Is Africa being sold for a handful of glass beads?

Jonathan Deal
19 April 2013 | Comments (13)
2,397 views |

An unplanned involvement in the South African anti-fracking lobby catapulted me into a widening study of the increasing exploitation of African resources by foreign nations from other continents.

The results, easily accessible to anyone with Internet access, are alarming, and, it is argued – present an overwhelming case for an urgent and concerted response by African countries, and the continent as a whole.

Manhattan Island, as rumour has it, was acquired in 1626 from Native Americans by the Dutch for 60 Guilders. Around the 1700’s and later, glass beads were used as a form of currency, especially in Africa by Europeans and colonial overlords. Some of the more common items exchanged for beads included ivory, gold and slaves. Virtual fortunes in precious goods and people were exchanged for relatively worthless baubles.

In the 21st century, only the currency has changed. Africa is still being exploited. But this time with a different goal.

This is a clarion call for Africans to wake and stand up. Africa is being sold out from under your feet. Minerals, food and water are being sold to nations outside of Africa – nations who have squandered much of their own resources, and who are now scrambling for resources that Africans will need in future years.

African leaders, in many cases, have a reputation for facilitating the rape of her resources at the behest of foreigners. The reward? Undreamed-of personal riches. Vast cash reserves accumulated and spirited away into secret accounts at the expense of Africa’s people. If this view is not valid, the only remaining excuse for selling this continent out is simply that they do not understand what is happening.

Nothing, in what I now regard as my past life, prepared me for the roller coaster of meetings, new relationships and learning that has overwhelmed me during my campaign against shale gas mining in South Africa. As the colloquial, and often humorous saying goes ‘I tell you with tears in my eyes’, I share with you this message – except that these are tears of sorrow, not those squeezed out by mirth.

I want to tell you about two men and two books. They may not even know of each other. Yet they write a remarkably similar message. The most unlikely bedfellows – one hails from the epicenter of US academia on global resources, the other, a man of the cloth, works and writes from his home base of Nigeria. I have met one, and hope to meet the other. Both books were published in 2012.

Michael T. Klare completed the latest of 14 books – ‘The Race for What’s Left’. Reverend Nnimmo Bassey released ‘To Cook a Continent’. Klare’s book addresses the global scramble for the world’s last resources. Bassey writes of destructive extraction and the climate crisis in Africa.

Lawrence Summers, the top economic advisor to President Obama in 2009/2010 argued in 1991 , (within the context that hazardous waste should be disposed of in Africa); “Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Lesser Developed Countries]? I think that the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable. The concern of an agent that causes a one-in-a-million-change in the odds of prostate cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostate cancer than where under-5 mortality is 200 per thousand”.¹

So, in paraphrasing Summers, one may put it like this; Africans are poor, expendable, (because they have a short life expectancy and high mortality rates), and can accept the West’s toxic waste with a smile, while their corrupted leaders drive expensive cars and shop in Paris.

And Klare, certainly not tainted by the corporate maxim of ‘emotional’, oft-applied to environmentalists and nationalists writes “And in the near future, the most precious natural resource of all – food – will also become scarce in many parts of the world”.

While the planet is currently capable of satisfying the basic nutritional requirements of the existing world population. This capacity will come under threat in the decades ahead, as the population grows and climate change reduces the amount of rainfall in many areas. To guard against inevitable food shortages, government-backed agricultural firms in China, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are already buying vast tracts of arable land in Africa and elsewhere to produce food for consumption at home.

Under the heading ‘Invading the last frontiers’, Klare writes: “several factors distinguish the current push [for resources] from those of the past. To begin with, there are no other, as-yet-undetected frontiers lying beyond those now under assault. Until now, participants in the depletion of a particular resource zone could always comfort themselves with the thought that undeveloped lands lie somewhere else, still awaiting human exploitation. Today, however, there exist no untilled lands or untapped oil reserves awaiting fresh development. Virtually all accessible resource zones are now in production; except for the extreme areas such as the Arctic, the Congo, the ocean bottom, and unyielding rock formations [shale gas], there is nowhere else to go”.

Continues Klare, “The pursuit of vital materials in remote and marginal areas will also pose extraordinary environmental challenges, and will lead to intensified clashes between outside powers and the indigenous people who occupy these areas”.

