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50 Years Later, Independence and the Resource Curse in Francophone Africa

Francophone Africa is celebrating 50 years of independence in 2010. In light of this anniversary, a summit Africa-France took place in Nice, France as the oft tumultuous relationship between France and its former colonies was again under the spotlight. Many Africans voices are wondering out loud what is there to celebrate, given the mediocre level of human development achieved in many countries since independence.
The recurrent lament of those many outraged voices is that the African continent is certainly rich in natural resources and yet, it seems that the continent is endlessly plagued with what is known as the resource curse and many believe that those foreign interests are no stranger to sustaining the curse.
From an economic standpoint, Africa has certainly benefited from the boom in commodities in the last decade but not as much as one would predict. A report for Mckinsey Quarterly entitled “What drives Africa's growth?”, the authors state that:

Oil rose from less than $20 a barel in 1999 to more than $145 in 2008. prices for minerals, grain and other raw materials also soared on rising global demand. [..] Yet natural resources generated only 32% of Africa's GDP growth from 2000 to 2008.

So why has Africa not benefited more from its resources? Many Africans would argue that the way international interests are involved and mixed in the exploitation of those resources and the lack of transparency regarding those deals do not help foster development for African states. In a dossier on FranceAfrique for Focus on Africa , Stephen Smith highlights the special ties between France and the continent:

But since he took office, President Sarkozy has perpetuated France's time-honoured tradition of parallel diplomacy in Africa.
One set of advisers presides in public over the official business with Africa, while high-ranking Elysee staff, in tandem with unofficial middlemen, is in charge of the lucrative and highly personalised politics that Mr Sarkozy denounced during his presidential campaign.
The French media regularly expose the broken promises and the new lease on life given to Francafrique.
The elite collusion of Francafrique has become an anachronism, at odds with the stark realities of shrinking French engagement – both government and private – with its former territories south of the Sahara.

The oil curse is the most cited issues in the francophone regions but certainly not the only one. In a recent report for the Africa report, Norbrook wonders who really owns Africa’s oil:

This brave new world for African oil has been driven by price hikes, which make the expensive process of exploring a risk worth taking. The move offshore, enabled by advances in technology, requires deep pockets – hiring the drill boat that discovered oil in Ghana cost about a million dollars a day.
Another important dynamic has been the multiplication of competition, with Chinese and Indian companies joining the European and US array of majors. Where oil production was traditionally controlled by a small elite whose monopoly was seen as unhealthy, new challengers have made it easier for governments to negotiate terms.

Africa Oil Map from Theafricareport.com

Blogger Achille in Antananarivo, Madagascar has been following the political crisis in Madagascar closely, here is how he links the turmoil there and the oil curse (fr):

On a tous cherché la cause de cette crise, mais on oublie que c’est le pétrole qui a lancé les offensives. Tous les autres évènements tels que le pillage des forêts, le banditisme, l’accroissement de la pauvreté ne sont que les conséquences. La Francafrique a commencé à bouger dès qu’on a entendu les premières études positives sur le pétrole sans compter les autres ressources qui attirent d’autres pays. Je viens de me rendre compte qu’on est cerné par les multinationale, les canadiens au sud, les chinois vers Soalala et évidemment Total, le grand ami des pays en développement et des dictateurs de pacotille ! Et nous, on est là comme des cons à regarder le train qui transporte notre pognon loin vers l’horizon ! Quand j’ai vu le chiffre de 100 millions pour une concession pétrolière, je me suis dit qu’enfin la stupidité avait enfin atteint son sommet avec nos dirigeants.

We have all been seeking the cause of this crisis, yet we often forget that oil is what triggered all of the turmoil. All the other events, pillaging the national forest, high crimes, the ever-increasing poverty are only the byproducts of that. Lobbyists for Francafrique only started to make their move when they heard that there was oil to be exploited, not discarding the fact that other resources were also attractive to them and other nations.
In fact, I just realize that we are surrounded by corporations, Canadians in the South, Chinese in Soalala and of course Total, every developing country and wannabe dictators’ best friend. In the meantime, we are just standing here, watching our resources being shipped to far away places ! When I saw that 100 millions were granted for an oil concession, I said to myself that stupidity has finally reached its peak with our leaders.

