Viewing the degree of corruption in Africa through the lens of Mads Brugger’s 2011 documentary ‘The Ambassador’, reveals how ambassadorial privileges are bought by European business men to extricate diamonds out of Africa. Although the documentary falls short of providing evidence of the many neo-colonialist claims, it is triumphant in showcasing how easy it is for individuals or countries to exploit Africa out of its natural resources. Looking through Brugger’s lens of Africa, one can see the scramble for Africa’s natural resources by powerful countries and businessmen, with China sitting at the helm.
The persistent problem of corruption in African countries which has about a third of the world’s mineral resources has seen the continent remain the poorest of the world. With these large endowments in mineral deposits, Africa only represents about 8 percent of the global mineral production, because the continent exports its minerals in raw form. Corruption and the inability for Africa to process its natural resources has led to the exploitation of Africa’s wealth, for the development of outside nations.
In the documentary, Madz Brugger through a brokerage which has connections with poor third world countries, managed to acquire a Liberian diplomatic passport, a Liberian drivers licence and an honorary MBA from Monrovia University in Liberia. Brugger with his new titles travelled to Central Africa Republic (CAR) as a Liberian diplomat whose intent was to extract diamonds out of CAR illegally.
Brugger in the documentary recorded a secret meeting with CAR’s head of state security Guy-Jean Le Foll Yamandé. Yamandé a former French Legionnaire, alleged that France being the former colonial government of CAR still believe that they have the right to CAR’s untapped minerals-copper, iron, manganese, cobalt, uranium, red mercury etc. Yamandé claims that whenever CAR tried to ask for grants or aid to mine some of these minerals, the French would to sabotage their efforts.
Moreover, as Brugger made contacts with fellow diplomats in the capital of CAR in Bangui, Pankaj G. Tewani the Consul of India warned him not to divulge his business plans to European diplomats. Tewani claimed that most of the diplomats would report such plans to the ambassador of France which would not be in his best interests. As Brugger organised high level meetings with CAR’s political elite, bribes in envelopes were exchanged to support his plans of opening a match factory. This match factory would then mask his illicit extraction of diamonds through a business partnership with a local miner Monsieur Gilbert, who owned open cast mines in CAR.
What the documentary revealed is that former colonial powers like France still want to yield some kind of power over their former colonies even after independence. Brugger made the bold claim that there is a war between the West and China with the battleground being Africa. Brugger claims that the source of this attrition is China’s insatiable appetite for Africa’s natural resources. Indeed trade between China and Africa has increased to astronomical heights that last year alone, the cost of trade between Africa and China clocked $200 billion. China imported oil and minerals from Africa while it exported electronics and textiles in reciprocation. The figure of 200 billion incurred between China and Africa is double that of the transactions between the US and Africa and far much more than the EU. Last year president Barack Obama called for a summit between 50 African leaders and the US government. Although Ben Rhodes the US deputy security advisor denied that the summit was in response to China’s growing influence in Africa, many scholars and writers believe that the US is wary of China’s relationship with Africa.
When Africa became independent from the European imperialist powers around the 1960’s and 70’s, a leading African author Kwame Nkrumah observed,
“Neo-colonialism operated in varying ways in postcolonial Africa: control over government in the neo-colonialism colonial state through foreign financial support for this state or through the presence of foreign consortium serving and upholding foreign financial interest. Whichever way one analyzes it; neo colonialism resulted in the exploitation of the African states such that the foreign capital entering the state to foster development instead “promoted” underdevelopment”
Africa before China’s foothold on the continent had stonger trade links with the West for the greater part of the last decades of the 20th century. In postcolonial Africa, the West controlled the African continent through the Bretton Woods institutions such as the IMF and World Bank by shaping and influencing Africa’s domestic policies. China’s recent excursions into Africa have then ignited resentment between the West and the emerging Asian powerhouse, due to the West’s waning foothold on the continent. Looking at Brugger’s documentary, one can sense the vulnerability of politically unstable African countries like CAR, which are being exploited of their natural resources by individuals and powerful countries alike. If it only took Brugger hundreds of thousands of dollars to bribe his way to acquire diamonds in CAR, how easy would it be for powerful countries to exert their control over Africa’s ill-gotten natural resources?
As China makes its footprint on the African continent, poor countries which once looked to the West for aid are slowly looking to the East for developmental aid. Last year when Uganda passed a bill to criminalise homosexuality, Western countries like the US who fund the country with humanitarian aid amounting to $720 million per year, decided to re-evaluate its relationship with Uganda. Norway, the Netherlands and Denmark also were reconsidering diverting their funds somewhere else. The politics of interfering in domestic politics by the West has seen African countries seeking help from China, which has a policy of non interference in other countries affairs. This means that China can make business deals with politically unstable countries such as CAR, which is contrary to Western policies in Africa. Western development policies with Africa have conditionalities which emphasise on the concept of good governance, whereas as China’s policies do not look beyond profits. Corrupt African politicians have then been enticed to work with China because of its lax policies which do not seem to compromise Africa’s autonomy. In the end, some African politicians view China as a better developmental partner than the West who have for decades meddled with the domestic politics of Africa. However, what African politicians are failing to see is that no matter which way they look, a degree of exploitation lies with both camps and no matter who they cosy up to, the main interest is in Africa’s natural resources.
Currently, what is more alarming is the rate at which Africa is being stripped of its extractives through deals which has seen China acquire swathes of African land for timber felling and mining iron ore and copper. In return, African countries are given billions of dollars in loans on the condition that Chinese companies carry out developmental work on behalf of African countries. Chinese government backed construction companies such as China Henan International Cooperation Group (CHICO) a Chinese state-owned construction and engineering company, and CICO, a subsidiary of Chongqing Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation Group Co., Ltd have become the primary benefactors of such policies in Africa. What is happening is that most African countries are losing their natural resources for infrastructure that is built by cheap Chinese labour and in the end, poor unstable African countries are being cheated out of their wealth. In the documentary, Brugger met with Varney Sherman who is Liberia’s leading corporate lawyer and chairman to president Ellen Johnson’s Unity party. At the time of filming, Maersk the international shipping company hired Sherman to help them take over the free port in Monrovia, which is the capital of Liberia. Brugger recorded Sherman talking to the minister of foreign affairs, whereby he seemed to support Brugger’s fake diplomatic credentials as Liberia’s ambassador in CAR. The minister impressed by Sherman’s endorsement, pledged that he would fast-track Bruggers appointment as the diplomat for Liberia. Brugger had to pay $35,000 to Sherman as a secret donation to his political party. It then becomes evident that these back-room meetings between the political elite of Africa and unscrupulous businessmen are the reason why Africa’s natural resources are being exploited. If Sherman could receive $35000 for a fraudulent ambassadorship, how easy would it be for the West or China to secure deals which involve the natural resources of Africa? It is then no wonder that China is able to acquire large tracts of land in Africa with the freedom of extracting minerals which only benefit China and not the poor people of Africa.
Such developments have indeed caused concern for Africa which has a historical past of colonialism. In the documentary when Brugger was in the process of setting up his matches factory, he sarcastically got a local painter to to paint the artwork for the matchbox which portrayed the French and Chinese as the enemies of CAR. Indeed the West and China are seemingly at war for the influence of Africa and in the middle of all this are the natural resources. Watching the ambassador by Madz Brugger a Danish journalist, makes one realise that neo-colonialism in Africa has taken a new form in the 21st century.
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