Review of "Looting Africa", Patrick Bond, Zed Books Â£12.99
"Looting" is often in the eye of the beholder. Endless reports bemoan Africa's poverty and corruption - and then offer free market solutions. In this useful, angry book on the economics of exploitation, political economist Patrick Bond lays into the real looters, including national economies, banks and transnational organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
In 160 pages he demolishes the view put forward by Gordon Brown and the international financial institutions that the solution to poverty in Africa is more privatisation and liberalisation. Where possible he uses statistics and reports produced by the World Bank and the IMF to do it. Again and again he shows how it is not possible for African countries to develop using the tools that they are offered.
So even World Trade Organisation (WTO) economists admit, "Removal of all rich country agricultural export subsidies and domestic support programmes would actually cause a net loss for developing countries. This is mainly because the removal of these subsidies would raise the world price of food and agricultural products."
Bond shows that many of the economic problems in Africa are due to economies that were set up to supply metropolitan regimes under colonialism, often based around raw materials and single crops. He says, "It is typical of underdeveloped economics that they do not (or are not allowed to) concentrate on those sectors of the economy which in turn will generate growth and raise production to a new level altogether."
Furthermore he shows that the kinds of figures used by the international institutions to show growth can leave out many of what should be central factors, such as whether money made in a country is being exported, how it is distributed within that country, or whether the "growth" on offer is actually destroying its resources and natural wealth.
In the chapter that considers trade and how its terms can be improved, he quotes writer Michael Barrett Brown: "The value added in making up manufactured goods has been greatly increased compared with the raw material required; synthetics continue to replace natural products in textiles, shoes and rubber goods; and the elasticity of demand for agricultural products... has been steadily falling."
While the figures he presents clearly show the culpability of Western powers, Bond does not avoid the issue of the local rulers. Many of his arguments are based on the South African economy, perhaps the most contradictory on the continent, hamstrung by neoliberal policies that mean the conditions for the average worker are no better than under apartheid, but also developing as a sub-imperialism in its own right.
Wherever they have a say, African people have reacted against the policies of the World Bank. The bank produced a report after a survey of ordinary people's attitudes. It comments, "The African public expects democracy to deliver access to the basic necessities of life, like food, water, shelter and education... They are less comfortable with wide wealth differentials and have a strong commitment to political equality. About 75 percent of the respondents agree that African governments are doing too little for people trapped in poverty."
This book is not just concerned with attacking the mainstream economic orthodoxy, valuable as this is. It also argues for empowerment of the poor. Regrettably this is the least developed section of the narrative.
This is a sophisticated book for a non-specialist audience, filled with rage at the self-serving drivel that passes for analysis of Africa in the mainstream and the deaths it is responsible for.