And that is exactly what I believe has happened to Royal Dutch Shell in their quest to mine shale gas (frack) South Africa. Having debated Shell and their proponents, studied documents and listened to the pro-oil & gas rhetoric of Shell and their associates in the industry, I am confident in saying that their approach to shale gas mining in South Africa mirrors and blends the careless arrogance of Lawrence Summers with the rapacious instincts that drove colonization and exploitation of this continent and her people for centuries.

So confident are Shell that their quest to frack South Africa will be licensed that they have thrice provided their shareholders and the public with dates on which exploration licences would be in hand.

An illustration of Shell’s influence (and the impact of their jobs-and-energy marketing campaign) in the ruling party, manifested by a thinly veiled ANC shareholding in Shell Marketing and Shell ‘Downstream’ (SA), is a series of recent statements by a commissioner of the National Planning Commission (NPC) in a meeting of government and private stakeholders in the Eastern Cape.

Responding to statements by various organisations who expressed deep concern at the potential economic and environmental damage that would be caused by fracking, the Commissioner stated that agriculture is more polluting and has a greater negative impact on the environment, than fracking. This statement was followed up by one that alleged ‘there have been more than two million wells drilled without a single case of contamination proved in a court’. To round it off, the commissioner declared that the revenues to flow from fracking in SA would be ‘equitably divided’ amongst the state, the operators and the community.

These three statements, collectively, or in isolation, are an indication of the degree of brainwashing that has occurred within the leadership of our country.

Coming from one of a select group whose task it is to produce a paper that guides our Presidency in the development of this country, it is especially worrying. In this case, a thought-leader cannot claim to be uninformed. Yet the three statements are indefensible. I have for some time been aware of the support for shale gas in the NPC, and this was confirmed in the last white paper.

What perhaps, was not anticipated by Shell and their proponents in SA is the growing global backlash against shale gas mining, the extended and new moratoria amongst credible and powerful states, cities and authorities in the US and Europe, and the evermore-tarnished reputation of oil and gas as many of their reports are exposed as having been purchased and manipulated.

“It appears to matter not a jot to the fossil fuel Barons and their fawning politicos that the very essence of life on earth, our food and water is being depleted faster than it can re-generate”.²

The quest to frack South Africa, represents, for me the quintessential icon of what needs to be defeated in Africa. If we can expose the skewed approach, the environmental risks and the economic downside of shale gas mining we can strike a mortal blow against those that view Africa as a great shopping basket, brimming with bargains and equipped with a great toilet bowl in which to excrete the results of their buying spree.

Fracking is at the forefront of fossil fuel hunger, the immense geo-political power wielded by big oil & gas and the revolving door between corporations and government makes this a fight worth winning. For Africa and her people.

[1] To Cook a Continent, Nnimmo Bassey, 2012, Page 60

[2] http://criticalthought.co.za/oh-ignore-him-–-he’s-an-environmentalist/ Jonathan Deal 2011


Showing 13 Comments »

  1. Jonathan. Pls have a look at the proposed Expropriation Bill , open for comment till 30 April 2013. And look if politician A can use official B to use the mechanism of expropriation for entity C, that merges with a fracking company, with ABC the bee component of the fracking venture company. Exproppriation should not be used to gain agricultural land for foreign fracking companies or up stream use by private companies like RDS. . You know the department of energy and mineral rights is oblivious to land ownership rights. Here is major trouble on its way.

    Comment by Gisela Weinmann — 22 April 2013 @ 8:03 am

  2. Very good insights you have reached indeed Jonathan Deal

    Comment by Gisela Weinmann — 22 April 2013 @ 8:04 am

  3. There are none so deaf as do not want to hear. Paint a picture of life in fifty years and even uneducated people will understand, but the ANC will remain as obtuse as always.

    Comment by Mo Haarhoff — 22 April 2013 @ 9:11 am

  4. Bravo, Jonathan Deal. Keep pushing. Get the word out as wide as possible.

    Comment by Shaman sans Frontieres — 22 April 2013 @ 11:42 am

  5. What a bunch of rip-off artists we are supporting with our taxes, I hope we stop them in their tracks. Good for you Jonathan.

