Globalization in Sub-Saharan Africa Essay

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Globalization in Sub-Saharan Africa


It is factual that globalization began before the industrial revolution was existent in the colonial period and continues to be a major influence on how governments worldwide operate. When analyzing the effects of globalization, a common controversial debate is whether globalization has maimed the society or has brought significant benefit. The African society is used severally by anti-globalists to defend their views. This paper explores the negative dynamics of globalization in Sub-saharan Africa e.g. undermining of state sovereignty and hastening of environmental degradation of the continent. However, it does not suggest that globalization is entirely bad nor does it say that globalization is the only cause of Africa’s problems. It proposes some measures that can be considered when globalizing the African market so that this negative effects can be minimized.


The nations of the world have synchronized their trading goods and services, financial markets, Ideologies, innovations and cultures through globalization. The free flow market policy adopted by many countries has led to significantly positive outcomes in the broader African region for example, creating new job ventures and advancements in technology. However, globalization has also cast a dark shadow on some sectors of the African economy , an issue that this paper will put into perspective with a particular case study on the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some proposed consequences of globalization addressed here include increased conflicts in the area, erosion of state sovereignty, imbalance in the ecosystem and income inequality. Sub-Saharan Africa is a term used to refer to all of Africa except the Northern region.

Most of their economies are agricultural based and are not as stable as those in the Western world. The average income in sub-Saharan Africa is below the poverty line level. Nevertheless, this region enjoys a large comparative advantage on raw resources in the extractive industries for example minerals and oil. The demand for these minerals can perhaps explain why immediately before the great recession in 2008,there was the 27% increase in FDI; the highest ever seen(Jaja:3).Foreign companies can obtain these minerals at a very low cost in some African countries and reap huge marginal benefits. Some of the avenues they use to get them are questionable as is the case with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Congo Zaire) is a central African nation that borders the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Its neighbouring countries include Central African Republic Southern Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola and Tanzania (the two are separated by Lake Tanganyika).It is the second largest nation by area with over 65 million people. It was a Belgian colony and gained independence in June 1960. DRCongo has the most variety in biodiversity in Africa and enviable amounts of rare natural resources such as diamond, copper, gold, cobalt, timber and coltan.

With its resources one would expect that such a country would be awash with prime economic developments, projects to exploit all agricultural potential and high standards of living. On the contrary, most of the civilians in DRC live in poverty and have not benefited from the rich well of resources they have. They are victims of years of civil war, propelled by power- hungry, conniving national leaders and part of the international community. A sneak peak into the colonial history of DRCongo reveals that the exploitation of the minerals for self-intrests is not a recent phenomena.


In the late 1800s, King Leopold of Belgium acquired full rights of ownership of the Congo territory at the Conference of Berlin. He governed it like private property and the area experienced some developments. However, this came at the expense of the local people because they were treated as slaves and could not reap any fruits from their labour. Intense pressure from the international community on the Belgian parliament led to the reclaiming of the Congo region from the king’s hands. It was renamed The Belgian Congo state from 1908.

There was significant economic growth at the time but the indigenous people were on the losing end again, exploited and enslaved. The fight for independence was won on June 1960 with Patrice Lumumba as Prime Minister and Joseph Kasavubu as president. Lumumba would later be fired and Joseph Mobutu, chief of staff of the new army, aimed to ‘restore’ the relationship between the two leaders with the help of the USA and Belgium governments. In January 1961, Katanga forces and Belgian troops executed Patrice. The Katanga succession ended in 1963 with the help of UN forces. There were several governments afterwards; the most notable one being that of Mobutu Sese Seko.

His ‘career’ as president began in 1971. He was largely dictatorial; for example he revoked the powers of the legislature, fired the prime minister and conducted an election where he was the only candidate. Funds were mismanaged, state cooperations collapsed and the country was in debt. He renamed the country several times but officially used Congo-Zaire. Note that he had several billions of US dollars in a Swiss Bank account and still had favour with the USA government. It is believed that he even had a world bank official as a personal assistant.

