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Patrick Bond pbond at mail.ngo.za
Fri Jan 27 06:55:20 MST 2006


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Henry C.K. Liu"
> Its curious why Bond's self righteous complaints are always focused on 
> countries that displease the US. Other anedotal incidents in many other 
> countries did not seem to upset Bond. He seems to have a nose for singling 
> geopolitical targets. For example, he is very silent about the racist 
> policies in the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans, despite having been 
> raise in the South.

It's curious that Henry bothers reading my posts. Please man, can you not 
put me on your blocked sender list? Alternatively, can you not do a little 
research on google before making ridiculous accusations about what I 
'always' complain about? I have quite diverse complaints. The first 
sentences of a book Zed will publish in July are below, to satisfy you. But 
please, do consider putting me on your hitlist to avoid this apoplexy 
problem I seem to cause.

Cheers,
Patrick

***

Looting Africa
The economics of exploitation



Preface

What is ordinarily conveyed by the word ‘looting’? On August 30, 2005, we 
received a vivid answer at yahoo.com, in the form of a metaphor for the 
common-sense inversion of Africa’s relationship to the West. Two photographs 
were momentarily on display at yahoo.com’s news site, in the immediate 
aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In one, Agence France Press had snapped two 
New Orleans residents triumphantly wading ‘through chest-deep water after 
finding bread and soda from a local grocery store’, as the caption 
explained. In the other, the Associated Press circulated a picture of a man 
walking ‘through chest deep flood water after looting a grocery store’.
         The couple ‘finding’ were white, the man ‘looting’ was black.[1]
         Social critic Slavoj Žižek considered stereotypes of this sort in 
discussing what he termed ‘the subject supposed to loot and rape’ in New 
Orleans:

We all remember the reports on the disintegration of public order, the 
explosion of black violence, rape and looting. However, later inquiries 
demonstrated that, in the large majority of cases, these alleged orgies of 
violence did not occur: Non-verified rumors were simply reported as facts by 
the media. For example, on September 3, the Superintendent of the New 
Orleans Police Department told the New York Times about conditions at the 
Convention Center: ‘The tourists are walking around there, and as soon as 
these individuals see them, they’re being preyed upon. They are beating, 
they are raping them in the streets.’ In an interview just weeks later, he 
conceded that some of his most shocking statements turned out to be untrue: 
‘We have no official reports to document any murder. Not one official report 
of rape or sexual assault.’[2]

When white tourists formerly lodged at New Orleans hotels sought to escape 
the city, they were hustled to the front of emergency bus queues, ahead of 
the mainly African-American, low-income ghetto residents stuck at the 
wretched Convention Centre. Some such residents had indeed raided shops for 
water, milk and perishables primarily as a survival mechanism, to the 
opprobrium of Fox News anchors and like-minded neoconservative commentators.
         So who, in reality, benefited from the catastrophe? Another 
critical analyst, Mike Davis, observed how the Bush regime rapidly

swung open the doors of New Orleans to corporate looters such as 
Halliburton, the Shaw Group and Blackwater Security, already fat from the 
spoils of the Tigris, [which] contrasted obscenely with the Federal 
Emergency Management Agency’s deadly procrastination over sending water, 
food and buses to the multitudes trapped in the stinking hell of the 
Louisiana Superdome.[3]

Hence when it comes to explaining the world’s growing social divides, 
revelations from the main port city of the world’s richest country are 
telling. They boil down to the idea of ‘looting’: not as the logical 
lifestyle of imperialism’s black victims, but instead as the basis for 
capital accumulation under conditions of extreme inequality.
         The great African political economist, Samir Amin, speaks of a US 
strategy for Third World societies that ‘aims only at looting their 
resources.’[4] Confirms Princeton economist Paul Krugman in a New York Times 
column, ‘A while back, George Akerlof, the Nobel laureate in economics, 
described what’s happening to public policy as “a form of looting”… The Bush 
administration and the Republican leadership in Congress are leading the 
looting party.’[5]
         That party – and subsequent interimperial rivalries - began many 
years earlier. According to Karl Marx,

The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement 
and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the turning of Africa 
into a commercial warren for the hunting of black skins signalled the rosy 
dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the 
chief momenta of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the 
commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre.[6]

