|Mining in Africa Today - Strategies and Prospects (UNU, 1987, 91 pages)|
The colonial mining pattern has survived independence in most African countries. In the past, mining exploitation was founded on the concession system, capital was foreign only and the profits, along with the minerals, were totally exported. Western enterprises were confined to specific mining activities within specific territories belonging to the zone of influence of their parent state. Production, based on very simple technology and forced labour, was carried out with no concern for the depletion of resources in the countries exploited. Minerals were, of course, exported in their raw form and processed in the colonial metropoles.
At present, mining takes place in the framework of more complex property relations which associate the African state with big consortia of foreign enterprises from various advanced capitalist economies and different industries. But the effective control of the fields is still exercised by foreign capital. The value of ore is still wasted, as it is sold on the international market at very low prices which include neither mines' rent nor depletion allowance; labour is underpaid and exploited. Mono-export situations are still the rule, with their usual constraints and difficulties, and local processing is rarely developed beyond the strict requirements of technology.
Joint control of African mines and resources is being organized by Western and Japanese private and public operators, and is based on the cross-diversification of the investments of the big mining, oil and industrial concerns of the West and Japan and on the subsitution of the old colonial preserves by the 'free' circulation of capital at the level of the whole capitalist world. But this joint control is also founded on what has become the systematic and explicit co-operation between the big enterprises, big banks and governments of the advanced countries'.
The local states' participation in mining exploitation capital does not correspond to any real power or influence, as the management of the mines and the investment decisions are largely the responsibility of foreign capital. Such participation reflects rather an unequal alliance between foreign capital and local state bureaucracies for the exploitation of African countries' mineral resources. The narrow social basis of these bureaucracies and their neo-colonial character in most African mining countries in fact confine them to a mere function of relaying foreign capital. In sum. if the mining model has evolved somewhat, it is more because of the changes in the world environment than because of significant modifications in the social and political conditions within the Third World mining countries.
While Africa specialized, traditionally, in precious metals and in
copper, it is now forced to adopt a new mineral specialization, based on iron
ore and more especially on bauxite and uranium. As was the case for copper in
the past, recent mining developments have been concentrated in a few countries
of very modest economic and demographic size and, of course, in South Africa and
Namibia. For this reason mineral supplies from Africa are increasingly
substituted for those from other Third World areas where the 'risks' for foreign
capital are greater. In such conditions, neither the claim for national control
over the mining sector nor for the mines' rent and local processing can make
much sense in the African mining countries. In the event of radical political
changes in these countries, the possibilities for challenging foreign control
and exploitation will remain very limited. In the present political framework,
some co-operation at the international level is always possible, either between
producers of one specific mineral, or between producers of different minerals,
but the failures of the 1970s, such as those of CIPEC or IBA, for example, do
not allow much hope. The most important and most promising condition is, without
doubt, the liberation of South Africa and