Saturday, August 24, 2013

The tragedy of discrepancy - how a country so rich, remains so poor



The heart of Africa was largely unexplored when Stanley returned in 1883 to conquer the Congo for King Leopold.

The area turned out to be treasure trove for Leopold and the Belgians - from ivory and rubber, and later (in 1915) copper and uranium (which was used to build the atomic bombs of World War II that were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima), zinc, cobalt, tin, gold, tungsten, manganese, tantalum, coal, diamonds and oil.

Thus, although the Belgians didn’t exported slaves to the New World, the population was still suppressed and exploited. Leopold introduced a tax which was to be paid in minerals such as ivory or rubber. If the tax was not paid gruesome methods were applied, to make an example of people not delivering '(the whip of hippopotamus hide was used frequently, but also guns, and even amputations of hands, feet or genitals in extreme cases).

Leopold, who had never even set foot on his private colony, as well as the Belgians thus generates huge profits. And the markets were assisting them.

"History seemed to repeat itself: as the rubber boom came at just the right time, to compensate for the decline in ivory trade, mining came just in time to replace the rubber industry in decline. No other country in the world has it so “well made” in terms of natural as does the Congo, writes David van Ryebrouck in his book "Congo - a story," and adds, "Every time world market demanded a particular commodity over the past hundred and fifty years the Congo delivered - Ivory in the Victorian period, rubber, after the invention of the pneumatic tire, copper during the period of industrial and military expansion, uranium during the Cold War, hydroelectricity during the oil crisis of the seventies, which was exported in other African countries, and now coltan in times of mobile telephony. The Congo possessed huge deposits of desirable goods and could easily meet the demand. The economic history of the Congo is characterized by improbable luck. But also by an unlikely plight. From the fabulous profits the Belgians and others were making, usually only crumbs would be left for the majority of the population. This discrepancy shows the tragedy. "

The extraction of raw materials was always organized under duress of the Belgians. Joseph Njoli in Reyebrouck book says: "After the rubber they (the Belgians) imposed a tax of us fish and cassava. After the fish it was palm oil and timber that was supposed to be supply to the district administrator ".

Later, in 1920 money was introduced for tax- four and a half francs a year - "that was not much. They kept the tax burden low deliberately. 1920 this amount corresponded to 45 kilos of rubber palm fruits / palm oil, 9 chickens, half a goat or a few dozen Cassava breads.
Theoretically, the Belgian Congo was a break with the evil practices of Leopold’s Free State, but in practice it often looked quite different. In the zones rich in natural resources, international big business came and introduced new forms of exploitation- forced labor. It came to migration flows, the destroyed the country further rather than rebuilding it. Young men landed in grubby worker camps, while only women and the elderly are left in the villages. "

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