[OPE-L] Review of Patrick B's _Looting Africa: The Economics of Exploitation_

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Thu Dec 21 2006 - 09:18:59 EST

I just noticed that in the same issue of _Multinational Monitor_
(JULY/AUG 2006: VOL 27 No. 4) there is a review of Patrick's
new book by Robert Weissman.

In solidarity, Jerry

            Looting Africa: The Economics
            of Exploitation
            By Patrick Bond
            New York: Zed Books, 2006
            172 pages; $19.99

      Patrick Bond's Looting Africa is a short but sweeping book, offering
a multifaceted analysis of African economic deprivation, and
insisting that charitable efforts to address African poverty will
fail if they do not confront global and national structures of

      Patrick Bond, who is director of the Center for Civil Society at the
University of Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa (as well as a
Multinational Monitor contributing writer) is a public intellectual.
He understands his work as elaborating, assisting and reflecting the
work of social movements for justice. Looting Africa is not an
academic book, and it draws on activist research much more than
academic material.

      Indeed, a major thrust of Looting Africa is to connect the work of
quite diverse authors around the world - liberally quoting from
their writings - and weave their insights into a profile of the
ongoing exploitation of Africa. In so doing, Looting Africa
approaches its subject with a telescope rather than microscope - it
covers vast territory, seriously, but without detailed discussion.

      Encapsulated, Bond's argument is that imperialism persists: Global
structures of economic domination facilitate the theft of Africa's
resources, so that the rich countries grow richer from African
wealth, while the vast majority of Africans grow poorer. He insists
as well on the importance of national elites in directing,
supporting and maintaining those structures within their borders.
Overwhelmingly, he argues, African political elites absorb pressure
from below, and maintain economic structures that entrench
exploitation (while also benefiting a narrow African economic

      On the global scale, Bond says the mechanisms of exploitation are
those familiar to readers of Multinational Monitor. These include
the structural adjustment policies (among them, privatization,
deregulation, removal of currency controls) of the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank; multinational corporate
extraction of resource wealth; unfair trade rules that leave poor
countries unable to defend their national productive base.

      One important nugget he highlights is a World Bank report, "Where is
the Wealth of Nations," which reassesses the benefits of
export-reliant strategies by looking at the impact of natural
resource depletion - and concludes that Africa suffers enormously
from relying on exports of primary resources. The losses are
two-fold - first, exploited and not replaced (or irreplaceable)
resources reduce a country's capital stock; and second, the
pollution and environmental degradation so typically associated with
resource exploitation exact a heavy toll.

      A key subtheme of Looting Africa is that the charitable efforts of
many global NGOs and rock stars like Bono and Bob Geldof (through
efforts such as the rock concert-embellished campaigning to "Make
Poverty History") are fundamentally misguided. Bond insists that the
claimed benefits of these efforts are vastly overstated - and, even
more importantly, that the efforts to make the global economy work
for Africa ignore how the rules of the global economy are actually
central to Africa's problems. Regarding aid, he cites an Action Aid
report, for example, that suggests less than half of claimed aid for
Africa actually reaches poor people. On trade, citing the World Bank
report, he explains that much of what Africa trades actually
impoverishes the subcontinent; and he contends that opening to trade
has devastated African manufacturers. Opening to foreign investment
has been chimerical as well - most new foreign investment is
directed to oil, and financial deregulation has facilitated capital

      Dismissive of Make Poverty History and associated efforts, Bond
places great hope in the efforts of radical grassroots initiatives.
Contrasted to Latin America, Bond acknowledges that African popular
movements have had relatively little effect in altering
macroeconomic policies. But he sees hope in the national and global
campaigns of growing power and considerable success around specific
issues: to overcome the patent monopolies of drug companies on AIDS
and other drugs; to keep biotech seeds out of Africa; to stop sale
of blood diamonds; to protest World Bank-backed dams in Lesotho and
Uganda; and to question Firestone's exploitation of Liberia, among
other cases.

      Taking state power - or at least more significantly affecting how it
is deployed - and constructing a more just social order remains
aspirational. Still, Bond has hope for - and denies there is any
meaningful alternative to - "the self-activity of progressive
Africans themselves, in their campaigns and declarations, their
struggles - sometimes victorious but still mainly frustrated - and
their hunger for an Africa finally able to throw off the chains of
an exploitative world economy and power elite who treat the
continent without respect."

      - Robert Weissman

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Sun Dec 31 2006 - 00:00:04 EST