By 1913, Rosa Luxemburg had developed a full-fledged theory of imperialism 
from these insights:

Force, fraud, oppression, looting are openly displayed without any attempt 
at concealment, and it requires an effort to discover within this tangle of 
political violence and contests of power the stern laws of the economic 
process. Bourgeois liberal theory takes into account only the former aspect: 
‘the realm of peaceful competition’, the marvels of technology and pure 
commodity exchange; it separates it strictly from the other aspect: the 
realm of capital’s blustering violence which is regarded as more or less 
incidental to foreign policy and quite independent of the economic sphere of 
capital.
   In reality, political power is nothing but a vehicle for the economic 
process. The conditions for the reproduction of capital provide the organic 
link between these two aspects of the accumulation of capital. The 
historical career of capitalism can only be appreciated by taking them 
together. ‘Sweating blood and filth with every pore from head to toe’ 
characterizes not only the birth of capital but also its progress in the 
world at every step, arid thus capitalism prepares its own downfall under 
ever more violent contortions and convulsions…
   Militarism fulfils a quite definite function in the history of capital, 
accompanying as it does every historical phase of accumulation. It plays a 
decisive part in the first stages of European capitalism, in the period of 
the so-called ‘primitive accumulation’, as a means of conquering the New 
World and the spice-producing countries of India. Later, it is employed to 
subject the modern colonies, to destroy the social organizations of 
primitive societies so that their means of production may be appropriated, 
forcibly to introduce commodity trade in countries where the social 
structure had been unfavourable to it, and to turn the natives into a 
proletariat by compelling them to work for wages in the colonies. It is 
responsible for the creation and expansion of spheres of interest for 
European capital in non-European regions, for extorting railway concessions 
in backward countries, and for enforcing the claims of European capital as 
international lender. Finally, militarism is a weapon in the competitive 
struggle between capitalist countries for areas of non-capitalist 
civilization.[7]

The wealth of capitalism - based in no small measure upon looting Africa – 
is regularly revealed by critical scholars, of whom Walter Rodney looms 
large for his 1972 book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, followed by Paul 
Zeleza’s formidable 1993 Codesria manuscript covering the 19th century, A 
Modern Economic History of Africa. Notwithstanding such efforts, however, 
thanks to politicians and bureaucrats in Washington and London, IMF and 
World Bank mandarins, Geneva trade hucksters, pliant NGOs, banal celebrities 
and the mass media, the legacy and ongoing exploitation of Africa have been 
tangled up in ideological confusion.
         To illustrate, consider all the attention Africa received during 
2005, through efforts to ‘make poverty history’, to provide relief from 
crushing debt loads, to double aid and to establish a ‘development round’ of 
trade. At best, partial critiques of imperial power emerged amidst the 
cacophony of all-white rock concerts and political grandstanding. At worst, 
polite public discourse tactfully avoided capital’s blustering violence, 
from Nigeria’s oil-soaked Delta to northeastern Congo’s gold mines to 
Botswana’s diamond finds to Sudan’s killing fields. Most of the London 
charity NGO strategies ensured that core issue areas – debt, aid, trade and 
investment – would be addressed in only the most superficial ways.
         Perhaps this was not surprising. Mass media’s images of Africans 
themselves were nearly uniformly negative during the recent period, which 
plays nicely into the hands of elites. Reminiscent of New Orleans ghettoes, 
Giles Mohan and Tunde Zack-Williams observed, ‘Africa’s underdevelopment has 
for long been blamed on local culture and the lack of “proper” values. Such 
discourses designed to let imperialism off the hook have reared their ugly 
head again in various guises.’[8] It was from West Africa that the 
neoconservative US writer Robert Kaplan described a future defined in terms 
of ‘disease, overpopulation, unprovoked crime, scarcity of resources, 
refugee migrations, the increasing erosion of nation-states and 
international borders, and the empowerment of private armies, security 
firms, and international drug cartels’.[9] From such a frightened worldview, 
it is not a distant leap for Tony Blair’s advisor Robert Cooper to declare 
that ‘when dealing with more old-fashioned kinds of states… we need to 
revert to rougher methods of an earlier age: force, pre-emptive attack, 
deception, whatever is necessary to deal with those who still live in the 
19th century world of “every state for itself”‘, hence generating ‘a new 
kind of imperialism… to bring order and organization’.[10] Tim Jacoby 
concludes of such sentiments, ‘In order to obscure western complicity in, or 
in some cases responsibility for, the defects of states in the South, policy 
makers have been influenced by, and contributed to, a rise to prominence of 
cultural explanations for social phenomena.’[11]
         As the ‘dark continent’, Africa has typically been painted with 
broad-brush strokes, as a place of heathen and uncivilized people, as savage 
and superstitious, as tribalistic and nepostic. As David Wiley has shown, 
western media coverage is crisis driven, based upon parachute journalism, 
amplified by an entertainment media which ‘perpetuates negative images of 
helpless primitives, happy-go-lucky buffoons, evil pagans. The media glorify 
colonialism/European intervention. Currently, Africa is represented as a 
place of endemic violence and brutal but ignorant dictators.’ Add to this 
the ‘animalization of Africa via legion of nature shows on Africa that 
present Africa as being devoid of humans’, enhanced by an ‘advertising 
industry that has built and exploited (and thereby perpetuated) simplistic 
stereotypes of Africa’. [12] Thus it was disgusting but logical, perhaps, 
that African people were settled into a theme village at an Austrian zoo in 
June 2005, their huts placed next to monkey cages in scenes reminiscent of 
19th century exhibitions. In an explanatory letter, zoo director Barbara 
Jantschke denied that this was ‘a mistake’ because ‘I think the Augsburg zoo 
is exactly the right place to communicate an atmosphere of the exotic.’[13]
         In this context, the difficulty of advancing structural critique to 
link political and economic problems, and race, class and gender, became 
clearer to me when in the immediate wake of the Gleneagles G8 hoopla in July 
2005, a friend emailed me a column from that day’s International Herald 
Tribune authored by Daniel Altman, the paper’s ‘global economics 
correspondent’. Without identifying himself, Altman was positioned next to 
me on a JFK-Heathrow redeye and cribbed some notes. His column began as 
follows:

