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Africa's wealth for Africans
Posted: Thursday, August 7, 2008

By Tsitsi Makwande
August 07, 2008
The Herald

Africa, is without doubt, the richest continent in the world in terms of both natural and human resources yet, ironically, it is also the poorest.

This may be a bit difficult to understand for someone who appreciates the vast wealth of minerals to be found across the length and breadth of the continent.

Countless valleys, innumerable mountain ranges, limitless flowing rivers, a variety of flora and fauna, the most beautiful natural tourist attractions and so many more features of wealth and interest abound in Africa.

This picture contrasts sharply with the levels of poverty on the ground.

Of course, all is not doom and gloom, but the fact is that pandemics like Aids have wreaked havoc, wars have played their part and food insecurity is real and present across the continent.

According to one Unicef report, about 30 000 children die daily due to the effects of poverty.

Water-borne diseases such as cholera caused by poor sanitation also claim their share of precious lives.

Life expectancy has been declining, while in other parts of the world, which do not have the kind of natural and human resources that we have, people are living longer and leading improved lives.

It has been estimated that the gross national product in the countries worst affected by HIV and Aids could contract by 18 percent by 2020, and the disease could kill 13 to 26 percent of the agricultural labour force in those countries during the same period.

The United Nations said its efforts to provide anti-retroviral treatment for one million infected people in 2007, was outpaced by the number of new infections, which numbered 2,5 million that year. (Thankfully, though, in Zimbabwe's case new infections are declining.)

Millions others have died or were displaced as a result of civil wars and natural disasters. The disturbing images of malnourished children in Sudan or Somalia with more bones than flesh, quickly come to mind.

But this is more than just an image; it is a stark reality that has to be dealt with immediately.

The question we have to ask ourselves is: why are our people living under such conditions when the continent is the richest in the world?

Mining giant De Beers details in one report that Africa produces about 76 percent of the world's supply of diamonds valued at US$10 billion.

Zimbabwe alone boasts of deposits of more than 40 minerals, including ferrochrome, gold, silver, platinum, diamonds, copper and asbestos, and about 19 million hectares of forest as of 2000.

With such amazing wealth, it is confusing to see our people so disadvantaged.

The reason is although we are rich, we continue to live in poverty because we still have not found ways to harness our resources for our own good and for that of our children. Instead, many African countries continue to be a source of raw materials, leaving foreign countries to benefit from the real business in the resultant finished product, a situation no different from what happened during the slave trade and colonialism.

As Zimbabweans, we need to come up with sustainable strategies that will allow our people, and not only foreigners, to benefit from the vast treasures of gold, diamonds and other minerals available in our land.

We should open our eyes and see how other countries have done it and follow suit. It may take a while and require strong financial backing, but if others have done it, so can we. Zimbabwe needs to take charge of its economy and alleviate poverty in our nation without having to depend on donors and aid relief organisations.

Despite the economic challenges we are facing, we can take a leaf from Cuba, which has been under economic sanctions since 1963 but still managed to revive its economy and boast of the best social services in the world.

This is not an event that will happen overnight, but a process requiring innovative and dedicated people and strategies.

We have such people in our country, people who can make things happen, people who can build realities out of dreams, intelligent and hard-working people.

It is pleasing, therefore, to see Government embarking on its empowerment drives with such gusto.

Land reform signified the first stage of the process of harnessing our resources for our own development and now we have an all-encompassing empowerment law.

Our goal should be to ensure that this piece of legislation is fully implemented to improve the livelihoods of the people of Zimbabwe, who are the rightful owners of the resources found across the country.

The entire African continent can learn from the manner in which Zimbabwe has striven to empower its people.

The imagination of people from all walks of life in Zimbabwe has been captured by the empowerment drive that started in 2000 with the Land Reform Programme.

Over the past eight years, about 300 000 families – which translates to over a million individuals if we assume the average family size is five – have been empowered by the changes in land tenure systems.

When the situation in the country stabilises and people can access agricultural inputs on time, one can only imagine the benefits these families and the entire nation shall reap.

Recently, President Mugabe signed into law the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act.

This piece of legislation will see the manufacturing and mining sectors being indigenised in the same way that agriculture has been.

The requirement is that Zimbabweans should own at least 51 percent of any company in the country and already big firms such as Old Mutual have said they see no problem with such an arrangement.

After all, the resources are for Zimbabweans and it only makes sense that locals are enriched by them ahead of foreign companies.

South Africa has also embarked on its own Black Economic Empowerment policy and the challenge for the rest of the continent is to move towards the strengthening of the economic position of indigenous people. Various models can be employed to do this, but the ultimate aim should be the empowerment of Africans.

Indeed, the African Union should declare 2009/2010 as the year for 100 percent empowerment of Africans using African resources for Africa's development.

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