Monday, June 8, 2009

An Introduction to ‘Neocolonialism’- The Re-colonisation of Africa

‘The era of globalisation’ is fast becoming the preferred term for describing the current times. Globalisation has brought many good things to the world, such as the ability to travel, the wider distribution of educational resources, HIV-AIDS awareness, the use of Internet and other technologies and international sporting competitions just to name a few. However, it also has brought with it some detrimental consequences that have significantly impacted upon the developing world. In the case studies that follow the term ‘neocolonialism’ (or ‘new-colonialism’) is used to describe the re-colonisation of Africa that is taking place through the ‘capitalist market controllers’ – namely, the corporations. Historically, when colonisation in Africa took place in the nineteenth century, the colonial powers extracted Africa’s precious resources to build up their own empires at the expense of African people through “direct colonial rule” and a “policy of divide-and-conquer” (Schraeder 2004, pp 57-59). Today similar atrocities continue as the continent is pillaged through the imposition of corporations, funded by the lifestyles of Western consumers (Hoogvelt, 2002). Generally today it is through corporate financial arrangements, or perhaps dare it be said - coercions and bribes (as opposed to the guns of colonial lords) who are extracting the wealth from the continent. Although the wealth of natural resources has the potential to help eradicate poverty, it does not take long to understand that this opportunity, presented by globalisation, has failed to materialize and instead has set in motion the gradual degeneration of the continent.

AIDS Baby, Cabo Delgado Province,
Mozambique 2007

To illustrate this argument, there are a plethora of cases to examine. This website investigates the ‘neocolonial’ corporate controversies surrounding firstly, Gold in the Dominican Republic of Congo (DRC), secondly, the Cocoa Trade in West Africa, and finally, we investigate some facts about the dangerous trials of the Western made anti-HIV drug, Nevirapine. The three case studies discussed here, only touch the surface of what is really happening on the African continent. Thanks to films such as Blood Diamond (2007), which deals with human rights abuses behind mining companies, and the Constant Gardener (2005), which deals with human rights abuses within the pharmaceutical companies, knowledge of corporate corruption is getting out to those who have a degree of power to bring change. To introduce these case studies, the following is a quote from Academic scholar Ankie Hoogvelt who argues that we can instigate change to African lives.

“We are involved. We in the centre and the heartland of the global capitalist system are the cause, and the excuse, of much plunder, degradation and dereliction in the margins of the world. It is our own humanity that is at stake if we continue to profit from this trade, in much the same way that the Abolitionists argued 200 years ago when they boycotted the rum and sugar produced by slave labour” (Hoogvelt 2002, pp 25-26).

Reference List

Blood Diamond 2006, Motion Picture, Warner Brothers, United States.

The Constant Gardener
2005, Motion Picture, Focus Features, United Kingdom.

Hoogvelt, A 2002, ‘Globalization, Imperialism, and Exclusion: The Case of Sub-Saharan Africa’, in T Zack-Williams, D Frost & A Thomson (eds),
Africa in Crisis, Pluto Press, London, pp. 15-28.

Schraeder, P 2004, ‘African Politics and Society: A Mosaic in Transformation’ (2nd ed), Belmont, Chapter 3.

Gold In the Dominican Republic of Congo

Gold Mining

When it comes to the enormous wealth in natural resources found in Africa, as with the rest of the continent, the DRC is not lacking. The following case study examines the less than honourable role of one of the largest gold producers, AngloGold Ashanti. The company forms part of leading mining conglomerate Anglo American, along with Anglo Platinum, and De Beers –leading diamond producer, and others –all of who attract tireless amounts of global condemnation for the grave consequences of their compromises that impede upon the poorest of the poor. This is a study of how the DR Congo is one such place, where the capitalist driven corporation is extracting the gold that the ex-colonizers once did, and once again, it is to the detriment of the local people. 2009

The neo-colonial ties to the gold mining industry are a problem that the world would probably prefer to ignore. The truth of the matter challenges the status quo in a modern world, where to some, being fashionable is a sign of success. Many a consumer will subconsciously seek to achieve this feat, which may be inescapably attached to obtaining that expensive watch or ring. The gold industry is fuelled by consumerist ideologies. The achievement of wealth or the ideological symbolism attached to finding the person with whom one wants to spend their lives with, among many other notions, are lovely; however if ‘we shoppers’ understood the human rights violations and exploitation behind our purchases, would we continue to support such a dirty industry?

