Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Treat Greed in Africa as a War Crime

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Treat Greed in Africa as a War Crime

Article excerpt

Corrupt heads of state are only part of Africa's problem. Avarice and exploitation are root causes.

When the International Criminal Court made public an arrest warrant in November for Simone Gbagbo, a former first lady of Ivory Coast, on charges of crimes against humanity, it set two precedents. For the first time, it had indicted a woman -- and someone who had held no formal public office. The previous year, Mrs. Gbagbo's husband, Laurent, became the first former head of state to face trial before the I.C.C. He is charged with thousands of murders and "other inhuman acts" after refusing to accept defeat in a presidential election that was held in November 2010.

The indictments of the Gbagbos are welcome, but they don't bring the court any closer to confronting the fundamental causes of the violence that has plagued Ivory Coast -- and most of sub-Saharan African -- for centuries. Colonial rule, and the suppression of democratic movements that followed, have contributed enormously to the misery. But those legacies are not the root cause.

Violence in Africa begins with greed -- the discovery and extraction of natural resources like oil, diamonds and gas -- and continues to be fed by struggles for control of energy, minerals, food and other commodities. The court needs the power to punish those who profit from those struggles. So do other judicial forums. At a summit meeting here last week, leaders of the African Union proposed expanding the criminal jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights to include corporate criminal liability for the illicit exploitation of natural resources, trafficking in hazardous wastes and other offenses.

Africa's so-called "resource curse" is legendary. Take Nigeria. It experienced 10 successive military coups beginning in 1966, just a few years after independence from Britain and the subsequent discovery of large oil reserves. The struggle to control its government was in large part a struggle to control oil. The pattern repeated in many countries -- including the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), Somalia, Liberia, Uganda, Sierra Leone and the Republic of Congo -- where rebels, political parties and international corporations have competed to control extraction industries.

Ivory Coast, which produces about 40 percent of the world's cocoa beans, is a case in point. Cocoa accounts for a fifth of its economy. Nestle, Hershey and Cadbury play key roles in buying it, and they benefit from the exploitative labor practices. According to a 2008 government survey, 9 in 10 Ivorian children under age 10 are involved in growing cocoa.

Practices like child labor reproduce exploitation, but the I.C.C. holds neither the rural farmers nor the international corporations that depend on such practices responsible. …

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