of history and the non-African audience will have an uninformed perception about the cause of events in the African continent. This news analysis is aimed at spotlighting the selective reporting and distortion of facts by major international news organizations (CNN inclusive) about various occurrences in the world. This time, about the wars, and, or civil unrests in some parts of Africa.

The CNN report mentioned in this analysis heaps the blames of the wars on the discovery of natural resources – particularly, oil and diamond in Africa, and the poor management of these resources by repressive governments. CNN failed to point out the gruesome truth: the fact that these wars over the so called “resource curse” have been sponsored in part by foreign countries who on one side support the rebels and separatist movements against the government, and on the other hand, impose conditions on some governments to hand a quota of their natural resources to them if those governments need their ‘protection’.

The case of Angola is very peculiar. Angola – a rich oil and diamond nation in Africa has seen its destiny tempered with by the interference of foreign countries in its internal affairs. These countries were attracted to mingle with Angolan political and economic life because of their obsession to lay hold on Angola’s oil and diamond. The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) led by Jonas Savimbi, the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) led by Holden Roberto, and the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) led by Agostinho Neto were the three main movements involved in the-decades-long civil war in the country.

Over the course of many years, the governments of many foreign countries including Israel, France, Romania, the United States, and Western Germany actively supported and aided the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (NFLA).

The French government supplied men and loaned 1 million pounds sterling without interest. The U.S. government began aiding the FNLA in 1961 during the Kennedy administration, and rerouted one-third of official aid to Zaire to go to the FNLA and UNITA. The Israeli government gave aid to the FNLA between 1963 and 1969. Holden Roberto visited Israel during the 1960s, and FNLA members were sent to Israel for training. During the 1970s the Israeli government shipped arms to the FNLA through Zaire (now DRC Congo). The Romanian government delivered arms to the FNLA in August 1974.

Cuba deployed thousands of troops in 1975 to aid the MPLA; the Soviet Union aided both Cuba and the MPLA government during the war.

UNITA received support from countries such as Bulgaria, France, Israel, United States, and the white-dominated apartheid government of South Africa. During the Reagan administration high ranking security officials met with UNITA leaders. Central Intelligence Agency Director William J. Casey, National Security Advisor Richard Allen, and Secretary of State Alexander Haig, on March 6, 1981 met with UNITA leaders in Washington, D.C. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walker met with Jonas Savimbi in March in Rabat, Morocco. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, his assistant for International Security Matters Francis West, Deputy Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, Deputy Director of the CIA Bobby Inman, and Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency James Williams met with Savimbi between November 1981 and January 1982. Although the Clark Amendment forbad U.S. involvement in the civil war, Secretary Haig told Savimbi in December 1981 that the U.S. would continue to provide assistance to UNITA.

In 1983 the U.S. agreed to ship weapons from the Honduras, Belgium and Switzerland to South Africa and then to UNITA in Angola. Savimbi was influenced heavily by military and political guidance from influential American conservatives, including The Heritage Foundation’s Michael Johns, conservative activist Grover Norquist and other U.S. conservative leaders, all of whom helped elevate Savimbi’s stature in Washington and facilitated the transfer of American weapons to his war.

Johns and other American conservatives met regularly with Savimbi in remote Jamba, culminating in the “Democratic International” in 1985. Savimbi later drew the praise of U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who hailed him as a freedom fighter and spoke of Savimbi winning a victory that “electrifies the world.”

The Angolan situation therefore exposes the fact that CNN’s Mark Tutton got it all wrong, or maybe it was just another deliberate attempt to paint Africa as a continent of wars where not even good things could bring blessings to the people. Africa’s oil and diamonds are not “cursed resources” but the natural resources receive the evil hand of foreign powers especially from the west as they all scramble to tear the continent apart and secure their interest in Africa’s blessed natural resources. CNN will do well to the international audience if they explicitly portray the role of foreign country’s interference in Africa’s wealth. By doing so, the world will see that Africa is not a chaotic continent filled with repressive governments, bad governance or mismanagement – but a continent that has suffered from the confusion dumped on its daily affairs by most especially, the West.

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