Google Map Image

One area of concern in the DRC is the small town of Mongbwalu, where ethnic fighting in recent years has claimed the lives of some 2000 civilians (Davies 2005). Since war ended in 2003, the Government has been unable
to secure the area, which has lead to the rebel group, Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI) controlling the gold hotspot (HRW Summary 2005). The Journal of African Business together with the UN argue that the FNI is responsible for mass crimes against humanity in the forms of violence, murder and rape of women and children whilst “recourse profiteering” is taking place (Congo: Tragic History 2009).

This is where gold producer, AngloGold Ashanti, comes into the picture. They produce what is commonly called ‘blood gold’ or ‘dirty gold’, similarly to ‘blood diamonds’, which contributes to the amassing negative attention from non-profit organisations, human rights groups and other activists (No Dirty Gold 2004).

New York based Human Rights Watch (HRW) published an article in 2005 titled ‘The Curse of Gold’, which states that AngloGold had been involved entering into financial arrangements with the FNI, the armed rebel group that controls the Mongbwalu area where AngloGold Ashanti operates (HRW 2005). This rebel group is accused of committing ongoing and serious human rights violations in the forms that have been mentioned. Through AngloGold’s financial arrangements, it could be argued the mining conglomerate essentially has blood on its hands because of their aid that is assisting this rebel faction in payment for gold. They are not just moving dirty gold, but they are funding a rebel group to obtain it. Eventually this was admitted by the company, who stated, “there was a breach [of] principle in this instance, in that company employees yielded to the militia group FNI…” however, this was after publicly denying the initial allegations and after HRW released a report on them (Davies 2005).

AngloGold also publicly declares they follow the voluntary principle of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which some argue, is principle that is used to prevent mandatory external investigations of their company (Curtis 2007, p. 12). Given the willingness to pay off rebels to gain access to the golden area, it is little wonder that these allegations are made. This is a clear example of using the weaknesses of Africa’s people to keep the well-off shareholders happy on their yachts and in their dream houses. Therefore it legitimises the argument that corporations like these, are the new colonisers of today. The argument can be strengthened by the voices of the local people who do not reap the benefits that DRC’s gold has to offer.

"We are cursed because of our gold. All we do is suffer. There is no benefit to us.”

-Congolese gold miner (HRW Summary 2005).

This “suffering” this gold miner mentions likely refers to the fighting in the area by rebel groups over past years, and it likely includes the foreign companies like AngloGold, who are the real beneficiaries, disregarding the poverty stricken locals who were born on the land. This miner understands that the want for gold, among the many other resources fought over in Africa, is a curse to the people who live there. Someone else who understands this, is another local man from the area, Salvatore Bulamuzi, who reportedly lost his two wives, parents, and five children because of the resource war that has gone on in the DRC’s north eastern region.

“I am convinced now…that the lives of Congolese people no longer mean anything to anybody. Not to those who kill us like flies, our brothers who help kill us or those you call the international community…Even God does not listen to our prayers any more and abandons us.”

-Salvatore Bulamuzi (Amnesty 2003, p. 3).

Furthermore, the company tries to reassure those involved or concerned with a public statement that says: “We strive to form partnerships with host communities, sharing their environments, traditions and values. We want communities to be better off for AngloGold Ashanti having been there (AngloGold Ashanti 2006).” However, somehow in this war torn region, where payouts funding the local militia are the preferred method for winning mining concessions, this principle is hard to believe. The first quarter of 2009 saw AngloGold’s earnings, despite global recession, soar to US$150 million, and the company, admits this is due to the increase of value (the weakening of local currencies probably because of the economic crisis) (AAP Finance 2009, p. 1).
The gold commodity’s value today in a capitalist market, in conjunction with its widespread availability to the average Westerner, as uncovered by this case study, highlights a new scramble for Africa through a corporate means in the DRC.

On top of this issue of company credibility, are also the issues of environmental damage, which are also debilitating lives of poor Africans through things such as cyanide poisoning, which is an area that goes beyond the scope of this study (Earthworks 2009).

The story of gold is an interesting one that somehow continues to make its huge profits for a few, giving them the power to continue exploitation. Nonetheless, it has caught the attention of the UN and human rights groups for violating human rights breeches. As many others agree, one can only hope for more international pressure to be administered so that the company will be forced to instigate heavy corporate reforms and submit to mandatory external investigations.

