MAC: Mines and Communities

The Ravaging of Africa: The Plundering of Resources

Published by MAC on 2002-10-15

The Ravaging of Africa: Western Neo-Colonialism Fuels Wars, Plundering of Resources

Published in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor

October 2002

Asad Ismi

The G8 Summit held in Kananaskis in June, pledged $6 billion dollars a year in so-called aid to Africa by 2006. The low figure caused Phil Twyford of Oxfam to say "We're extremely disappointed by this wasted opportunity. They're offering peanuts to Africa and recycled peanuts at that." In 1999, debt service payments from Africa, the poorest region in the world, to rich Western countries totalled $35.7 billion. African debt stands at a crippling $300 billion. According to The Guardian (U.K.) "African leaders invited to the G8 gathering in Kananaskis expressed deep disappointment that the plan did nothing to open western markets, cancel debts of the poorest countries or provide the financial aid needed to meet the U.N.'s targets for tackling global poverty by 2015."

Behind the shameful peanut throwing lurks a deadly Western policy towards Africa. The U.S. government which dominates the G8, has through the Pentagon, the CIA, the World Bank and the IMF, systematically demolished African economies, health and education sectors, and fueled eleven wars on the continent with arms transfers and military training. This genocidal imperial strategy has killed more than four million Africans and allowed the U.S. and the West to attain Africa's abundant natural riches cheaply.

Nearly 80% of the strategic minerals the U.S. requires are found in Africa including 90% of the world's cobalt, 90% of the platinum, 40% of the gold, 98% of the chromium, 64% of the manganese and one-third of the uranium. These minerals are needed to make jet engines, cars, missiles, electronic components, iron and steel. Africa also accounts for 18% of U.S. oil imports as compared to 25% from the Persian Gulf, with Nigeria and Angola being the fifth largest and ninth largest exporters to the U.S. respectively.

Militarizing Africa

Africa is the most war-torn region in the world with armed conflicts going on in ten countries: Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan, Liberia, Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, Uganda, Ethiopia/Eritrea, Congo-Brazzaville and Algeria. The long wars in Angola and Sierra Leone ended (for now) in April and March 2002 respectively. The U.S. has provided arms and/or military training to participants in 11 of these 12 wars, the only exception being Algeria. During the 1990s, 32 African countries (out of 53) saw violent conflict. According to William Hartung, co-author of "Deadly Legacy: U.S. Arms to Africa and the Congo War," a report released in 2000 by the New York-based World Policy Institute, the U.S. sent $1.5 billion dollars in arms and training to Africa during the Cold War years (1950-1989) and this "set the stage for the current round of conflicts in the region." Hartung points out that "The military skills and equipment supplied by the U.S. are still being used by combatants in these wars." As "Deadly Legacy" explains, "many of the top U.S. clients of the Cold War-Liberia, Somalia, Sudan and Zaire (now DRC)" became riven by violence, instability and economic collapse during the 1990s (and still are).

Following the end of the Cold War, the Clinton Administration undertook "a wave of new military training programs in Africa." From 1991 to 1995, the U.S. gave military assistance to 50 countries in Africa out of a total of 53; during 1991-98, U.S. arms sales and military training to Africa totalled more than $227 million. The U.S. has four different military training programs for Africa: International Military Education Training (IMET), Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET), African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI) and the African Center for Security Studies (ACSS). Under IMET, the U.S. gave $7.9 million in outright grants to Sub-Saharan Africa in 1998, increasing it to $8.1 million in 1998 and $8.5 million in 2000. In contrast, South Asia got only $5.7 million, $5.6 million, and $5.8 million, respectively. In 2000, the U.S. gave $8.1 million under ACRI to 39 African countries and U.S. Special Forces have trained 34 out of 53 African national militaries under JCET.


In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the heart of Africa, U.S. proxies Uganda and Rwanda occupy the eastern half of the country and are looting its mineral resources and sending them to the West. The DRC is the richest country in Africa holding the world's biggest copper, cobalt and cadmium deposits. The war started by Rwanda and Uganda against the Congolese government in 1998, has killed 2.5 million people and displaced 2.3 million. Oxfam called this war, "the world's biggest humanitarian disaster." Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia sent their armies to support the Congo government and Burundi joined the other side. Thus began "Africa's First World War" involving seven armies which has further wrecked a country crushed by more than a century of Western domination. The U.S. has given arms and/or military training to all seven armies. Rwanda and Uganda are the U.S.' "staunchest allies in the region" and Washington backed their invasion of the Congo according to Human Rights Watch. Uganda received $1.5 million in U.S. arms and military training in 1999 and Rwanda got $325,000 under IMET in 2000. U.S. Special Forces have trained the Rwandan Army in counterinsurgency, combat and psychological operations. This included instructions about fighting in the Congo. To keep the war going, the U.S. has helped the other side too with Zimbabwe getting $1.4 million in U.S. military training in 2000 and Namibia $500,000.


