The scale of the UK’s involvement in Africa’s resources is staggering. So
too is its disregard for the rights of those affected
Posted on September 13, 2016
by Tom Lebert <http://africanarguments.org/author/tom-lebert/>
*Africa’s natural resources are being appropriated by foreign private
interests who are leaving a devastating trail of social, environmental and
human rights abuses in their wake.*
[image: The UK's approach to Africa is exemplified by its actions in the
Western Sahara. Credit: jbdodane.]
The UK’s approach to Africa is exemplified by its actions in the Western
Sahara. Credit: jbdodane.
Over the past few decades, there has been a new scramble for African
resources as foreign governments and companies have sought to control the
continent’s reserves of minerals, oil and gas.
As documented in ‘The New Colonialism: Britain’s scramble for Africa’s
energy and mineral resources
‘*,* a new War on Want report, 101 companies listed on the London Stock
Exchange (LSE) now have mining operations in Africa – and combined, they
control resources worth in excess of $1 trillion.
As in the colonial period, the UK government has used its power and
influence to ensure these British mining companies have access to Africa’s
raw materials, though it is not alone. Much of the Global North
takes advantage of a global economic system – made up of regional,
bilateral and international trade agreements – that opens up countries in
the Global South for exploitation.
[*How to steal from Africa, all perfectly legally
Under the guise of helping Africa in its economic development – a mere
continuation of the colonial paternal narrative – $134 billion
reportedly flows into the continent each year in the form of loans, foreign
investment and aid. But at the same time, an estimated $192 billion is
extracted from Africa mainly in the form of profits by foreign companies,
tax dodging, and the costs of adapting to climate change.
In short, the continent is a net creditor to the rest of the world to the
tune of as much as $58 billion
*The case of the Western Sahara*
While the scale and scope of the UK’s involvement in the exploitation of
Africa’s resources is staggering, so too is the complete disregard for the
rights of the people involved. A key example of this can be found in
Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara.
[*“Only independence will restore us”: A Sahrawi refugee recalls Western
Morocco has occupied much of Western Sahara since 1975. Most of the
population has been expelled by force, many to camps in the Algerian desert
where 165,000 refugees still live.
Morocco’s occupation is a blatant disregard for international law, which
accords the Saharawi people the right to self-determination, which includes
the way in which their resources are used. The International Court of
Justice has stated that there are no ties of sovereignty between Morocco
and Western Sahara, and no state in the world recognises Morocco’s
self-proclaimed sovereignty over the territory. Furthermore, over 100 UN
resolutions call for this right to self-determination, though UN efforts to
settle the conflict by means of a referendum have been continuously
thwarted by Morocco.
[*40 years of hurt: The never-ending scandal of the Western Sahara
Despite the Saharwi people’s right to self-determination, however, six
British and/or LSE-listed companies have been handed permits by the
Moroccan government to actively explore for oil and gas resources, making
them complicit in the Western Sahara’s illegal and violent occupation.
Cairn Energy, based in Edinburgh and listed on the LSE, is one such
company. It is part of a consortium, led by US company Kosmos Energy, that
in December 2014 became the first to drill for and later discover oil off
the coast of Western Sahara.
Saharawis have consistently protested against the exploration activities of
oil companies, but by doing deals with the Moroccan government, oil
companies such as Cairn have gained access to these reserves and are
now directly undermining the Saharawis’ rights.
Foreign oil investment boosts Morocco’s frail veneer of international
legitimacy, finances the expensive occupation, and undermines the UN peace
process. As oil is developed, the economic implications for Morocco are
huge, further cementing its resolve to hold on to its lucrative colony.
*British foreign policy*
Instead of reining in companies such as Cairn, the British government has
actively championed them through trade, investment and tax policies.
Successive British governments have been fierce advocates of liberalised
trade and investment regimes in Africa that provide access to markets for
foreign companies. They have also consistently opposed African countries
putting up regulatory or protective barriers and backed policies promoting
low corporate taxes.
[*What if everything the SDGs are premised on is just wrong?
Furthermore, British governments have continually promoted voluntary rather
than legally binding mechanisms to address corporate human rights abuses
committed abroad. Such voluntary mechanisms are effectively meaningless.
And let’s not forget the revolving door between the UK’s public and private
sector. Many senior civil servants leave their posts for directorships on
the boards of these mining companies, and Kosmos Energy is no exception.
The former director of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service MI6, Sir
Richard Dearlove, has been a member of the Kosmos Board of Directors since
The current phase of the scramble for African resources is a clear
continuation of British foreign policy goals since 1945. Then as now,
access to raw materials is a major factor — often *the* major factor — in
British foreign policy towards the continent. Today, Africa’s natural
resource wealth is being appropriated by foreign, private interests whose
operations are leaving a devastating trail of social, environmental and
human rights abuses in their wake.