“Analysts suggest the resource wars in the DRC are partially fuelled by the fact that Western multi-nationals – with the help of host governments – are able to invade an underdeveloped nation, and take its wealth right out from under the feet of the general population...any Western mining project in the DRC should be looked upon with caution and scepticism.”

-John Laska ‘Towards Freedom’ (2009).

Reference List

AAP Finance 2009, ‘AngloGold Ashanti earns $US150m in first quarter’, AAP Finance News Wire, 15 May 2009, p. 1, Retrieved May 22, 2009, (ProQuest).

Amnesty 2003, ‘Document - Democratic Republic of Congo: "Our brothers who help kill us": Economic exploitation and human rights abuses in the east’, Amnesty International website, viewed 22 May 2009, PDF p. 3.

AngloGold Ashanti 2006, ‘Report to Society’, AngloGold Ashanti website, viewed May 15, 2009.

‘CONGO: Tragic History’ (n.a), Journal of African Business, February 1, 2009, Iss. 350, pp 56-58, Accessed May 15, 2009 (ProQuest).

Curtis, M 2007, Anglo American: The Alternative Report, War On Want website, Viewed 15 May, 2009.

Davies, E 2005, ‘Curse of Gold has fuelled slaughter and rape in Congo’, The

Independent, London: Jun 2, 2005, p. 19, Accessed 19 May 2009, (ProQuest).

Earthworks 2009, ‘Press Release’, viewed, May 22, 2009 .

HRW 2005, ‘The Curse of Gold’, Human Rights Watch website, viewed 15 May 2009.

Laska, J 2009, ‘Of Blood and Gold: How Canadian Mining Companies Loot the
Congo’, Towards Freedom website, viewed May14, 2009.

No Dirty Gold 2004, ‘Campaign Allies’, No Dirty Gold website, viewed 15 May, 2009.

Cocoa Trade and Corporate Compromises.

Fairtrade 2009

The discourse surrounding West Africa’s cocoa production raises another pertinent issue relating to ‘neocolonialism’. Similarly to gold in the DRC, the analysis of cocoa is from a critical perspective of powerful companies who maintain significant corporate control of the global market. The argument continues to be, that their economically driven policies lead to unfair trade, which in turn, contributes to further marginalization of the poorest of the poor. When conveying this insight to the cocoa trade, one can see that as fast as the disparities of the north-south divide grow, so too, do the giant chocolate producing conglomerates. Like gold, the biggest concern of the cocoa trade stems from the commodity’s high demand in the West, and of course, it can only remain in that ‘high demand’, if the prices are what middle class consumers are willing to pay.

Image from Sky News

Although not alone, The United States consumes over three billion pounds (almost 1.4 billion kilograms), or US$13 billion worth of cocoa per year, and is by far the largest importer in the world (Lobe 2002). Whether it is hot chocolate, chocolate treats at Christmas, on Valentines Day, for Easter, at the movies -or for other celebratory days. It is little wonder this demand keeps this multibillion dollar industry thriving. 2009

As major corporations continue to carry on their names as traditional household favorites on one side of the world, on the other, hundreds of thousands of West African farmers work hard under the pressure to supply the demand for cheap cocoa, keeping busy around 12 500 child laborers who present signs they have trafficked (Global Exchange 2007).

The root cause of this human rights issue is poverty, and what causes it. It is argued that the farmers of West Africa do not get fair prices for their cocoa, and the problem is, that they do not know what the fair prices should be (Off 2006, p. 116; Price 2007; Heim 2009). Rural farms don’t have access or understanding of reading the global market prices for their produce, which arguably, often leads to them selling their cocoa far below the fair price, thus giving food conglomerates the upper-hand bargains, as they later can sell their products to consumers at prices that are attractive and cheap. This is where supporting fair trade initiatives can play an important role. Often, the chocolate found on supermarket shelves is a result of these unfair trade prices, which keep cocoa famers poor and needing to cut costs, and this has left some of them resorting to buying children and forcing them to work to keep up with Western demand (Heim 2009). Human Rights Watch reports that “children as young as three years old [have been] exploited as domestic and agricultural workers... Traffickers lure children from their homes with promises of high-quality schooling and vocational training abroad. Many of the children are orphans, forced to become breadwinners following the death of a parent from AIDS or other causes (HRW 2003).” The organization further reports that in recent years this issue caused an enormous shock when it was found out that almost 50 percent of the chocolate in the US could be traced back to child harvesters in Côte d’Ivoire, and “many of [the] children had been trafficked from neighboring countries…(HRW 2003).”

