A recent report published by a coalition of African and British social justice organizations lays bare the truth that foreign corporations and wealthy governments continue to profit from the looting of the world’s most impoverished continent.
In 2015, the year the most recent data is available, African nations received $162 billion in aid, loans, and remittances. At the same time, $203 billion was taken from these nations through resource extraction, debt payments, and illegal logging and fishing.
“We find that the countries of Africa are collectively net creditors to the rest of the world, to the tune of $41.3 billion in 2015,” explain authors of the report, titled How the World Profits from Africa’s Wealth.
“There’s such a powerful narrative in Western societies that Africa is poor and that it needs our help,” explained Aisha Dodwell, a campaigner with Global Justice Now, one of the organizations that authored the report.
“This research shows that what African countries really need is for the rest of the world to stop systematically looting them,” Dodwell said. “While the form of colonial plunder may have changed over time, its basic nature remains unchanged.”
For example, over half of the population of Africa lacks access to sufficient healthcare, with an average of only 14 health professionals for every 100,000 people.
However, Africa’s wealth underground is extensive. In 2015, African nations exported some $232 billion worth of minerals and oil to the rest of the world, South Africa contains an estimated $2.5 trillion in mineral wealth, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) holds an estimated $24 trillion in untapped mineral reserves.
Yet the poverty above ground persists, with 95% of the population in the DRC living on less than US $2 dollars per day.
The problem is that foreign companies profit the most from this resource extraction.
“Money is leaving Africa partly because Africa’s wealth of natural resources is simply owned and exploited by foreign, private corporations,” the report explains. “In only a minority of foreign investments do African governments have a shareholding.”
Furthermore, when multinational companies do extract and export raw commodities, they typically pay very little taxes to the government, or they use tax havens to avoid paying taxes.
“Many African tax policies are the result of long standing policies of Western governments insisting on Africa lowering taxes to attract investment,” the report found.
The report shows how the current model of development is futile while such plundering of the continent persists.
“’Development’ is a lost cause in Africa while we are hemorrhaging billions every year to extractive industries, western tax havens and illegal logging and fishing,” said Bernard Adaba, a policy analyst with Integrated Social Development Center, a research and advocacy organization in Ghana.
“Some serious structural changes need to be made to promote economic policies that enable African countries to best serve the needs of their people rather than simply being cash cows for Western corporations and governments,” Adaba explained. “The bleeding of Africa must stop!”
As the Guyanese scholar and activist Walter Rodney wrote in his classic 1972 book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, the root of the problem is global capitalism.
“African development,” Rodney wrote, “is possible only on the basis of a radical break with the international capitalist system, which has been the principal agency of underdevelopment of Africa over the last five centuries.”
Benjamin Dangl has a PhD in history from McGill University and is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events.