A ruling class fixated on Western luxuryBy TREVOR ANALO | Friday, June 29 2012 at 17:24
The Swiss National Bank (SNB) recently released a report disclosing the liabilities of their banks to their global clientele.
My attention was, however, drawn to the quantum of money held by citizens of 43 African countries in Switzerland. A staggering $16 billion.
Liberia, the second poorest country in the world, has hidden $4.3 billion in Switzerland. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Over the past decades, African wealth has flown to Western financial capitals in Monaco, Paris, London and New York. Ironically, these assets surpass the continent’s total external debt.
It is estimated that Africa’s ruling class hold about $800bn in Western banks and real estate.
The elite have a high affinity for foreign goods, relative to local ones. They shop in Avenue des Champs-Élysées and own real estate in the most expensive streets in Zurich.
While some of this wealth may have been acquired legally, the bulk of it was looted, especially assets held by the political and economic elite.
The collusion of Western countries, coupled with their hypocritical stance towards corruption and human rights, aids the laundering of Africa’s ill-gotten wealth in the New York and London exchanges and holiday resorts in the French Riviera and Canary islands.
This affinity for foreign goods by Africa’s elite goes way back to the slave era. African kings and chiefs sold an estimated 100 million of their people into slavery in exchange for cloth, beads, alcohol and guns.
While Europeans built empires, Africa’s ruling class drunk wine, wore cheap clothes and admired themselves in mirrors. What the elite did centuries ago during slavery is not any different from what today’s ruling class is doing: trading Africa’s resources for Western luxury goods.
Whereas 200 years ago they sold Africans as slaves for beads, today they sell Africa’s wealth for whisky and Mercedes Benz. The ruling class spends more importing alcoholic drinks, perfumes and cosmetic products than fertiliser. A lot more is spent importing fuel, cars and military hardware than agricultural equipment.
It is interesting that the steps to abolish slavery were taken outside Africa, not in it. Britain barred its citizens from slave trading in 1807, the US followed in 1808 and France in 1818.
This marked the end of a sad era in Africa’s history. However, a more subtle form of exploitation, known as colonialism, would begin, carving out Africa into states for purposes of resource extraction and taxation.
The ruling class was no less guilty than the West in exploiting Africa and this collusion continues 50 years after independence.
Africa has been exploited by foreigners for over 500 years.
Arabs, Whites, Africans and now the Chinese share this burden of shame. The political, economic and psychological effects of over five centuries of subjugation and exploitation are devastating.
In his book; How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Walter Rodneysayscommunities have grown stronger by raiding their neighbour's wealth and women because they use the ‘booty’ for their own benefit.
The looted resources and billions of dollars hidden by Africans in the West, just like slavery, will not create wealth for this continent.
The $800 billon can lay down the foundation for economic take-off in Africa – efficient governments and world class communications and transportation infrastructure.
Instead, the money is used by Western governments to provide public goods for their citizens.
If big infrastructure does not prickle the imagination of Africa’s ruling class, here are a few things they could at least do with their $800 billion:
- After 50 years of self rule, the crowning folly of Africa is that it has no medical facility fit for its political and economic elite, so they fly to Europe for medical treatment, sometimes dying there. Put aside some billions to set up modest world class health facilities for yourselves.
- With the Euro crisis, empire is up for grabs. India’s Tata acquired British automakers Jaguar and Land Rover from the Ford Motor Company for just $2.3 billion. A former colony now controls prized industries of its master. The Mercedes Benz is the status symbol of Africa's elite, they should consider acquiring controlling stakes in Daimler Benz.
- Africa’s scenic beauty is quite stunning. It is home to pristine beaches, vast deserts, tropical rain forests and expansive savannas; yet Europe is the favourite holiday destination for Africa’s elite. In their defence, they only vacation in Europe because of its clean and orderly cities. The ruling class can use part of its $800 billion to collect the filth chocking African cities.
- Since slave trade introduced them to European clothes, Africa’s elite have never fancied local tailors. Loui Vuiton’s net worth is $19 billion, while Hugo Boss is worth $2 billion, the ruling class should consider placing bids for these global designer brands.
We still have more than $700 billion to spend. Any ideas?
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