    Comment by Russel — 22 April 2013 @ 1:19 pm

  6. The implications of the exploitation of extreme fossil fuels are not yet understood on this continent. Particularly the impact on biodiversity and food sovereignty through the land and water footprint. The situation now emerging in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt and South Africa (shale gas), Madagascar Tar Sands, Botswana Coal Bed Methane, Gabon having the worlds highest nitrogen air pollution from oil (ruinous to rainforests), Palm Oil plantation land grabs in West Africa and Somalia toxic waste disposal are sinister examples. Politicians are not making informed decisions or in the least implementing stringent safeguards. African Union level meetings are necessary to highlight these problems.

    Comment by Karel Phillips — 22 April 2013 @ 2:49 pm

  7. Thank you Gisela – we are on it.

    Comment by Jonathan Deal — 22 April 2013 @ 11:36 pm

  8. Jonathan, on behalf of future generations, thank you for your hard work in opposing tracking in S.A.

    Comment by Askari_za — 23 April 2013 @ 7:53 am

  9. Visit http://www.treasurethekaroo.co.za or email karen@treasurethekaroo.co.za to get involved and do your part in supporting Jonathan Deal’s cause and non-profit organisation – Treasure the Karoo Action Group. Help get the word out and help us get the funding in to go to court. We need the public’s support.

    Comment by Karen Rademeyer — 23 April 2013 @ 1:11 pm

  10. Why is it that environmentalist
    feel the best approach to rid the world of fossil fuels is scare tactics? What
    he is describing above is nothing more than economic principles. Profits! That
    is the primary existence of any company. The reason many of you can read and
    write is that your parents went to work, put food on the table, and sent you to
    school. None of that was free, it all required money. Money is paid as wages
    and wages to employees are only sustainable as long as the company remains
    profitable. The moment fossil fuels stop flowing the life you have come to love
    will abruptly end. Try to go one day without using something that was not is
    some way touched by a fossil fuel. You cannot do it, or at least the majority
    of us cannot. Even the solar industry is dependent on fossil fuels. Do you
    really think there is solar powered mining equipment out there extracting rare
    earth elements for solar panels, lithium ion car batteries, and computers? I
    would love to see an environmentalist propose a fossil fuel alternative that
    would not first, destroy the global economy, and second, create hunger and
    social collapse for most of the 7 billion people that walk this earth. The
    truth is this; we need fossil fuels to get the world to a technology that can
    sustain the world’s population because none of the green alternatives to date is
    as multifaceted as oil or natural gas.

    Comment by Drew — 17 May 2013 @ 2:49 am

  11. Using up the earths resources, contaminating water supplies, destroying the environment, polluting LDC’s and exploiting Africa’s people and resources to make a few corporations, directors and shareholders very rich is not the progress we are looking for Drew. The whole article is about using up resources, and you go and say that this is what we need to do. Life and living standards are already falling, even in the rich countries. The corporations, directors and shareholders are more or less immune to this because of their wealth, some are even getting richer while the world gets poorer. The answer lies in trying to use our resources wisely and try to become less dependent on oil and gas using alternatives, also to limit damage and treat people in LDC’s fairly so that they can at least have a say and some profit in their own land and resources. The oil and gas industry must be reigned back because they are far too wealthy and powerful, and influence many countries negatively. /that doesn’t mean I’m wanting to end everything that runs on fossil fuels and it’s by products overnight, but long term it might be a good idea. Everything that comes from fossil fuels is toxic; petroleum, oil, plastics, vehicle emissions etc. Not to mention the environmental impact on contamination of land and water supplies where mining and drilling occurs.

    Comment by Glenn Gregory — 28 May 2013 @ 4:18 pm

  12. brilliant article Jonathan—-lets not sell out the family silver for a handful of shiny beads to some corrupt politician.

    Comment by Mark Halbert — 7 March 2014 @ 9:42 am

  13. Good research and insight – keep up the good work!

    I’ll be honest, my interest is less environmental and more political. I’m sick and tired of groups external to Africa using us as a dumping ground/shopping basket (as you mentioned).

    The question is, with the recent developments in licensing being allocated, how do we effectively stop this?

    Comment by Average Jo — 24 March 2014 @ 6:07 pm

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