Another U.S.-made disaster is the 27-year long civil war in Angola (Africa's longest-running war) which ended in April 2002; the conflict killed 500,000 people and shattered the country. The U.N. has warned of a catastrophe in Angola, where half a million people face starvation (as a result of the war) and more than a million depend on food aid for survival. Thousands of people have died of hunger over the last few months, and more are dying every day. According to the BBC, "It is the worst starvation to hit Southern Africa in over a decade." Three and a half million Angolans (a third of the population) have been displaced by the war and eight to fifteen million land mines cover Angola making agriculture hazardous. As a result, fertile Angola has to import half its food requirements. There are 100,000 disabled land mine victims, 82% of Angolans live in poverty and a child dies of a preventable disease every three minutes. Like the Congo, Angola is rich in mineral wealth: it is Africa's second largest oil producer (after Nigeria) with some of the largest offshore oil deposits in the world, and its diamond output is worth about $800 million a year.

The civil war started with Angola's independence from Portugal in 1975 when the left-wing Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) took power and Washington launched a CIA covert operation in July to overthrow it. The operation was the brainchild of Henry Kissinger who was then Secretary of State in the Ford Administration. The CIA at the time was led by George Bush Sr. The CIA plan included backing a South African invasion of Angola in October and support for Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), an opponent of the MPLA, led by the brutal Jonas Savimbi. UNITA was an agent of the Portuguese colonial regime; its task was to destroy the MPLA, and it had received aid from apartheid South Africa whose invasion it joined. The U.S. asked for the South African invasion and helped Pretoria airlift men and materiel up to the front line so the latter could seize the capital Luanda and stop the MPLA from establishing itself as Angola's first independent government. Before South African forces could reach Luanda, however, Cuban troops landed there in November and beat back the apartheid army.

The CIA operation spent $31.7 million on arming UNITA and the South Africans before being shut down by Congress in 1976; U.S.aid to UNITA resumed in 1985 under the Reagan Administration and Savimbi received $250 million between 1986 and 1991. U.S. support for Savimbi reached a record $50 million in 1989 when George Bush Sr. became President. As one observer put it, "Two military supply flights a day maintained a UNITA campaign that became increasingly brutal and destructive. this time...was reduced to naked coercion. Men were forced to fight for his army, women were dragooned into sexual slavery and peasant farmers had their food seized. Those who challenged his authority would be accused of witchcraft and burnt alive along with their families." According to Human Rights Watch, UNITA forces "engaged in indiscriminate shelling, long-term sieges that starved civilians, summary executions, torture, mutilation of the dead, hostage-taking, and attacks on international relief operations." The European Parliament denounced U.S. aid to Savimbi and declared UNITA "a terrorist organization which supports South Africa."

Washington's support for Savimbi continued even after the Cubans withdrew in 1991 and the U.S.S.R. collapsed. The U.S. finally recognized the Angolan government in May 1993 under Clinton. By then Savimbi was able to finance his war through diamonds smuggling; the conflict ended after he was killed by government troops in February 2002.

More Wars

At the same time that it laid waste to Angola, the U.S. ensured a similar fate for adjoining Mozambique, which also emerged from Portuguese colonialism in 1975. Here, the U.S., again through South Africa, backed the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) "an artificial armed engine of destruction," created by the intelligence service of racist Rhodesia. Even more vicious than UNITA, RENAMO committed massive atrocities against civilians and destroyed much of Mozambique's infrastructure in a 16-year long civil war with the left-wing government of the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO). One million people were killed and five million displaced by the time the war ended in 1992. In 1988, Roy Stacey, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, who was part of a group trying to end Washington's backing for RENAMO, stated that the insurgents were carrying out "one of the most brutal holocausts against ordinary human beings since World War II."

Somalia which today is wracked by civil war and has no central government was the top recipient (per capita) of U.S. military and economic aid in Africa during the 1980s. Siad Barre, the country's dictator at the time, was a key strategic ally of Washington in the Cold War and got $600 million in U.S. aid. Following Barre's rampage of killing and plunder, Somalia literally fell apart. Barre's forces murdered 5,000 unarmed civilians in 1988-89 and in 1990 he was overthrown.

Similarly, Sudan today is embroiled in a 18-year old civil war that has killed two million people. The U.S. is actively supporting the rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) against the government. However, it has long been clear that Washington wants to keep the rebels strong enough to prevent defeat but does not want them to become capable of toppling the government. "Peace" a U.S. official explained, "does not necessarily suit American interests. An unstable Sudan amounts to a stable Egypt."

