In April this year, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) will hold its 12th conference in Accra, Ghana. One of the sub-themes of the conference is commodities.
Third World Network-Africa (TWN-Af) in collaboration with partners is organising a civil society parallel forum on Thursday April 17th, 2008 at 2:00pm at the British Council Hall, Accra, Ghana. The theme of the forum is “WHOSE BOOM? COMMODITIES AND THE NEW SCRAMBLE FOR AFRICA.”
Extractive resources of Africa such as metals, minerals, oil, gas, forests, non-forest products, and fisheries play a key role in the social and economic development of the continent.Since pre-colonial period, these resources have been a major factor for the scramble for Africa. During the period preceding colonial rule, European governments with immediate and long-term interest in Africa’s commodities grabbed whatever they thought spelt profit and value for their economies. They subsequently ran up their flags in different parts of the continent to establish their political dominance in order to guarantee their commercial influence over Africa and its resources including commodities. The political and economic relations between Europe and Africa enabled governments and corporations of the former to gain control over new and profitable investment areas, raw materials, and markets in Africa.
Despite the fact that the attainment of independence by African countries shifted the political dynamics and brought hope to the people of the continent, it did not change the unbalanced trade and investment relations with Europe and the rest of the world.Africa has remained a major producer and supplier of primary commodities under terms and conditions which are detrimental to the national economies and the environment of the continent. The declaration of permanent sovereignty by African States over natural resources and primary commodities after independence contributed in some cases of propping up despotic governments who applied these commodities as instruments for manipulation and entrenching political power to the detriment of the popular will of the people.
In the current period, characterized by globalization fostered by geopolitical processes and economic liberalization a new scramble for Africa’s extractive resources has emerged. The hegemony over Africa and its resources is no longer a preserve of Europe and its corporations, new players and actors have come into the scene and new economic arrangements are being introduced. As part of its foreign policy, the US is expanding focus beyond the volatile but oil-rich middle-east to Africa the new oil Gulf of Guinea. The exploration and discovery of new oil fields in West Africa is a further motivation for new entrances such as the US, China and India. The discovery ultimately reinforces the US foreign policy shift towards Africa’s oil resources. There is also a rising interest of India and China for Africa’s extractive resources. The government of China has made it clear that it’s shopping for platinum from Zimbabwe, copper from Zambia, iron ore from South Africa, petroleum from Sudan, and other precious metals from parts of the continent. Since 2000, over 700 Chinese companies mainly in the domain of commodities set up operations in Africa. Generally, China’s trade with Africa increased by three times, making China the third largest trading partner for Africa. Perhaps, in response to the new entrance, Europe is re-introducing new economic arrangements with Africa, in particular the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) to retain its influence and control of Africa.
One of the key dimensions of the new scramble is the commoditization of essential life supporting systems such as water, land, services and public space. For instance, the natural environment of communities has been turned into economic space). The trend, which is worrying, suggests that governments themselves have come to accept the paradigm of development which commercializes these essential things. This acceptance reflects in their strategy for national development which often places foreign direct investment at the centre of State policy and practice, with multilateral and bilateral institutions serving as clearing houses for the flow of capital.
Citizen groups, a section of the academic community, activist organizations and local communities argue that the hegemony over Africa and its commodities has ominous consequences for national policy space, women’s productive economic activities, the growth and development of the informal economy, environmental sustainability and national capacity to cope with climate change impacts. However, many are arguing that most African countries lack the required capacity to exploit their commodities, in particular extractive resources and therefore they should continue to rely on foreign capital, services and expertise and the best way to stimulate these is a framework which provide for: a) equal treatment for foreign and local investors; b) broad incentive schemes for high risk areas such as metals, minerals, oil and gas extraction, c) stabilisation arrangement (protection) for the foreign investor, etc. Yet, others arealso asking the question whether this new scramble is genuinely about Africa and the welfare of the African people or whether it is actually about protecting their own interests in the region by putting forward international economic and investment agreements that have locking effects for African governments.
Amid these arguments, UNCTAD 12th is taking place at a time the price of Africa’s strategic commodities: metals, minerals, oil and natural gas are experiencing sky rocketing to unprecedented levels.Who are the main beneficiaries of the rising commodity price? Is the rising price setting the scene for increasing the pace for the new scramble or it is a product of the new scramble? Again is the price boom a recipe for further lowering of standards in Africa at the expense of the environment and national economic development as transnational corporations pressure to return more cash to shareholders? Does the price boom provide headlong rushes into Greenfield areas, in pursuit of deposits, what hope is there for community and national development agendas? Again, the conference is coming on at a time Europe is negotiating economic partnership agreements (EPAs) with Africa. Is the EPAs a strategy for Europe to re-launch its economic dominance over Africa or a framework for assisting Africa’s developmental challenges including the effective integration of the African economy into the global economy?Answers to these questions lie in critical analyses of the motives behind the growing interest for Africa (new scramble) as well as national and regional development frameworks in and for Africa.
Conceived as a platform for dialogue, exchange and solidarity, the objective of the forum is to contribute to the debate on the new scramble by analyzing and critiquing its nature, motives and implications as well as processes and frameworks in and for Africa; by reflecting on our own experiences and approaches over the past years and analyzing the constraints and challenges posed for mobilization and international solidarity. It is expected that the outcome of the forum would feed into the civil society organization position paper of the conference. It is also expected that the exchanges and discussions will identify issues and arenas for future qualitative linkages and solidarity endeavors.
4.0 Structure of forum
This is a one session forum of five member panel followed by discussions in plenary. The time allocated for this session is two hours. A total of 50 minutes would be devoted for presentations with each speaker having up to 10 minutes. The rest of the one hour 10 minutes would be devoted for discussions.
The proposed issues for discussions are as follows:
1.The nature and motives behind the new scramble for Africa, alternatives for Africa
2.Africa’s extractive resources and the new scramble
3.The gender impact of the new scramble: issues of land and livelihood
4.Where is the EPAs in the new scramble for Africa
5.Challenges for mobilization experience of Latin America