It’s been almost 2 years since the Coronavirus pandemic ravished the world. While the source, impact, and responses to the virus remain debatable, it’s clear that for Africa, this has been a tale of missed opportunities.
For a continent that houses the bulk of poor economies and produces low GDP output, this period presented Africans with an opportunity to reset the economic structures.
Instead, African governments focused on borrowing heavily for Covid-19 vaccine procurement while unleashing draconian economic and social lockdowns.
Africa’s curse as a continent lies in its history. It can be traced back to the 1884-85 Berlin Conference in Germany.
In Berlin, western superpowers reached a consensus to partition Africa among themselves. The purpose of the partition was to extract Africa’s mineral resources used all over the world in different supply chains.
For context, Africa is a mineral rich continent and below are a few examples:
South Africa, together with Zimbabwe, account for more than 70% of platinum global supply. London, through the London Platinum and Palladium Market, is the center for platinum trading. Zurich continues to be the hub of platinum storage and distribution by producers, bankers and traders.
Ivory Coast and Ghana account for more than 60% of global cocoa supply. This commodity is traded mainly on the New York Mercantile Exchange, and the Intercontinental Exchange in London.
The export of cocoa beans in the Ivory Coast is run by six multinationals. They’re mainly Cargill, Barry Callebaut, Olam, Sucden, Touton, and Econ. Switzerland, the citadel of chocolate production, has been Ghana’s biggest market for cocoa bean exports.
Before the pandemic hit, Ghana’s president Akufo Addo made an announcement on Ghana’s intention to halt cocoa bean exports to Switzerland.
More than 90% of mica mined in Madagascar ends up in China for processing and further exporting as a Chinese product. Madagascar also accounts for more than 80% of the world’s supply of vanilla beans. North America and Europe account for more than 60% of market share in the global pure vanilla extract market.
The Democratic Republic of Congo accounts for more than 70% of global cobalt supply. This mineral is used in the electronics sector and EV batteries among other uses.
Almost all cobalt output in the DRC ends up in China for processing to the extent that China has become the biggest supplier of cobalt. Also disheartening is the fact that big multinational companies like Glencore and other Chinese companies are the biggest producers of cobalt in the Congo.
Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia are the world’s fifth and seventh largest producers of copper, accounting for 11% of global supply. China, again, with European multinationals are the main key players in copper production in both countries.
Kenya is the largest exporter of cut roses to the European Union, and accounts for roughly 8.4% of the global supply of cut flowers. Royal Flora Holland in the Netherlands is the world’s biggest market for flowers, where the bulk of Kenyan flowers end up.
The Dutch are the main leaders in the rose production industry in both Kenya and Ethiopia. According to the United Nations Comtrade database, South Africa cut flower imports from the Netherlands were worth US$5.21 million during the year 2020.
The biggest diamond mining companies in the world are Alrosa, De Beers, Debswana, Rio Tinto, and Dominion Diamonds. Jwaneng Mine in Botswana is the world’s richest diamond mine by value. It is owned by Debswana, a partnership between De Beers and Botswana’s government.
South Africa is the second largest exporter of citrus in the world. Productive land ownership in the country remains in hands of settler colonialists.
Nigeria, Libya, Angola, Algeria, Egypt, DRC, Ghana, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Chad are Africa’s leading crude oil producers.
Multinationals run the oil industry in Africa. According to the International Energy Agency’s 2018 Oil Report,” Africa’s crude oil production significantly outweighs its refining capacity, and its oil production is more than double the amount it consumes. However, lack of investment, along with failing infrastructure and inadequate refining capacity are forcing the continent to rely on imports to satisfy increasing fuel demand…”
South Africa has the largest hunting industry in the world and second most attractive source of American trophy imports. Almost all game farms in South Africa are owned by settlers.
There are many other African countries that account for significant percentages of global supply for many other different products. The underlying pattern is the means of production are owned by multinationals and Africa isn’t doing much processing for its own products.
Raw materials are exported to Europe and China, then imported back as finished products at exorbitant prices. Not much stimulus exists for intra Africa trade in these different minerals and commodities that the continent is rich in.
What is the missed opportunity?
Africa finds itself competing with the so-called developed countries in responding to the Covid-19 crisis through procurement of vaccines. The focus ought to have been on addressing structural inequalities and skewed trade agreements.
This was the perfect time for Africa to position itself as a superpower in different value chains. It was an opportunity for Africa to ensure the majority, black people, control the means of production.
The continent is faced with a triple threat of a settler economy, multinationals, and the scourge of western governments and China presiding over the continue recession of aspirations and hopes of African people.
We simply don’t have the luxury to focus our energies on a suspect virus and procurement of vaccines that will leave the continent in massive debt. The debt isn’t just financial either. The sovereignty of African nations is at stake due to the nature of vaccine supply contracts with Big Pharma.
Big Pharma also enjoys blanket indemnity for any emerging damages from the vaccine. Clearly, there exists a massive leadership vacuum in Africa. The yesteryear heroes who fought for economic emancipation did not sacrifice their lives for the position Africans are in today.
As an outcome of years of subjugation, colonialism, and exclusion, Africa has continuously provided the West and China with mineral riches without getting anything significant in return.
Africa is the basis for the development of all these parasitic countries. Today, they can afford to provide their citizens with substantial stimulus packages for ubiquitous economic lockdown while Africa is left clutching at straws, desperately trying to fit in the pointless conundrum that is the new normal.
A new normal of continued exploitation of Africa, even when it comes to vaccine deals. Some weeks back, the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust bemoaned the pains Africa must go through to procure vaccines. It got to the extent that AU Special Envoy, and one of Africa’s richest black people, pleaded with Big Pharma to share the IP for vaccine manufacturing so Africa could manufacture its own vaccines.
To start with, Africa does not even need these vaccines – capacity must be built to manufacture and supply to those continents that have the luxury to inject people with a substance that does not prevent infection nor provide immunity. Proceeds must be used to drive the process of decolonization for Africa to process its own minerals for local production and export.
The vaccine frenzy is a frenzy that our continent cannot miss. However, it has to be for sound reasons.
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