I remember reading the Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad many years ago after seeing one of my favourite films, Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppella. The theme of the film is said to be based on the primary concept of the book, regarding the increasing darkness of the barbarity of the “white man”, as he descends deeper into the proverbial “jungle”. The book explored this journey utilizing the backdrop of the so-called “Dark Continent”: Africa – and the effect it had on the souls of the civilized Europeans, who sunk into the evil, primal side of their psyche, symbolized by how they treated the native, i.e. African population as they rushed to rape the continent of it’s riches. Kurtz, is the primary figure within the book who personifies this descent into darkness (also the name of the character played by Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now). Interestingly, he is an ivory purchaser for the government. He is the ultimate exploiter. No conscience. No empathy. No sense of humanity or the ideal of the brotherhood of mankind. The dollar is the bottom line.

I read a news piece in the BBC News online this week about Zambia losing a “Vulture Fund” case in Britain. I had never heard of this term before. Basically Vulture Funds, as defined by the International Monetary Fund, are companies which buy up the debt of poor nations cheaply when it is about to be written off, then SUE for the full value of the debt plus interest. WHAT!? I had thought that the effort to forgive African nations of their debt to western, particularly G8 nations, was to provide them the opportunity to use these funds for social, economic and infrastructure development. In theory this was to be a positive step towards breaking through the chains and cycle of the pandemic poverty in the continent. Bono, the lead singer of the band U2, went around the world imploring western leaders to jump on board. There was even a Live8 concert in 2005 held in a number of western countries to mobilize grassroots support in an effort to put moral and cultural pressure on their governments for this initiative. It became a big fanfare and publicity event when during a subsequent G8 summit, they had agreed (with Tony Blair serving as the spokesperson), to forgive these debts and also provide finds for A.I.D.S. prevention and treatment. At the time I had thought that this was certainly too good to be true. I couldn’t understand why western governments, “white/European/American” governments, would do anything to aid African, without any benefit to themselves. Sad to say, but I now seems that I was right. 

According to the report, in 1979 the Romanian government lent Zambia money to buy Romanian tractors. Zambia was unable to keep up the payments and in 1999, Romania and Zambia negotiated to liquidate the debt for $3m, but before the deal could be finalized, a firm called Donegal International (DI), which is part owned by a US-based company, stepped in and bought the debt from Romania for less than $4m. DI then sued Zambia for $42m, which includes the cost of the debt and interest and then had the country’s assets frozen. They recently won their lawsuit but economic experts believe that the judge will order Zambia to pay between $10m and $20m, less than half what DI sought.

There are obvious concerns that such funds will erase the benefits which international debt relief was supposed to bring to poor countries. This situation with Zambia is one of many such lawsuits. According to a Zambian official, $42m was equal to all the debt relief it had received last year and they were planning to spend this money on much-needed nurses, teachers and infrastructure projects. 

Reading this story brought me back to the novel, Heart of Darkness and it’s central theme. When it comes to dealing with Africa, the so-called “Dark Continent”, the oh-so civilized and compassionate “White West”, looses any sense of morality (maybe a more fitting moniker would be the “Wild West”). They easily sink into the darkness of barbarism. As one looks at all the issues Africa is facing, while it struggles to gasp for it’s breath: the breath for responsible governance; the breath for education; the breath for economic development; the breath for health care; the breath for food and clean drinking water; the breath for personal safety and security…. as it clings to life and fights to loosen itself from the clutches of death, a new colonialism has reared it’s ugly head. Arms dealers, pharmaceutical companies (I strongly recommend the movie, The Constant Gardener), debt collection companies and even China, are now circling and  ready to swooped down like vultures to find any opportunity to feed on Africa’s live corpse.

Like Kurtz, they have become the ultimate exploiters. No conscience. No empathy. No sense of humanity or the ideal of the brotherhood of mankind. The dollar is the bottom line.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9.

Asabagna