Back in the 70’s, oil was seen as a passport towards rapid development. That was the case for Algeria, Libya and Irak says Passion-histoire. He explains how quickly that hope has now faded away (fr):

Dans les années 1970, grâce la rente pétrolière, l’Algérie, la Libye et l’Irak paraissaient engagés dans un processus de modernisation accélérée. Le pétrole était la bénédiction qui permettrait à ces États de rattraper leur « retard » économique.
L’Algérie était un « dragon en Méditerranée », la Libye un « émirat » et l’Irak « la puissance militaire montante » du monde arabe. Sur le plan politique, le socialisme progressiste laissait penser que des transformations profondes s’opéraient : émancipation de la femme, urbanisation, scolarisation, augmentation de l’espérance de vie…
Quelques décennies plus tard, la désillusion est cruelle. Le sentiment de richesse a entraîné ces pays dans des expérimentations voire des impasses politiques, économiques et militaires aux conséquences désastreuses dont ils peinent encore à sortir.

In the 1970, thanks to petrol rent, Algeria, Libya and Irak looked like they were engaged in a rapid modernization process. Petrol was the blessing that would allow this states to catch up from an economic standpoint. Algeria was to the “Mediterranean Dragon”, Libya was the “Emirate”, and Irak was “ the rising military power” of the arab world. From a political standpoint, progressive socialism would let many believe that many deep transformational change were in the works, women empowerment, urbanization, schooling, rising life expectancy…
A few decades later, the disillusion cuts deep. The feeling is that those riches led those countries to try out experiments that led to political economical and military dead ends that had disastrous consequences from which they have a devil of a time trying to escape.

Reacting on the celebration of 50 years of independence, Faustine Vincent writes that African nations are reluctant to submit their report card (fr):

Mais, au final, le cinquantenaire embarrasse tout le monde. Côté africain, «les pays auraient dû en profiter pour faire un bilan d’étape. Ce n’est pas le cas, assure Boubacar Boris Diop, écrivain sénégalais. Certainement parce qu’ils n’ont pas lieu d’en être fiers».

In the end, this 50 year anniversary celebration is quite embarrassing for everyone. From the African side, “this was an opportunity to draw conclusions from their journeys so far. However, that is far from the being the case says Boubacar Boris Diop, a Sengalese writer. They certainly don’t have anything to be proud of”.

On the French side, the Sarkozy administration used to express a willingness to do away with the practices of former French administrations. As reported by Sarah Halifa-Legrand, this was expressed in rather crude terms by Alain Joyandet, Secretary of State for French Cooperation (fr):

…[La France] se montrant “prêt à laisser tomber l’Afrique si son pays n’y trouve pas son compte”. Dans la bouche d’Alain Joyandet, cela donne : “Ne pas avoir peur de dire aux Africains qu’on veut les aider, mais qu’on veut aussi que cela nous rapporte”

[France] is ready to “give up on Africa if the country does not find it worthwhile”. From the mouth of Alain Joyandet: “ Not to be afraid to tell Africans that we want to help them but there has got to be something in it for us as well”

In Gabon, Association Survie notes that despite last year’s turmoil in Gabon, the company Total has done quite well for itself in 2010:

Elle a publié un résultat net de 42 millions d’euros au titre du premier trimestre 2010, en hausse de 109% par rapport à la même période en 2009.

Total has reported a net benefit of 42 millions euros in the first trimester of 2010, that is an increase of 109% from the same period in 2009.

Finally, Arimi Choubadé at Quotidien Nokoue in Benin posts a sarcastic note asking us to imagine how better-off France would have been if only France could have “maintained” her privileged ties with countries that have major natural assets (fr):

Imaginez une France partenaire privilégié d’une Côte d’Ivoire forte de son cacao ; d’un Gabon, d’un Congo, d’un Tchad, d’un Cameroun voire d’une Mauritanie dopés par l’exploitation du pétrole ; d’un Mali, d’un Bénin et d’un Burkina Faso en pôle dans la production de coton ; d’un Togo transfiguré par les ristournes du phosphate; et d’un Niger comblé par l’exploitation de l’Uranium. Cela éviterait à Sarkozy sa posture actuelle de puissance mitigée.

Imagine France with a privileged partnership with Ivory Coast and its abundance of cocoa; with Gabon, Congo, Chad, Cameroon even Mauritania boosted with oil; with Mali, Benin and Burkina Faso and their cotton, with Togo transformed by its phosphate and with Niger, and its uranium reserve. It could have helped Sarkozy from having to deal with its position as just a middle-of-the-pack powerhouse.

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