Not long ago, Patrick Bond, an author and professor at the University of 
KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, was sitting on an airplane, working on a 
presentation he was soon to make at Oxford. For one particular slide, he 
spent several minutes rearranging pictures of American troops’ flag-draped 
caskets aboard a cargo plane and of the World Bank president, Paul 
Wolfowitz, dressed as an astronaut. Never mind that this was a presentation 
about water commodification in South Africa - to opponents of ‘neoliberalism’ 
like Bond, the supposed evils of free markets and expansionist foreign 
policy are one and the same.[14]

I confess: what I’d groggily asked at the next day’s seminar was whether the 
World Bank’s drive to commodify everything under the sun, including water 
and even the air,[15] would be modified or strengthened by Wolfowitz’s 
unilateralist, petro-militarist record and orientation. The first slide of 
those three posed a couple of queries: ‘Will the Wolfowitz World Bank revert 
to neoliberalism? What is his long-term agenda?’
         Without dissent, my answer was that although the looting of Iraq 
explicitly combined neoliberalism (Paul Bremer’s total privatization agenda) 
with military occupation, this merger would have problems in applications 
elsewhere. First, growing economic contradictions associated with 
liberalized trade, investment and especially financial markets appear 
insurmountable. Second, the coffins demonstrated that US militarism applied 
to Iraq – and maybe Syria, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela, for example - 
may also be untenable. Yet Wolfowitz would, I predicted, continue attempting 
to fuse the economic and territorial imperatives of imperialism. An 
uncomprehending Altman complained: ‘To its enemies, neoliberalism apparently 
refers to an American-born urge to create unrestrained markets for 
everything, everywhere, even if it means overthrowing a government.’ 
Precisely.
         Sometimes the elites cannot – or will not - see beyond their noses. 
In contrast, a venerable and extremely popular US radio commentator, Paul 
Harvey, had just a few days earlier expressed his country’s basic urges more 
openly, in an appeal for Bush to aggressively deploy weapons of mass 
destruction:

