Africa: Land of Hope and Exploitation

Tanzania
The residents of the Magenge Mapya Charcoal Camp in Tanzania face an uncertain future — the trees they rely on to make charcoal are being cut down to plant oil-producing plants for biofuels

Roughly a century ago, the Ottoman Empire was considered “the sick man of Europe” because of its poor economy, backwardness, and misrule. Today, the continent of Africa and in particular the sub-Saharan part could rightfully be considered the sick man of the world. Disastrous economics, shoddy rule, violent wars, and the plague of HIV have left a once promising continent the failure of the world.

Decade after decade of foreign aid have not been able to lift Africa out of its mire. Even the so-called “benevolence” of wealthier states has left a situation best described in dependency theory as: “the way in which resources flow from a “periphery” of poor and underdeveloped states to a “core” of wealthy states, enriching the latter at the expense of the former”. This exploitation continues today as Africa is now being utilized for the sake of biofuel production at the expense of locals. Der Spiegel reports about this new exploitation in Green Gold Rush: Africa becoming a biofuel battleground. An excerpt:

The consequences of this boom are dramatic. Experts agree that the worldwide push to grow energy plants is on overwhelming factor in the global explosion of food prices. According to one study by the World Bank, as much as 75 percent of the increase could be attributable to this change in the types of crops being farmed. Many farmers in industrialized countries are more than happy to accept government subsidies for corn or rapeseed, but this comes at the cost of the cultivation of wheat, potatoes and legumes.

Oil plants are not competing with intensively farmed land in Africa — yet. Investors argue that the land they are using is uncultivated or underused. But rising food prices and population growth will also increase pressure in the southern hemisphere to convert unused land to agricultural use.

With every story of exploitation comes a story of hope and this time it’s from Google. The IT giant is planning to bring broadband internet to the African continent (plus other underdeveloped areas) in partnership with financial institutions. It’ll cost roughly $750 million US and will be called 03B Networks.

Some would suggest that sum of money could be put to better use through irrigation schemes and trade education. Whether this is true or not, it’s much less exploitative to bring others the wonders of communication then it is to buy up land to use for the production of biofuels.


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