Many Newspapers (like The Guardian Post No. 0592 of 16 April 2014 and The Post No. 01522 of 18 April 2014) have carried reports on a seminar for journalists and civil society that held in Douala, 9 – 11 April 2014, on ethics and the fight against corruption in multinational and local enterprises/companies in Cameroon. Rev. Massi Gams of CONAC is said to have denounced foreign corruption networks in enterprises in Cameroon. The seminar came on the heels of a special report by New African Magazine of February 2014 (No. 536) titled “Solving the Great Conundrum…How Africa can own its resources;” of a special report by Le Messager Newspaper on “The Mining Scandal in Cameroon” (No. 4046 of March 26. 2014); and of the revelation by The Divisional Delegate of Mines of Lom and Djerem that some 90 tons of gold are lost in Cameroon yearly due to illegal mining (La Nouvelle Expression No. 3694 of 25 March 2014).
The seminar also came at a time of increasing awareness in Africa that the West, the principal owners of most multinational and local companies has continued for very many years to influence African countries for the sole benefit of the West. The West has hardly ever respected the autonomy and dignity of Africans, and has always approached business deals without any consideration for morality and mutual benefit. They always do everything to browbeat, trick, coax and bribe unpatriotic Africans to enter into deals that favour Western business interests, to the detriment of the development and dignity of Africa; and they always end up with lopsided trade, business and mining deals, with the assurance that the self-serving international instruments they have caused to be adopted would protect the odious deals. They help us to write “Visions” for our countries with ridiculous strategies and long term frames, only to turn around and laugh at us as the “Visions” become a mantra for those who think that we can wake up one day to a better country that was a mess yesterday.
Western lobbies, secret contacts, networks, disguised sources, and mafia groups exist in African countries to serve the economic and political interests of mainly Western companies/enterprises. Most are run by local agents because locals are better placed to know which doors to knock and which barons to bribe. The histories of the defunct French oil company ELF Aquitaine and Loik Le Floch-Prigent, and of people like Mobutu, Charles Taylor, Yahya Jammeh, Pascal Lissouba, and many others are edifying for those interested in the ways of the West in business and political dealings with Africa. The exploitation of Africa by the West is facilitated by Africa’s colonial and postcolonial history, and the horrors of colonialism (and slavery), which in the main, are responsible for the continent’s lack of the requisite capital – human, financial, machinery and knowhow – to exploit its own natural resources, and set up competitive companies/enterprises.
Le Messager Newspaper gave details of “mining scandals” orchestrated by barons of the Cameroon regime, including those at the highest level of the state, in collusion with foreign interests in GeoCam/Geovic (that got a mineral exploitation permit without feasibility studies and expertise); C & K Mining Inc (which started mining operations before formal agreements were signed); Cam Iron (that lavished hundred of millions in kickbacks to barons of the regime); SNH (with its opaque petrol transactions); SONARA (with flagrant influence peddling); an many others!
New African Magazine told the sorry stories of Yahya Jammeh (President of The Gambia), Charles Taylor (Liberia), Pascal Lissouba (Congo Brazaville), and others. Yahya Jammeh says that an American oil executive promised 5% royalty for Gambian oil, which would give Gambia some 400 million USD a year; the executive described it as “too much (money) for little Gambia.” Jammeh says the man thought he was doing Gambia “a favour” by keeping 95% of the proceeds of their oil and giving them only 5%, so he told him to “go to hell…he did not like it but I told him that if he ever sets foot on Gambian soil, he would regret it…” To Jammeh, the solution for Africa is to be rough at the pre-exploitation negotiation, to get what it rightly deserves or the oil and other mineral resources should remain untapped until such a time that the foreign companies give Africa its due, or the continent develops its own capital, machinery and knowhow to exploit the resources for itself. One can only wish that the regime barons in Cameroon who orchestrated the “mining scandals” had the same patriotic disposition!
Charles Taylor told the audience during his trial in The Hague that an American oil company offered Liberia 5 cents for every dollar of their oil; he refused. Consequently, the company pushed and pushed behind the scenes until he was indicted. Then the company turned around and offered to cause the charges to be dropped if Taylor accepted the offer of 5 cents for each dollar; he still refused. And so he was tried and found guilty of “aiding and abetting rebels in Sierra Leone” and sentenced to 50 years in prison.
