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African leaders should be tough negotiators

 

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It is painful to see how the majority of Africans still live in poverty when you compare to the amount of natural resources that abound our continent. It is a fact known to all that Africa have gone through slavery then colonialism, two tragic events in our history that have played a significant role to weaken our traditional institutions that had peacefully ruled Africans for centuries. By now African natural resources are at stake and are attracting the appetite of major multinational companies. In case our leaders  are not careful in dealing with foreign investors, we might end up regretting when our natural resources are gone and we remain in poverty.

During slavery from the 16th to 19th century, Africa had leaders that were respected by their subjects. Unfortunately those leaders ended up selling their subjects to Europeans slave traders who then transported them to North and South America. This is a situation that most African Americans haven’t came to terms with. By now we have at hands our natural resources that are being vied and exploited by foreign multinationals at the expenses of Africans who remain in absolute poverty. So far Africans leaders have displayed the same weakness in negotiation process with foreign multinationals. The latter have signed bogus contracts with Africans leaders and have been exploiting natural resources. However the mass of Africans remain poor when African natural resources are being depleted and polluted.

Efforts by former UN Secretary General and Chair of the Africa Progress Panel, Dr. Kofi Annan are welcome but need to be backed by the political will of African leaders. Kofi Annan pleaded to the group of the world’s eight wealthiest nations (G8) in the Irish resort townoflough erne to restrain investors from their individual countries by tackling the practices of brazen tax avoidance and anonymous company ownership. The summit convened Monday, June 17, 2013, under the theme, “Taxes, Trade, and Transparency.” The former UN Secretary said that closely linked, tax avoidance and evasion are global issues that affect us all. The impact for G8 governments is a loss of revenue. But in Africa, it has direct impact on the lives of mothers and children,” said the African Progress Panel chair.

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I often inquire when our leaders will  reach a point  to negotiate deals that benefit their subjects . In his recent weeklong visit to the African continent that brought him to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania, President Barack Obama urged African nations to be tougher negotiators in accepting investments from abroad. Obama was responding to reporters in Pretoria last Saturday when asked if the USA are not resting on its laurels when it comes to its investment policies in Africa. This was in  comparison with  China that has displayed an aggressive move. He noted that many people are pleased that China is involved in Africa but cautioned African nations to be careful in their negotiations and get deal with any foreign investor that benefit people in Africa and can help spur sustainable development.

An example of poor decisions making when it comes to investment in African natural resources is in Nigeria oil industry. In December 2012, ECOWAS Court of Justice unanimously found the Nigerian government responsible for abuses by oil companies and made it clear that the government must hold the companies and other perpetrators to account. According to the Court, the right to food and social life of the people of Niger Delta was violated by destroying their environment, and thus destroying their opportunity to earn a living and enjoy a healthy and adequate standard of living. The Court also said that both the government and the oil companies violated the human and cultural rights of the people in the region.

East Africa is the next front for multinational oil companies and my concern is that our natural environment might be the next victim of oil pollution that we have witnessed in the Niger Delta. East Africa is experiencing an energy boom at the moment, after oil and gas discoveries in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. A recent article by Reuters titled “ Oil hunt in Ugandan national park tests Africa’s eco defenses” highlights worries of environmentalists on the move by French energy giant Total to prepare for seismic tests in Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park that is bisected by the majestic Nile river and boasts some of Africa’s wildlife treasures – elephants, lions and a rare giraffe sub-species.

It is natural to doubt  what might happen to our environment in case the Niger Delta catastrophe repeats itself in East Africa. It is up to our leaders and civil society organizations in our region to carefully scrutinize the clauses of contracts that are signed between our government and foreign multinational. The latter should also change their mindset when it comes to the satisfaction of their shareholders. They should know that the whole world belongs to all of us and if we continue to deplete it, climate change and its consequences will fall on the shoulders of every citizen of this world. The Latin saying  ‘praemonitus, praemunitus’ loosely translated  as ‘forewarned is forearmed’ applies to this case. If Africa is to reach self-reliance its leaders should be tough with foreign investors and negotiate deals that are in the interests of the people of Africa.

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