ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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African Experiences

System of Disparate Exchange

The Angolan Civil war is illustrative of the close interconnection that today exists between raw materials and civil wars as well as of the trading structure that characterises the system of disparate exchange. Disparate exchange leads not merely to a drainage of resources and wealth from the poorer southern countries to the north, but also to impoverishment and destruction following the influx of weapons of war, bought by warring parties with income from sale of diamonds, oil and other indegenous wealth.

I n June 2000, the World Bank published a report on civil wars in southern countries which was widely quoted in the international press. Written by the director of the Bank’s development research group, Paul Collier, the report sketched a ‘theory of predation’, peddled as the economist’s interpretation of movements of armed resistance. As the report argued: “It is the feasibility of predation which determines the risk of conflict (read armed conflict). Predation may be just a regrettable necessity on the road to perceived justice or power, but it is the conditions for predation which are decisive Whether conflict is motivated by predation, or simply made possible by it, these two accounts come to the same conclusion: rebellion is unrelated to objective circumstances of grievance while being caused by the feasibility of predation” [Collier 2000]. Whatever be the aims of the rebels who launch and/or sustain armed resistance, Collier reasoned, the economist can tell you that access to raw materials, such as diamonds, primarily determines the direction of events.

Collier’s report, even at first reading, is faulty on a many counts. First of all, it is based on several false dichotomies and false generalisations. It questions the fact that rebel organisations such as those in Sierra Leone and Angola rely wholely on the export of gem stones and other natural resources to finance their war efforts. Yet the report does not limit itself to condemning Sierra Leonean and Angolan rebels, for it uses these examples to criminalise all guerrilla activity, depicting all movements of armed rebellion as ‘manifestations of organised crime’ [ibid]. This generalisation quite obviously violates truth, as it glosses over the differential social and economic basis of historic and contemporary guerrilla movements. Further, in sketching a contrast between (unarmed) protest movements and (armed) rebel movements, the report poses a false dichotomy, presuming that the first category of movements originates in social grievances, whereas the latter category does not. Again, in stating that his report ‘has little or no bearing on intergovernment war’, Collier falsily ignores the circumstance that governmental war efforts in Africa and elsewhere often depend heavily on exports of raw materials too. Yet another fundamental flaw in Collier’s analysis is that he falsily presents his as an economic analysis, whereas his analysis is mainly a mechanical, statistical exercise [ibid]. Though the author rightly draws attention to a neglected thematic, he at no point in his report on the ‘economic causes of civil conflict’ takes the trouble to describe or analyse the role of external economic forces, such as transnational corporations (TNCs), in ongoing civil wars in southern continents. Surprisingly, though he poses a thematic which for long has been a concern of critical economists, i e, the dependence of southern economies on the export of (single) raw materials (!!), he neatly glosses over the reality that the profits made from these exports by and large accrue to TNCs based in the north. Collier raises an outcry against all armed rebel movements, but conveniently skips the responsibility of TNCs for the war crimes that are being committed in Angola, Sierra Leone and other southern countries on the basis of the trade system that allows warring parties to exchange raw materials against arms.

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