As for Lissouba, he revealed that following his election to the Presidency of Congo, he caused the oil contracts with Western companies negotiated with a former military leader to be renegotiated. He wanted the 15% royalties the Congo was getting for its oil to be increased to 33%. All the companies were happy with 33% except a French company. The company used Chirac’s government to put pressure on Lissouba; Chirac called him and ordered him over the phone to appoint the ex-military leader, vice-president and minister of armed forces. When Lissouba told him that the constitution of Congo Brazzaville did not permit it, Chirac told him: “Chuck your bloody constitution in the dustbin.” Lissouba did not act, so a few weeks later, Lissouba’s government was overthrown in a “mini civil war” in which the former military leader used rebels supported by boats and logistics offered by the French Oil company to chase Lissouba out of power. The new “military” president asked the Oil Company to pay 20% instead of the 33% Lissouba was insisting on.
The Magazine did not mention the slush funds Loik Le Floch-Prigent of the then French Oil Company ELF Aquitaine sprayed in oil-producing countries in Africa, to peddle French business and political influence. During his trial, Loik Le Floch-Prigent declared: “ELF engaged in bribing, personal favours and political influence-buying which were officially sanctioned by successive French governments…Clearly in most petrol-producing countries it is the head of state or king who is the real beneficiary...The president of the republic (François Mitterand at the time) didn’t want anyone to say, “Elf is giving money to Cameroon’. So the money went to the names the heads of these countries designated....” And so the outcome of the 1992 presidential election in Cameroon was influenced by ELF using the slush funds. That is all history, but the history is still being played out in Cameroon if we consider the “mining scandals” that are still common currency in the country today.
Expert African Jeweler Labi Akapo told New Africa Magazine of the importance of metalsmiths (smiths) – Jewelry manufacturers, goldsmiths, etc - in filling the spaces in the value chain of our natural resources; merely exporting raw materials will keep the continent poor. Indeed, it is possible that some Western expert or consultant usually “advise” our regime people that some procedures for adding value to our mineral resources are “a bit too advanced for black Africans” like a white colleague once told Labi Akapo. Further, it is revealed that when President Mahatma of Ghana came to power recently, more and more foreigners had become involved in illegal mining in the informal mining sector. So he ordered a review of the Mining Act which exclusively reserved small scale mining for Ghanaian citizens. The revised Act provided that foreigners caught mining illegally would be fined 100.000USD and the equipment used by the illegal mining operators confiscated. Such dissuasive measure would at least reduce the tons of gold Cameroon looses each year to illegal mining by foreigners.
One may ask what role international transparency monitors like the extractive industries transparency initiative (EITI), Open Society, Oxfam and others can do to help. The report of Jeune Afrique Magazine (No. 2780 of 20 April 2014) on the helplessness of these organizations in the face of the manipulations of the French company Areva in the exploitation of the uranium of Niger, one of the poorest countries on earth, seems to comfort Yahya Jammeh’s advice that our mineral resources should remain untapped until such a time that the foreign companies give Africa its due.
All this is to tell Rev. Massi Gams of CONAC that he may talk about ethics and corruption in multinational and local companies/enterprises in Cameroon, but there is little he can do about it because they involve very highly placed regime people, including those who appointed him and to whom he reports. In the global village that the world has become, natural resources and wealth creation are highly sought after; and they are the business of multinational and local enterprises. The relationship between Africa and Western business has always had ethics and morality low down on the scale of values because it is believed that Africans are supposed to be satisfied with little - they could do with no electricity, poor sanitation, poor housing, and an education that teaches them to get certificates to work for other people, not for themselves.
Westerners still go around with the contempt and Western supremacist doctrine that certain technologies and processes are “a bit too advanced for black Africans.” They are comforted in this by the bizarre behavior of most Africans they interact with in business and politics, like the many Cameroon regime barons who easily give away our natural resources and development interests in exchange for pieces of silver.
By Tazoacha Asonganyi
The author is a University of Yaounde 1 Professor and a noted sociopolitical critic,and a one-time Secretary-General of Cameroon's leading opposition party,the SDF.