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2009-08-12

African Development Hindered by Vast US Corporate Interests in Continent’s Land, Resources

Guests

Amy Barry, Head of Communications at Global Witness, an anti-corruption watchdog that focuses on natural resources.

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As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Nigeria today, we turn to the issue of US corporate interests in Africa’s natural resources. Clinton’s seven-country tour of Africa includes both Nigeria and Angola, the continent’s top two oil producers. We speak with Amy Barry of Global Witness, an anti-corruption watchdog that focuses on natural resources. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Nigeria today, we turn to the issue of US corporate interests in Africa’s natural resources. Clinton’s seven-country tour of Africa includes both Nigeria and Angola, the continent’s top two oil producers. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson has denied that the visits were motivated by American concern over Chinese competition for African oil.

On Sunday, Clinton promised $6 million of investment in Angolan agriculture through a partnership with USAID and Chevron, the second-largest US oil company. She thanked Chevron for, quote, "recognizing that it is important to give back to the countries where the natural resources come from."

Despite billions of dollars in oil wealth, Angola ranks among the world’s lowest in terms of development indicators. Secretary Clinton told reporters Sunday, quote, "Corruption is a problem everywhere. It’s only fair to add that Angola has begun taking steps to increase transparency,” she said.

Well, the corruption watch group Global Witness revealed last week Angolan state oil company had given permission to bid for oil and gas licenses to a private company whose shareholders had the same names as top government officials. We’re joined on the phone from London now by the spokesperson for Global Witness, Amy Barry.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Barry. Explain the significance of Hillary Clinton’s trip in terms of oil resources and other natural resources.

AMY BARRY: Hi, Amy.

Well, when we saw the itinerary for Secretary Clinton’s visit, we were struck at Global Witness by how many of the countries she was visiting were affected by what’s sometimes known as the resource curse, whereby countries who are rich in natural resources, be it oil or minerals or timber, actually end up being made poorer or facing conflict or corruption as a result of those riches, rather than — rather than making themselves reduce poverty or promote development.

So, in the case of Angola, as you said, we — Global Witness has been working for a number of years looking at corruption in the oil industry in Angola and the mismanagement of oil wealth there. So when we saw that Clinton was going to that country, we were really keen that she should take the opportunity to raise with the president there and other people that she met the issue of how to increase transparency in the oil industry to ensure that the benefits of the wealth actually go to the people who need it, rather than just benefiting a small elite.

AMY GOODMAN: The countries, in particular, let’s take them one by one, like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Amy, and then moving on to, for example, Angola.

AMY BARRY: OK. So, Global Witness recently released a report on the Democratic Republic of Congo called "Faced with a Gun, What Can You Do?" which looked at how minerals were an underlying driver of the twelve-year conflict. So, the DRC is very rich in minerals such as coltan and cassiterite, which is tin ore, and other minerals such as wolframite. Many of these end up at the end of their lives in electronic devices that we all use on a daily basis, such as mobile phones, computers and BlackBerrys.

The vast resource wealth that the Congo has has not generally benefited its poorest people, but has provided an incentive for the conflict that’s been going on there for so long now, as well as the funds to continue to fund, to fuel that conflict. So, in our report, we highlight that. We show that every armed group that is involved in the ongoing conflict in the DRC is in fact also involved in the mines and in illegally exploiting the mineral wealth in order to fuel the fighting.

AMY GOODMAN: The Senate bills right now that have been introduced in the US Congress, the Congo Conflict Minerals Act and the Extractive Industries Transparency Disclosure Act, that would require companies listed on the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, to disclose new information in their financial reporting and help ensure that such minerals don’t support the conflict — can you explain your assessment of them?

AMY BARRY: Sure. I mean, we would be delighted if either or indeed both of those bills made it all the way through into law. The latter bill, the Extractive Industries one, would be a fantastic way of really requiring American companies to publish the money that they’re paying or receiving from these sort of countries, which would increase transparency and, in principle, reduce the chances of the money being used to fund armed groups or to be siphoned off by corrupt politicians, which happens in the DRC, but also in a number of other countries that have a rich natural resource wealth.

I think that both the bills that you mentioned are an indication of some welcome, if slightly overdue, progress in the US in terms of recognizing the importance of these sort of underlying economic factors as drivers of violence, corruption and conflict in developing countries. And it would be great if they were supported and they made it through into law.

AMY GOODMAN: And then the MUO [sic], the memo of understanding, the MOU, with Chevron — its involvement here?

AMY BARRY: Sorry, in the Congo?

AMY GOODMAN: No, in Angola.

AMY BARRY: In Angola. I think it’s an example of how Secretary Clinton could both be talking to the politicians in Angola and really demanding or requesting greater transparency from them as part of the partnership that she’s looking for, but also looking to American companies to play a more responsible role in ensuring that they are not channeling funds or accepting funds that have been in a non-transparent way.

So Global Witness has done quite a lot of work looking at the roles that multinational — role that multinational companies can play in pushing for greater transparency in the countries in which they operate. So we, ahead of Secretary Clinton’s visit to Angola, put out a statement in which we said we hoped that she would not overlook what is — seems to be ongoing corruption problems in the country for the sake of promoting US energy interests.

Now, she did speak out about her concerns, voiced her concerns about corruption, but I think that many people in Angola and around the world will be looking to the US to move from a sort of rhetorical statement of concern to concrete action such as legislation, holding their own companies to account, but also really making the demands on the governments with whom they’re doing business.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Amy Barry, I want to thank you for being with us, head of communications a Global Witness, an anti-corruption watch group that focuses on natural resources. She’s speaking to us from London.

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