Child trafficking in the cocoa trade is a subject of serious concern. As Amnesty International reports (2007), an effort to instigate change led to an initiative in 2001, in which US Congress publicly recognized what was happening, launched an international agreement to put an end to child labour, which became known as the “Cocoa Protocol”. However, just like the issue of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the case of mining companies, the protocol is voluntary and therefore there is no way to regulate it. Corporations have been against it from the beginning, and because of this, critics argue that it has not stopped the buying and selling of children on the continent (Amnesty 2007).

Pirylis 2009

It appears, as with many other commodities, that the desire for growing corporate wealth seems to be more important than the livelihoods of the developing world. Products of dominating companies like Mars/M&M, Hershey’s, Nestle and Cadbury are in constant demand and this has led to cocoa farmers needing to lower production costs in order to produce more, not only having their own children work for them on the farms, but also buying and selling children to a life of farm forced labour (Global Exchange 2007; Taylor 2007; Qureshi 2008;).

Fairtrade Foundation 2009

However, there is hope. As the world has seen, with use of media and government campaigns, the world has become far more aware of the issue of climate change. Therefore, there is every reason to hope that the more consumers are made aware of child labour that has produced their chocolate bar, cake or drink, the less they will want to buy the product, unless they know that it is ‘clean’. “Fairtrade sales still represent less than 1 percent of all chocolate sales”, however with more consumer support, it will have the opportunity to grow (Qureshi 2008).


Amnesty 2007, ‘West Africa: Chocolate - Amnesty International expresses alarm at continuing child labour in cocoa industry’, Amnesty International website, viewed 22 May 2009.

Global Exchange 2007, ‘The Truth Behind M&M/Mars Claims About the Protocol and Fair Trade’, Global exchange website .

HWR 2003, West Africa: Stop Trafficking in Child Labor, Human Rights website, viewed 22 May 2009.

Heim, K 2009, ‘Gates Foundation grant for cocoa group raises a rights issue’, McClatchy - Tribune Business News, 22 February 2009 , Retrieved June 7, 2009 (ProQuest).

Lobe, J 2002, ‘New Initiative to Combat Child Slave Labor’, Global Policy Forum website, viewed May 24 2009.

Off, C 2006, Bitter Chocolate:Investigating The Dark Side of he World’s Most Seductive Sweet, Random House Canada.

Sean Price. (2007, January). LOST Childhoods. Junior Scholastic, 109(11), 10-12. Retrieved May 16, 2009, from Research Library database.

Taylor, F 2007, ‘M&M / Mars Facing Boycott’, Sentinel, February 22, Vol.
76, Iss. 29, p. A 21, Retrieved May 15, 2009, from (ProQuest).

Qureshi 2008, ‘Blood Chocolate – Just a Desert’, The Humanist website, viewed May 22, 2009.

Niverapine Drug Trial in Africa

Similarly to the colonialism Africa experienced historically, where the natural resources like gold and copper (among many others) were extracted, many argue that today, big pharmaceutical companies exploit the poor of Africa through the extraction of data from drug trials. As yet another example of re-colonization in Africa, this refers to the drug companies who are conducting their trials in various parts of the continent, in order to see the new drugs approved by the American based FDA (Food and Drug Administration) so they can be granted a licence to market them to the wider Western community. Companies often run their trials in poverty- stricken countries because of the usual outsourcing motives, it is cheaper (in comparison to what Westerns get paid for participating in trials), and evidently from the following case study, it is easier to hide unfavourable evidence that might effect the drug’s approval by the FDA or the National Institutes of Health (NIH). From the film, the Constant Gardener (2005), this form of ‘neocolonialism’ can be described as one that “carelessly expends the lives of innocent citizens in the Third World in the quest for billion-dollar medicines to sell to the first world (Independent 2005).” In this particular case study, the trial drug Niverapine is considered in reference to the ‘neocolonial’ atrocities that taint the pharmaceutical industry.

