By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE (IDN) – More than a decade ago, he lost his home as diamond miners from China razed it to the ground searching for the gems. Still, today, 74-year old Tobias Mukwada lives with his family in shanty thatched huts they erected hoping that perhaps one day the Chinese diamond merchants would remember them and offer them a decent home.
But for the poverty-stricken Mukwada and his family, it may be a wait in vain.
Zimbabwe’s former president Robert Mugabe ordered Chinese diamond miners out of the mining fields in the country’s eastern highlands in 2016. (P11) CHINESE | JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF | SPANISH | THAI
“The Chinese removed us from our homes before they destroyed them as they mined for diamonds and promised to build new homes for us which they only did for some very few people. They made quick money from our diamonds and we fell into more poverty instead,” Mukwada told IDN.
Chinese-owned Anjin was expelled by the Zimbabwean government in February 2016, along with Mbada Diamonds, on the grounds that their special grant licenses had expired. Prior to that, then President Mugabe had accused the two mining corporations of massive leakages and smuggling of the gems out of the Southern African country.
Even now, under the country’s new leader, Emmerson Mnangagwa, there is no respite for the country’s fertile diamond fields, as another door opened for Chinese mining corporations again this year.
Billions of American dollars in revenue have been lost through leakages as foreign corporations have fed from the Southern African nation’s diamonds. In a televised interview to mark his 93rd birthday, former President Mugabe claimed in 2016 that the country had lost an amount of 15 billion dollars in diamond mining revenue.
As such pillaging has taken place, many Zimbabweans like Mukwada have wallowed in poverty, of course in the midst of plentiful gems.
Zimbabweans like Mukwada are however not the only ones contending with poverty as foreign corporations pounce on mineral resources across the rest of the African continent.
In Zambia, copper mining tycoons like Anil Agarwal, the Indian billionaire who is owner of Vedenta Resources Ltd, stand accused by government there of owing the government millions of dollars in taxes. Zambia’s Information Minister Dora Siliya told reporters in May in Lusaka the country’s capital, that “…the company owes the nation 3.01 billion kwacha in taxes.”
Yet, just like its neighbour in the south, Zimbabwe, Zambia is battling with grim cases of poverty in a country with a population of approximately 18 million people. According to the World Bank, 60 percent of Zambians live in poverty and 42 percent in extreme poverty, living on less than 1.25 dollars a day.
Zambia boasts rich mineral resources, with copper contributing over 75 percent of the country’s national foreign earnings, accounting for up to 6.1 billion dollars in 2017. The country is the second-largest producer of copper across the African continent, and according to the U.S. Geological Survey 2015, the eighth largest in the world.
However, the attentions of foreign investors and comprehensive extractive mega-projects in Zambia have had little effect on the share of people living below the poverty line.
Zambian economists have pinned the blame on their government for brokering mining deals with foreign corporations that have rarely dared to plough back into communities they have mined over the years.
“Government ministers who are corrupt receive bribes worth tens of thousands of dollars if not millions before they allow foreign mining corporations to loot the country’s resources with no benefits being channelled towards benefiting poor communities whose minerals are being looted by foreign mining corporations,” David Mwansa, an independent economist based in Lusaka, told IDN.
Few African countries like Mozambique, hard beaten with years of poverty, seem to have had their own Damascene moment following experiences with foreign mining corporations.
Recently, a senior Mozambican government official came out charging, expelling some foreign mining corporations from the country after accusing the firms of fuelling poverty and environmental degradation in the country.
Announcing the suspension of Chinese and South African gold mining companies’ activities in the coastal African nation in May 2019, the governor of Manica in Mozambique, Rodrigues Alberto, said: “We will continue to be ruthless with these companies. If they are not prepared, we will have them shut down. Our resources cannot be a curse.”
According to the World Bank, nearly 50 percent of the Mozambican population of about 31 million people still live in poverty.
Last year, a World Bank report titled The Changing Wealth of Nations 2018 unearthed evidence of how much poorer Africa was becoming, thanks to rampant mineral, oil and gas extraction by foreign corporations. The report showed massive depletion of Africa’s natural wealth by transnational corporations.
According to the report, Africa’s smash-and-grab ‘development policies’ aiming to attract foreign direct investment have now become counter-productive: “Especially for resource-rich countries, the depletion of natural resources is often not compensated for by other investments.”
Turning to the Democratic Republic of Congo with a population of about 87 million people, also a prey of foreign mining corporations, one of the country’s provinces, Katanga, is blessed with enormous natural wealth, including vast deposits of precious minerals such as diamonds, gold and tantalum.
Katanga province saw a spectacular mining boom around the turn of the century, when the country’s former President Laurent-Desire Kabila and then later his son Joseph licensed international mining corporations to tap its treasures. Over the years, this arrangement generated riches for the Congolese elite, and vastly more for the prospectors, but offered little to the poverty-ravaged population.
According to a United Nations investigation, the Kabila regime “transferred ownership of at least $5 billion dollars of assets from the state-mining sector to private companies under its control, with no compensation or benefit for the State treasury” from 1999 to 2002.
For many DRC development experts like Tresor Monide, the populous country’s mineral resources have unleashed a curse instead of blessings for millions of Congolese citizens. “Politicians have received millions of dollars in bribes, selling away the country’s rich mineral resources for a song to foreign mining firms which rarely remit tax to government. It’s pathetic here in the DRC,” Monide, an independent development expert based in Kinshasa, told IDN.
According to the Financial Times investigative journalist Tom Burgis, “the combination of staggering wealth, rampant violence and abject poverty in DR Congo is no coincidence, but part of a pattern causing devastation across Africa.”
According to a 2016 report from War on Want entitled ‘The New Colonialism: Britain’s scramble for Africa’s energy and mineral resources’, Africa is facing a new and devastating colonial invasion driven by a determination to plunder the continent’s natural resources – especially its strategic energy and mineral resources.
One of the case studies in the report is the scramble for gas and oil in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. Morocco has occupied much of Western Sahara since 1975. Most of the population there has been expelled by force, many to camps in the Algerian desert where 165,000 refugees still live.
The case of people in Western Sahara is typical of many other Africans relegated to living like squatters in their own country, thanks to the mineral resources curse that has drawn foreign mining corporations which have stopped at nothing, elbowing out many poor Africans like Mukwada in Zimbabwe from their lands.
“It seems what we only own is poverty, and not necessarily minerals,” said Mukwada. [IDN-InDepthNews – 21 June 2019]
Photo: Foreign corporations exploit Africa’s mineral resources leaving a big hole for the people. Source: Wikimedia Commons
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
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