RE: Sub-Saharan Africa

Thu, 03 Apr 1997 15:21:50 +1000
Bruce R. McFarling (

On Mon, 31 Mar 1997, David Lloyd-Jones wrote:

> There are mines -- but thre is nothing in the mines that can't be mined
> cheaper in countries that have roads, rails and, importantly, river
> transport -- to say nothing of telephones, hospitals and cold beer.

There is this wonderful thing about mining things where they are
cheaper to mine -- you get it out of the ground, and then the next bit is
harder to mine (lower quality, deeper underground, etc.) So eventually
you run out of the cheaper cobalt, diamonds, whatever in the places that
have roads, rails, river transport, telephones, hospitals and cold beer,
and the cheaper mining is in the places that lack those things. Hence
Zaire is a top 5 world producer of Diamonds, cobalt, and some other
Its the lower value-added-per-pound stuff like growing corn and
beans and cotton where the lack of roads and consumer/producer services in
rural areas starts to really hit your output. Even a Zaire can still
produce diamonds (they are, after all, mining diamonds with shovels in
certain parts of Haute Zaire), but after decades of decaying
infrastructure, provinces like Haute Zaire that should be the breadbasket
of central Africa can not even feed Kinshasa.

> It's difficult to imagine what Karl had in mind when he asked
> his question -- unless it was some bizarre ideological notion
> that a.) the industrialised countries live by exploitation,

I assume that I am in a minority on WSN in agreeing with dlj's
assertion (stated in an oblique fashion) that OECD nations do not live by
exploitation of the underdeveloped nations of the world. This
exploitation is a sideline, which is profitable, but could be sacrificed
if something more important was at stake, such as control of productive
organisations in the OECD countries.

> b.) Africa is exploitable,

Africa *is* exploitable. Part of the reason for the lack of
capital inflows is that Africa is too *easily* exploitable: some guns to
keep the right sorts in power and a smidgen of consumption goods for a few
people who succeed in getting high enough up the pyramids of sacrifice,
and there is no need of diverting hard currency resources to ensure a flow
of highly useful, low- value-added, raw materials. And while the lost
potential for economic growth is an undeniable problem for the populations
of the countries affected, it is not necessarily a problem for those with
hard currency funds that could be used in Africa. There are, after all,
no guarantees that economic organisations permitting more widespread
economic development would be to the benefit of those in control of hard
currency funds.

> c.) exploitation is highly profitable.

The truly impressive profits accrue to activities that can
participate in a process of successful economic development. However,
those with hard currency funds to divert to Africa aren't necessarily
qualified to be participants in a process of successful economic
development in sub-Saharan Africa, so those types of profits might not be
an option. It is certainly the case, for example, that someone with
suitable local contacts, access to suitable cloth and raw material, and
experience in managing textile production in Zaire could make a lot of
money in Kinshasa right now. However, the local network and experience
are every bit as necessary as the working capital, and the rewards are
greatest to someone who wishes to use the profits within Zaire

> All three are ridiculous.

Exactly. While based on perfectly valid observations of what is
going on, if simplified to this degree the result is too extreme to be
taken seriously. Of course, it was dlj who suggested this as the
explanatory framework. Since he read this framework in in order to
ridicule it, there may be suspicious souls on the list who would suspect
(a thing, I've heard, that suspicious souls do) that dlj's reading is not
unbiased. Or, in other words, the goal of setting up a framework in order
to ridicule it might increase the likelihood of constructing a ridiculous


Bruce R. McFarling, Newcastle, NSW