In response, communities affected by mining in sub-Saharan Africa are
calling for mining revenues to stay in the countries where they are mined;
for raw materials to be processed in the countries where they are mined,
thereby adding value; and for governments to act to protect people affected
by mining rather than protecting the profit margins of corporations
As Chris Molebatsi of Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA)
in South Africa, says: “We want to see ethical mining that has respect for
the land rights of the people on whose land they are mining. Our demands
are for royalties and/or compensation to be paid to communities affected
and in particular prior and informed consent to be obtained from those
communities, not just from traditional authorities”.
*Tom Lebert is Senior International Programme Officer (Africa) at War on
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6 thoughts on “The scale of the UK’s involvement in Africa’s resources is
staggering. So too is its disregard for the rights of those affected”
1. Haha says:
September 13, 2016 at 1:15 pm
That is where our real African problem is. Colonialism did not end.
Agents (African governments) were just put in place to perpetuate
colonialism on their own people on behalf of the real colonialists. Our
greedy leaders (rulers) have continually impoverished African peoples while
promoting the interests of their masters, the colonialists. I beg to ask,
why would resource poor nations be the richest and resource rich countries
in Africa be the poorest? The only strength for Africans would be to unite,
be enlightened on what is happening and forge a common front for the sake
of the masses, but we all know nobody is gonna allow that to happen. The
divide and rule principle is very strong and very much alive. Even the
belief that all peoples originally migrated from Africa is absolutely
doubtful and is a propaganda. Why would people leave so many resources and
a nice weather to emigrate to cold and hostile environments? My
grandparents tell me my community settled in their current area just about
1000 years ago around 1100AD. In fact when the colonialists came, Africa
was underpopulated and peoples were scattered, even homesteads were far
apart. Natural resources and food were in plenty. The Africans loved and
trusted visitors and they were not in huge organized communities. In fact
there was no need for advanced civilization since everything that was
needed was available. We know necessity is the mother of invention. We were
not primitive at all. We were just self sufficient and satisfied.
What am trying to say is that something does not quite add up in as far
as Africa, Africans and the rest of the world is concerned. Something is
being hidden by those who have power and are controlling the resources in
this age and stage. Only the truth will set Africans free.
May THE ALMIGHTY help us
2. Lokongo <http://lesoldatdupeuple.over-blog.com> says:
September 13, 2016 at 2:18 pm
Oh Now we know ! No African resources, no Brexit !
3. Moto Mabanga says:
September 16, 2016 at 8:12 am
Dear Mr. Lebert,
Your not so politically right article is an attraction for atrack by
British covert machinery, so brace yourself unless of course you have grown
a crocodile skin like some of us in Africa. I think it may be useful to get
in touch with you and share similar material from other parts of Africa.
Pls also Afrixt petition on Change.org
4. Monte McMurchy says:
September 16, 2016 at 11:16 am
Exploitation in Africa by the old Colonial powers is not novel. The
profound tragedy is that this exploitation inclusive of both mineral wealth
and that of human capital is allowed to continue. My suspicions are that
the Western Governance Structures are enablers in the facilitation of
exploitation in Africa much to the gross abuse in Human Rights within many
African Nation State.
For me the issue ordinal is accountability. Who is to be held to account?
This form of sanctioned exploitation only sustains the local gangsters
in governance in Africa.
5. richard says:
September 16, 2016 at 3:17 pm
I’m always mystified by writers’ flipflopping’ between UK and UK
companies, as if these are one and the same. It seems an AIM listed company
is also ‘UK’. So if it does something wrong, the company is responsible,
and so is the ‘UK’ . The idea that a UK trade agreement would countenance
acceptance of human rights or environmental abuse, strikes me as unlikely,
and I think it is the writer’s responsibility to quote, rather than to
allude. To counter the argument that ‘you can’t clap with one hand’ and the
host countries have some responsibility, as they signed the agreements,
passed the laws, negotiated the tax arrangements, oversaw the operations
etc etc, there is the suggestion that these governments were installed by
the colonial powers and are their puppets. Zambia has just had a closely
contested election. Accusations of corruption, electoral fraud, tribalism
etc etc abounded, but not once did anyone suggest that either of the main
parties were the puppets of the UK or China. These big numbers/big
accusations type of article do not represent news, nor well-presented
factual accounts of what pertains in Africa. The writer has a vested
interest in presenting the worst possible picture. Abuse abounds, but we
want to see balanced arguments, not this kind of emotional big picture
6. Princess <http://Ghana> says:
September 16, 2016 at 4:29 pm
Thank you Tom for your article. What I will like to say is that our
African leaders/we Africans are to blame for this exploitation. If we
delibrately decide not to insist that our mines/commodities should benefit
us (and all we want are kickbacks for our personal gain) then the
‘exploiters’ are not to blame. When the gate keepers of a fort are sleeping
and theives loot the fort, you cant blame the theives. Blame the gate
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