We sent men with rifles into Afghanistan and Iraq, and we kept our best 
weapons in our silos. Even now we’re standing there dying, daring to do 
nothing decisive, because we’ve declared ourselves to be better than our 
terrorist enemies - more moral, more civilized. Our image is at stake, we 
insist.
     But we didn’t come this far because we’re made of sugar candy. Once 
upon a time, we elbowed our way onto and into this continent by giving small 
pox infected blankets to native Americans. Yes, that was biological warfare! 
And we used every other weapon we could get our hands on to grab this land 
from whomever. And we grew prosperous. And, yes, we greased the skids with 
the sweat of slaves.
     And so it goes with most nation states, which, feeling guilty about 
their savage pasts, eventually civilize themselves out of business and wind 
up invaded, and ultimately dominated by the lean, hungry and up and coming 
who are not made of sugar candy.[16]

When the grabbing of land or markets must be defended, there are too many 
proud Americans – and not just talk-show schlock-jocks like Paul Harvey or 
Rush Limbaugh - who shamelessly stand in favour of looting. As the suave New 
York Times columnist Thomas Friedman famously remarked, ‘The hidden hand of 
the market will never work without the hidden fist – McDonald’s cannot 
flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden 
fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called 
the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.’[17]
            In short, contemporary ‘looting’ is not comprehensible through 
populist, surface-level imagery like that the Associated Press caption 
alleged. Looting is a system driven from capitalist institutions in 
Washington, London and other Northern centres, and accommodated by junior 
partners across the Third World, including African capitals, especially 
Pretoria. This, anyway, is the argument I will defend in the pages that 
follow.

Notes
[1]. http://www.flickr.com/photos/firewall/38725768/
[2]. Zizek, S. (2005), ‘The Subject Supposed to Loot and Rape: Reality and 
Fantasy in New Orleans’, In These Times, 20 October.
[3]. Davis, M. (2005), ‘Catastrophic Economics: The Predators of New Orleans’, 
Le Monde Diplomatique, 2 October.
[4]. Amin, S. (2003), ‘Confronting the Empire,’ presented to the conference 
on The Work of Karl Marx and the Challenges of the 21st Century, Institute 
of Philosophy of the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment, 
the National Association of Economists of Cuba, the Cuban Trade Union 
Federation and the Centre for the Study of Economy and Planning, Havana, 5-8 
May.
[5]. Krugman, P. (2003), ‘Looting the Future,’ New York Times, 5 December.
[6]. Marx, K. (1867)[2005], Das Kapital, available at 
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch31.htm.
[7]. Luxemburg, R. (1968)[1923], The Accumulation of Capital, New York, 
Monthly Review Press. See www.marxists.org/archive/ 
luxemburg/1913/accumulation-capital/, from which these citations are drawn.
[8]. Mohan, G. and T. Zack-Williams (2005), ‘Oiling the Wheels of 
Imperialism’, Review of African Political Economy, 104/105, p.214.
[9]. Kaplan, R. (1994), ‘The Coming Anarchy’, Atlantic Monthly, 273, p.46.
[10]. Cooper, R. (2002), ‘The Post-Modern State’, in M.Leonard (Ed), 
Re-Ordering the World: The Long-Term Implications of September 11, London, 
The Foreign Policy Centre, pp.16-17.
[11]. Jacoby, T. (2005), ‘Cultural Determinism, Western Hegemony and the 
Efficacy of Defective States’, Review of African Political Economy, 104/105, 
p.228.
[12]. 
http://exploringafrica.matrix.msu.edu/curriculum/lm1/1/lm1_teachers.html.
[13]. Hawley, C. (2005), ‘African Village Accused of Putting Humans on 
Display’, Spiegel Online, 9 June, 
http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/0,1518,359799,00.html.
[14]. Altman, D. (2005), ‘Neoliberalism? It Doesn’t Exist’, International 
Herald Tribune, 16 July.
[15]. Bond, P. and R.Dada (Eds)(2005), Trouble in the Air: Global Warming 
and the Privatised Atmosphere, Durban, University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre 
for Civil Society.
[16]. Cited in Zorn, E. (2005), ‘Paul Harvey: Ah, Genocide and Slavery, now 
That’s a Good Day!’, Chicago Tribune, 24 June.
[17]. Friedman, T. (1999), ‘A Manifesto for the Fast World’, New York Times 
Magazine, March. 

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