Years and years ago, my grandfather advised me not to have anything to do with Africa. Whether this was advice about investments, holiday visits or even moving there I know not, I was too young to pose any reasonable questions back to him but somehow I retained his advice in the back of my mind. And strangely, although I have travelled widely with my sales jobs in IBM and BT, I never visited Africa except for personal visits to Morocco and Tunisia, but never further south.
But it’s not the social problems which put me off the country, it's that Africa is just one big pot of corruption and lawlessness. Some people might regard that as a bit of a generalization but think of Nigeria where the oil companies have to attach bodyguards to their employees and their families just to allow them to work there in safety. Think of Somalia where the country appears to be run by pirates with no one seemingly doing anything about it.
Think of the various African scams which regularly turn up in your e-mail in-box encouraging you to help launder a couple of million dollars ‘if you only pay £10,000 up-front to help with the admin’.
Think of the African dictators running their countries where the vast majority of the population have little food and water, have no education or health system and yet who live in magnificent palaces with fleets of limousines lining the drive to the gold front gates. Were these guys rich before they came to power? Absolutely not – they’ve skimmed it off all the international aid which the developed world sends to them. And what do we do? We send them more!
I have a friend who was so taken by the plight of children in Kenya that she founded a school and orphanage for ‘street children’ only to find that most of the money she was sending there was being siphoned off by the very guy who was running the orphanage on her behalf.
I’m sorry to say corruption and lawlessness out there is just absolutely rife, but just as I think I’m being a bit of a ‘Victor Meldrew’, something else happens which reinforces my view that I’m well clear of that vast continent.
Trafigura – ever heard of them? No ? I hadn’t either. Trafigura is a company, probably run by a few ‘Del boys’ who buy oil on the world oil market and then ship it to someone who wants to buy it. They are oil traders. The problem is that Trafigura buys nasty, smelly oil which needs to be ‘cleaned’ before it is useful and once cleaned the toxic waste by-products need to be ‘disposed of’. Given that the normal routes for disposing of this waste is expensive and would reduce their profits, Trafigura paid some fly-by-night Ivorians to get rid of it – no questions asked. Anyway, the toxic waste was dumped inland near several villages and towns and before long, the population were all ill.
To cut a long story short, Trafigura who were being sued, paid a sum of $30m for an out-of-court settlement and this money was to be distributed to the 30,000 or so Ivorian nationals who had been affected by the waste dumping. No sooner had the $30m hit the Ivory Coast bank than a series of rather senior figures in the Ivorian government started claiming that they were ‘the de facto representatives’ of the people to whom the money was to go to. A scam if ever there was one. You can just see the $30m disappearing into their pockets faster than the Range Rovers the money will no doubt be spent on! Then the Ivorian Treasury Minister approached the bank and said he’d block any distribution of the money unless the daily interest it was earning was paid into his personal account. No attempt to hide his identity or justify what he was doing – it’s just normal business out there.
I’m sorry for the individuals in Africa living in poverty but I do object to 99p in the pound I give being skimmed off by some tin-pot politicians.