This in turn gave him “confidential information about granting aid to Zaire”. (Reno 1998:152) In 1994, the DRC was a refuge for the many Rwandese Hutus fleeing the Rwandan genocide. Refugee camps a few kilometers from the border with Rwanda were planning zones for attacks into Rwanda. Mobutu cheered them on. However in 1996, Rwandan led forces backed by Uganda and the The Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire, led by Laurent Kabila, advanced into Kinshasa to close down Hutu camps in Eastern DRC.As a result, Mobutu’s government was overthrown when he was away and Laurent Desire Kabila was declared president.

Kabila’s leadership was no different from his predecessor’s. Conflict between his government and rebel groups ensued in August 1998 because Kabila saw the Rwandese rebels as threat to his government. The Ugandan group, led by Congolese warlord John Pierre Bemba, formed the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, joined the Rwandese and together they terrorized the citizens and the government .Kabila requested for military assistance from the international community but they hesitantly supported him since they did not know him enough to trust him. In 1999, the rebels and the government signed a peace accord and six other countries were witnesses. A new constitution was promulgated in May 2005 and in 2006 the first free and fair elections were held. Tension increased just before elections and the government, backed by the UN, disarmed all non- governmental factions to keep the nation stable. The trail of this civil war commonly equated to Africa’s first world war has left a trail of death, despair and pain amongst the people with over 5 million dead, several displaced, and thousands of women and children raped. It is interesting to question the ability of the rebel groups to oust governments sequentially.

Could someone be funding them? Are there some hidden interests? The minerals in the DRC, and coltan in particular, are treasured gems in the technological era. When raw, coltan, which is composed of columbium and tantalum, looks like black mud or sand. It is used to produce capacitors. Capacitors are used to conduct electrical charge in high tech equipment for example cellular phones, computers and some jet engines. The DRC has the world’s largest reserves of the mineral. Four fifths of the world’s supply of coltan is in Africa and DRC has eighty percent of it. In the late 1900s,the sales of tantalum increased by three hundred percent. This time period coincided with the times of civil war in the DRC.As Dena Montague states in her article, “Stolen Goods: Coltan and Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo”, international cooperations such as Banro-resources cooperation, Finconcorde and Raremet imported DRC coltan via Rwanda for use in Asia, Europe and USA.

In response to UN accusations of involvement in illegal trading H.C Stark, one of the largest producers of capacitors commented that they only purchase raw materials from established companies. However, established companies were indeed involved in illegally obtaining goods from DRC. Investors restructured deals in support of Desire Kabila instead of Mobutu in 1996.This was a violation of the constitution which stated “The soil and subsoil belong to the state-prospecting, exploration and exploitation requires permits from Ministry of Mines and Energy.” Local militia backed by Ugandan and Rwandese forces got supplies in form of food, money and military equipment in exchange for smuggled goods. The militia men took stronghold of areas with huge deposits of gold and coltan e.g. Bukavu, Lubumbashi and Mayi. Gold was exported through Uganda and into United Arab Emirates. It was difficult to trace from there.

It is worth noting that between 1995 and 2006,gold was one of Uganda’s main exports. Additionally, Uganda had GDP growth rate of 6% per annum in 1999 yet the average GDP in Sub-Saharan Africa was about 2.5%in the same time. These trade revenues undermined the power of the central Congolese government because the Ugandan economy gained more from D.R. Congo’s resources more than the DRC’s economy did. The fact that the international community was in one way or another involved in increasing conflict in the DRC is undeniable. If the corporate investors were genuinely trading with DRC to improve the state of the country, they would have questioned the legitimacy of the DRC based enterprises and suppliers. Another simultaneous consequence of the years of instability was an imbalance in the ecosystem. Wildlife products such as elephant tusks and animal skin were and are still very marketable globally.

They were sold or bartered in exchange of food, ammunition and other goods. With a nation in strife, this meant that there were neither environmental regulations nor expensive wildlife products. In the 1990s, there were increased rates of elephant poaching and habitat encroachment in the forest areas of Kahuzi Beiga National Park. Statistics by the UN reveal that in the area of Garamba Park, north eastern DRC, 4000 out of 12000 elephants were killed between 1995 and 1999.[61]The area was controlled by Ugandan troops and Sudanese rebels. This created a human-animal conflict. The militia fed on wild meat when on their missions. Wild meat was also the only easily available food source for the displaced persons. Rebel leaders disarmed the guards in national parks, thus they were unable to patrol the forested areas. Local conservationists also raised the alarm on the decreasing numbers of the bonobo monkeys; famed for language learning abilities when in captivity and complex social behavior in the wild(Gretchen Vogel).Another result of the clash between man and animal as suggested in the article “Effects of War and Civil Strife on Wildlife and Wildlife Habitats”, was the spread of human monkey pox and bubonic plague.

