Africa. The birthplace of “Homo Sapiens.” The land of plenty. The origin of farming. The richest region in terms of natural resources. And human capital. Home to over 1.3 billion humans, continues to be looted.
With 500 million plus people living in extreme poverty, Africa has also been transformed into a sort of grave for half of the world’s victims of terror. The continent is also the land with the highest suicide rate on Earth. Why?
Gold, diamonds, lithium…
“The evidence is there that the illegal exploitation of precious metals and minerals such as gold, silver, and diamonds, are fuelling the extremists with significant sources of income, and benefiting the groups that control extraction, and trafficking routes.”
This is what the Head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on 6 October 2002 stated, informing that the vast Sahel region in particular has become “home to some of the most active and deadly terrorist groups.”
See some of the major facts Ghada Waly submitted to the UN Security Council:
- Illegally mined gold and other precious metals are being fed into the legitimate market, providing huge profits for traffickers;
- Wildlife trafficking has also been reported as a possible source of funding for militias, with the illegal trade in ivory alone generating 400 million US dollars in illicit income each year;
- Around 3,500 victims of terrorist acts in sub-Saharan Africa last year, nearly half of those recorded worldwide;
- Such criminal exploitation strips the people of Africa of a significant source of revenue. It robs the millions of people who depend on these natural resources for their livelihoods. And it fuels conflicts and exacerbates instability;
- Mineral supply chains are often linked to child abuse, human trafficking, forced labor, and other human rights violations… With 60% of Africa’s population under 25 years of age, young people are both the future of the continent but also its most vulnerable citizens.
The Ambassadors sitting in the UN Security Council heard these words. Five of them represent the world’s biggest arms producers –those used by terrorist groups– and their markets are the top beneficiaries of the business of exploiting precious minerals.
The highest suicide rate
But there is much more to tell. The very same day, 6 October, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched another horrifying data: Africa has the highest suicide rate in the world.
Ahead of World Mental Health Day on 10 October, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, called for “significant investment…to tackle Africa’s growing burden of chronic diseases and non-infectious conditions – such as mental disorders – that can contribute to suicide”.
A couple of specific facts presented by the world specialized body:
- Mental health problems affect 116 million people in the African region, up from 53 million in 1990.
- The continent also has six of the top 10 countries for suicide in the world, while for each suicide in Africa, there are an estimated 20 suicide attempts.
Mental health deserves less than half a dollar
Despite the urgency of the problem, African governments allocate less than 50 US cents per person to treat mental health problems, says WHO. This is five times more than in 2017, but it is still well below the recommended 2 US dollars per person for low-income countries.
Additionally, mental health care is generally not included in national health insurance schemes, WHO said, noting that in Africa, there is only one psychiatrist for every 500,000 inhabitants.
This is 100 times below the WHO recommendation.
Additionally, mental health workers mostly work in urban areas, often leaving rural communities without any support. “Mental health is integral to wholesome health and well-being yet far too many people in our region who need help for mental health conditions do not receive it.”
‘Old’ and ‘modern’ robbery
The robbery of Africa is not new. European merchants in the early years of 16th century initiated the known as the Transatlantic slave trade. Tens of thousands of Africans were hunted mostly in West Africa, loaded in the holds of ships, chained, minimally fed to keep them alive, surrounded by rats, and shipped for European colonies in the Americas.
Then, in the 1880s, in what became known as the “Scramble for Africa,” European countries raced to occupy the continent, seeking economic, commercial, and strategic profits.
Once the European empires’ military and economic powers were diminished following two World Wars, their African colonies started accessing independence in the early 1960s.
But such independence did not last long.
In fact, Western-based private corporations soon replaced the European-State colonization, extracting oil, gold, diamonds, and all sorts of precious metals and mineral resources, including highly demanded coltan and lithium, just to mention some.
Climate catastrophes, migration…
The world scientific community has repeatedly informed that while Africa produces between 2% and 3% of all gas emissions, the continent carries the burden of over 80% of all climate catastrophes, majorly generated by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
As a consequence of its impoverishment and the unbearable load of external debts, the abuses of world’s trade, the continued exploitation, the induced corruption, and the severe droughts and floods, Africa is now home to 1 in 2 humans living in extreme poverty, and hunger.
No wonder then that thousands of Africans continue to attempt to escape poverty and hunger, fleeing to Europe in search of jobs that allows them and their families to survive.
Hundreds of them have drowned in the sea, and those who have managed to survive to continue to be prey to human smugglers and traffickers who force them into ‘modern’ slavery, sexual exploitation, trade-in vital organs, etcetera.
And anyway, those who finally reach European lands are now being pushed back, shipped to other countries in exchange for money, and swept away to States with high records of human rights abuses.
The looting of a whole continues unabated.
Baher Kamal is Senior Advisor to IPS Director General on Africa & the Middle East. He is an Egyptian-born, Spanish-national, secular journalist, with over 43 years of experience. Since the late 70s, he specialized in all development-related issues, as well as international politics.