Economic War

Washington has fomented not only military conflict in Africa but also an economic war through its agents the World Bank and the IMF. The Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) imposed by these institutions on 36 African countries since 1980 have devastated the continent, decimating national economies and health and education systems. SAPs offer loans on condition that governments drastically reduce public spending (especially on health, education and food subsidies) in favor of repayment of debt owed to Western banks, increase exports of raw materials to the West, encourage foreign investment and privatize state enterprises; the last two steps mean selling whatever national assets a poor country may have to Western multinational corporations. Under SAPs, Sub-Saharan Africa's external debt has actually increased by more than 500% since 1980, to $300 billion today. In 1997, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) stated that in the absence of debt payments, severely indebted African countries could have saved the lives of 21 million people and given 90 million girls and women access to basic education by the year 2000. The All-African Conference of Churches has called the debt "a new form of slavery, as vicious as the slave trade."

After twenty years of SAPs, 313 million Africans lived in absolute poverty in 2001 (out of a total population of 682 million), a 63% increase over the 200 million figure for 1994. Life expectancy has dropped by 15% since 1980 and today is 47 years, the lowest in the world. Forty per cent of Africans suffer from malnutrition and more than half are without safe drinking water. Health care spending in the 42 poorest African countries fell by 50% during the 1980s. As a result, health care systems have collapsed across the continent creating near catastrophic conditions. More than 200 million Africans have no access to health services as hundreds of clinics, hospitals and medical facilities have been closed. This has left diseases to rage unchecked, leading most alarmingly to an AIDS pandemic. More than 17 million Africans have died of HIV/AIDS which has created 12 million orphans.

Between 1986 and 1996, per capita education spending in Africa fell by 0.7% a year on average. Forty per cent of African children are out of school and the adult literacy rate in Sub- Saharan Africa is 60%, well below the developing country average of 73%. More than 140 million young Africans are illiterate. Given the annihilating social impact of SAPs all over Africa, it is not surprising that Emily Sikazwe, director of the Zambian anti-poverty group "Women for Change," asked: "What would they [the World Bank and the IMF] say if we took them to the World Court in The Hague and accused them of genocide?"


Structural adjustment here was preceded by CIA intervention. In 1966, a CIA-backed military coup overthrew Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's President. Hailed as "Africa's brightest star," Nkrumah called for an anti-imperialist, pan-African organization and non-alignment in the Cold War. In October 1965, Nkrumah published his famous work, "Neo-Colonialism-The Last Stage of Imperialism" in which he accused the CIA of being behind many crises in the Third World. The U.S. government reacted by sending Nkrumah a note of protest and cancelling $35 million in aid to Ghana. Four months later, Nkrumah was overthrown in the CIA-engineered coup.

IMF involvement in Ghana followed the coup and SAPs were activated in 1983. Seen as a "star pupil" by the World Bank and the IMF, Ghana privatized more than 130 state enterprises including the mining sector ( its main source of revenue), removed tariff barriers and exchange regulations and ended subsidies for health and education. As a result 20% of Ghanaians are unemployed and the cost of food and services has gone beyond the reach of the poor. GDP per capita was lower in 1998 ($390) than it was in 1975 ($411); 78.4% of Ghanaians live on $1 a day and 40% live below the poverty line; 75% have no access to health services and 68% none to sanitation.

The introduction of user fees for health care in 1985 combined with falling wages and increasing poverty has reduced outpatient attendance at hospitals by a third. As one observer put it, "Patients pay for everything; for surgery, drugs, blood, scalpel, even the cotton wool." User fees in education have raised the primary school dropout rate to 40%. Ghana is the second largest gold producer in Africa (after South Africa) and gold mining is the country's main source of income. SAPs have compelled Ghana to sell the gold mining sector to Western multinational corporations which now own up to 85% of the large-scale mining industry. More than half of the 200 active gold concessions belong at least in part to Canadian companies. The corporations can repatriate up to 95% of their profits into foreign accounts and pay no income tax or duties. This means that Western companies virtually monopolize Ghana's gold which contributes little to its economy.

American Holocaust

Just as "An unstable Sudan amounts to a stable Egypt" so an unstable, war-wracked and poverty-stricken Africa amounts to a stable and prosperous West. This is U.S. imperial strategy towards Africa and it has destroyed the continent. The strategy aims at extracting the maximum amount of wealth from Africa for the West at the lowest cost through the perpetration of a holocaust created by eleven wars and structural adjustment programs imposed on 36 countries. The wars have killed more than four million Africans and the SAPs have led to an estimated 21 million deaths; both have resulted in the transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars to the West. Most African exports to the West are raw materials and the wars have helped keep their price low since the armies need to sell these for whatever money they can get in order to buy weapons; a considerable portion of the weapons are also bought from the West. SAPs have transferred $229 billion in debt payments from Sub-Saharan Africa to the West since 1980. This is four times the region's 1980 debt. Like the wars, SAPs also help keep raw material prices low by enforcing the expansion of such exports to the West. The value of primary African exports has dropped by about half since 1980. Four hundred years of the slave trade and 90 years of Western colonialism in Africa helped build the U.S. and European economies; Washington's ravaging of Africa today continues this horrifying legacy and starkly reveals the grotesqueness of the West.

Asad Ismi is a writer on international politics. To read his other articles click on

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