The people were exposed to more diseases other than water- borne and tropical diseases. With lack of adequate healthcare and restricted movements, the people’s lives were at risk too. The flora and soil were not spared either. The people burned the vegetation and cut trees to get timber and to create room for living and farming. Due to the uncertainty they were in, it is unlikely that their methods of farming were conservative e.g. overharvesting and thus leading to soil erosion. Timber, which is a fundamental raw material for the building industry, was cheaply available to local and international traders thus they found the political situation in the DRCongo very favourable to their activities. Globalization of trade and financial commodities in the world has a general pattern where most of the trade and investments are dominated by a few nations. They make policies that work to their advantage, a fact clearly outlined by Joseph E. Stilitzp in his article “Globalism Discontents”.

Agriculture, which is the backbone of many African countries, is sometimes left out in some of the import tariff reliefs given internationally on account of globalization. Some regional agreements also exercise some form of discriminatory trade towards agricultural products. Additionally, globalization has led to liquidity of funds due to free financial markets. This means that capital investments can quickly be converted to cash. African states are become vulnerable to liquidity perhaps because of several sectors of the economy that need quick monetary solutions and overreliance on foreign loans as Stiglitzp highlights.

One probable outcome from this phenomena in the period of conflict in the D.R.C would be that the rich political leaders in the country became richer and richer whereas the common people sunk deeper into poverty. It is likely that the agricultural sector was neglected(and this is where the people economy was/is based)and the mining industry prioritized. Middlemen from some countries traded weapons and money, with the rebel groups and some political elite, for coltan and other minerals. It is also likely that some foreign companies were given full ownership rights of some mines after giving the leaders of the time were given some money. The Congolese will indeed find it hard to trust their leaders again. The harsh reality right now is that so many families are focused on the primary needs of fending for their families so the idea of demanding for their rights is would sound unpractical.

The fragility of this state can be traced to the days of state formation and the nature of subsequent governments. If the leaders who came into power prioritized the formation of a strong army and building of the nation, then we would perhaps tell a different story. This region and several others in Sub-saharan Africa have faced a humanitarian,environmental and political turmoil for too long. To avoid a repeat of the civil war situation and its consequent effects, specific codes of conduct that promote economic and political stability should be considered in the globalization aspect. Foreign investments into Africa require strict policies and an end of the bargain that considers the welfare of the people e. g a company that wants to invest must contribute directly or indirectly towards building a hospital, school or social hall.

This will be effective in ensuring that the transition between a globalized market and the previous one involves the whole society in all dimensions of life. This can only happen with government system that is dedicated to building a brighter future for these great nations. The effective building of DRCongo’s economy will involve Congo’s immediate neighbors, the whole of Africa and the world. Conservationists should develop programs in war torn areas so that resource conflicts do not arise in the future. Global gatherings that address environmental issues should also prioritize the critical environmental crisis the Democratic Republic of Congo and in other areas affected by similar or even worse conditions.

Globalization, Culture and the Great Disruption: An Assessment International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences February 2012, Vol. 2, No. 2

Dena Montague, Stolen Goods: Coltan and Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, SAIS Review 22.1 (2002) 103-118

Joseph P. Dudley1,*, Joshua R. Ginsberg2, Andrew J. Plumptre2, John A. Hart2, Liliana C. Campos3Conservation Biology Volume pages 319–329, April 2002 Effects of War and Civil Strife on Wildlife and Wildlife Habitats

Alan Cowell, Letter from Britain: Lack of African Dream Lets a Nightmare Prevail by The International Herald Tribune, 2 August 2006

Stiglitz Joseph.Globalism Discontents

Conflict in Congo Threatens Bonobos and Rare Gorillas
* Gretchen Vogel
Science 31 March 2000: 287 (5462), 2386-2387. [DOI:10.1126/science.287.5462.2386]

Report of the UN Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 2002.

Reno, William. 1998. Warlord Politics and African States. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner.(preface of the book)

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