Viramune (Nevirapine)
NIH Image

Niverapine is an anti-HIV drug, manufactured by the U.S. subsidiary of German- based Boehringer Ingelheim in the state of Connecticut. It has been trialed to decrease the spread of mother-to-child HIV (Burcher 2005). The U.S. funded trials of the drug in parts of Africa came under scrutiny when a ‘whistleblower’ came forward to expose a cover up in relation to evidence of Nevirapine having toxic effects upon HIV positive African women and their newborns, who were part of the trial. A published document written by South African lawyer and journalist Anthony Brink discloses the official dangers of the drug that was granted approval to be used and trialed on people in Africa -when it was had been denied approval for America. He argues that this “[implies] an indefensible double standard, one for the First World and one for the Third (Brink 2008, p xiv).”

Following this statement, Brink’s report also identifies that the FDA requires that the drug manufacturers must provide doctors who will be prescribing the drug, any warnings that are attached. The information about the dangers of Nevirapine, are exactly as follows:


Ironically, data revealing the negative outcomes of the Ugandan trials went missing and therefore, the FDA was unable to audit the American National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) trial, which was necessary for a licence to market in America (ref). This ‘information’ above, warning doctors of the negative side effects, strongly reveals the reason for the cover up. In 2004, seven years after the trials first began, government scientist and ‘whistleblower’, Dr. Jonathan Fishbein, took allegations to Congress reporting of poor government research practices and substandard patient protections within the NIH Uganda trials (Hartford Courant 2004). Eventually the chief of the NIH AIDS division, Dr. Edmund Tramont, admitted that he deleted the information that negatively effected the trials and he had, in fact, changed the conclusions (Scheff, 2004; Hartford Courant 2004).

The Ugandan trial results that were deleted contained evidence of thousands of toxic reactions, and in some cases death (ref). Sources reveal that “thirty-eight babies died… mostly in the Nevirapine group”, however the drug gained administrational approval “because the rate of viral infection measured [non-diagnostically] was 13.1 percent in newborns,” which was some degree of success (Burcher 2005).

Image from

The Neveriapine tirals in Africa were not only conducted in Uganda, Brink’s report also discusses, Professor Coovadia, from Mandela Medical School, South Africa, and reports he was paid a foreign ‘award’ of R50 million to trial Nevirapine. While the professor argued to the media in South Africa that it was something to do to ‘help the poor’, really was argued to be “for the rich”, like Professor Coovadia (Brink 2008, pp xvi-xvii). The drug was approved much to the dismay of many, and put to trial, which has led to further deaths and outrage. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki at the time, accused the U.S. of using Africans as “guinea pigs” (Scheff 2004), and he has lashed out against drug companies, accusing them of putting profits ahead of patients (UN Wire 2000).

Unfortunately, this is not the first example of pharmaceutical exploitation in Africa. The high profile case surrounding Pfizer Ltd., another pharmaceutical giant, also contributes to Western corporate disgraces, when medical trials for children with meningitis were conducted without informed consent in Nigeria, also causing death from the drug Trovan’s toxicities (ADIGUN, n.d.). Therefore, after considering the discrepancies of Nevirapine’s trials in Africa, it is understood that this is another example of neo-colonialism, as it impedes upon the lives of African people, and in this case, newborn African babies, by putting their lives in jeopardy during drug trials when the same drug has been banned for use in America, all the while misleading some to believe that it is ‘charity for the poor’. Clearly, there is something very questionable about this. Perhaps it is best described again, as the expenditure of African lives “in the quest for billion-dollar medicines to sell to the first world (Independent 2005).”

Image from

Reference List

Adigun, B (n.d), ‘Nigeria files new lawsuit against Pfizer’, Loyola University of Chicago website, viewed 5 June 2009, .

Brink, A. 2008, ‘The Trouble with Nevirapine’, (Treatment Information Group) viewed 5 June 2009, .

Burcher, S 2005, ‘NIH-Sponsored AIDS Drugs Tests on Mothers and Babies’, Institute of Science in Society website, viewed 5 June 2009, .

Hartford Courant 2004 (n.a), ‘An AIDS Coverup at NIH’, Hartford Courant Editorial, Dec. 27 2004, p. A10, Retrieved June 5, 2009, (Hartford Courant database).

Scheff, L. 2004, ‘The Truth About Nevirapine’, (Guerrilla News Network), viewed 25 May, 2009, .

The Constant Gardener 2005, Motion Picture, Focus Features, United Kingdom.

The Independent 2005, ‘The true story of how multinational drug companies took liberties with African lives‘, The Independent website, 26 September 2005, viewed 18 May 2009, .

UN Wire 2000, ‘South Africa Says Drug Testing Caused Deaths,’ United Nations Wire website, viewed 5 June, 2009, .