Magazine article New African

Can't Buy, Can't Sell ... Africa's Double Jeopardy. (Feature: Africa Trade)

Magazine article New African

Can't Buy, Can't Sell ... Africa's Double Jeopardy. (Feature: Africa Trade)

Article excerpt

"There has been too much talk about African poverty and too little action to eliminate it. Yet this poverty is man-made and, as such, can be tackled at its source and defeated -- if only people like Tony Blair demonstrate the will to fight it," says Cameroon Duodu.

The British prime minister, Tony Blair, during his 6-10 February tour of West Africa, called for a new "partnership" in trade relations between Africa and the G8 countries. The dispariry in living styles between the populations of these eight countries and those in Africa definitely needs addressing.

The resentment Africans feel at the juxtaposition of G8 prosperity against the grinding poverty of their own people is based on the fact that the G8 depend on Africa for their own economic growth.

Africa produces oil, coffee, cocoa, tea, timber, uranium, cobalt, gold, diamonds, manganese, bauxite, copper, iron, tin and a host of commodities without which modern industrial production in the G8 countries would be hampered. Yet Africans remain poor.

The reason is that Africa has been locked into a production pattern that conspired to render it powerless on the international markets where its products are sold.

Through colonialism, vast lands were cultivated for cash crops that Africans do not use themselves -- in particular, cocoa, coffee, tea and rubber. The rest of the land was usually designated as forest reserves from which timber was cut -- usually not for use by Africans.

These colonial practices diminished Africa's ability to grow the food that its own people eat. The result: today, some African countries use grain imported from the G8 countries as part of their staple diets.

Even this would not matter much if African exports and imports were priced in the same manner. But if an African country wants to buy rice or maize from the G8, it has to pay the price that the G8 country charges. At the same time, if the African country wants to sell cocoa or coffee beans to that same G8 it again has to sell at the price the G8 wants to buy it.

This double jeopardy facing the African economy is what is responsible for most of the poverty that is common to all African countries.

The Ghanaian cocoa farmer, the Senegalese groundnut producer, the Tanzanian copra producer, the Malawian tea planter and the Ugandan coffee grower are all united in one thing: they cannot plan their lives with any assurance because they never know from year to year what price their produce is going to fetch.

Their G8 counterparts who produce rice or maize, on the other hand, are assured of constantly rising prices, because their receipts are subsidised by their governments to the tune of billions of dollars every year.

As Blair admitted on his trip to West Africa: "Farming subsidies in the OECD countries amount to $322 billion a year, or equivalent to the total annual value of the African economy." (The OECD is made up of 30 countries, mainly European, but also including USA, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, and Mexico).

Blair even made the point, while still in West Africa, that "every cow in the OECD is subsidised by $2 a day, while the African human being lives on less than $1 a day".

In America, the government even pays farmers nor to grow food, so as to keep the price artificially high on the world market. …

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