Society

Tantalus

Treachery and Kleptocracy. The Kingpins in the Looting of Countries Resources.

Tantalus is one of many Greek gods, who offered his son Pelops as an offering at banquet for all other gods. He chopped his son into pieces and served it in a soup like dish for the gods, who became aware of this treachery and did not consume a morsel accept for Demeter because of a despair. The gods punished him in such a way that it has become known as the temptation without satisfaction. What was this tantalising punishment? He was made to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with hanging branches, with the lush fruit ever evading his clutch, and the water always retreating before he could take a needed sip. Tantalus according to myth will be in this for eternity.

I am glad that I did not have to wait eternally to confirm my gut feelings of how people of the resource rich countries are tantalised into wheeling and dealing with the beast of corprotracy for their natural resources and suddenly when all is confirmed, the fruits of their labour has nothing to show except that it is always out of their grasp. So near yet so far. Thanks to Thomas Burgis for affirming my thesis. He is the author of The Looting Machine in which the metaphor of Tantalus is offered. A metaphor dish fit for all of sound mind to tantalise the intellect into thinking again because the resources of so many African countries in the main have kleptomaniacs as guests who would not mind eating the flesh of the dead too. Here are some tantalising facts paraphrased from the book to give you appetite to act or to spoil your appetite because you have been eating at these banquets all the time or you have friends eating there or you are the guest of honour because you can bring something to the table. So let’s look at Africa from through the prism of natural resources.

Africa, like Tantalus is standing in a pool of infinite natural resources but, whenever tantalised to have just a little it all recedes into the abyss Kleptocracy and Corporatocracy.

With careful research, Thomas Burgis, outlines the following in very plain terms which sounds so visceral as minds are not decrepit from thinking. The World Bank, after sound investigation mentions that African countries in the main where there is an abundant supply of natural resources, 69% of the population live in extreme poverty. The World Bank goes on to say that the daily income of those in extreme poverty in the above landscape is $1.65. The statistics countries are given to illustrate the point of those living in extreme poverty. They list it in the following way:

  1. 68% extreme poverty in NIGERIA
  2. 43 % extreme poverty in ANGOLA
  3. 75 % extreme poverty in ZAMBIA & CONGO
  4. 33 % of Indians live in extreme poverty in India/Pakistan
  5. 12 % of Chinese live in extreme poverty
  6. 0,7 % of Mexcans live in extreme poverty
  7. ** In the year 2000 the Congolese were labelled as the poorest people on planet EARTH.

Looking at Earth from the top, it is clear that

  1. 15 % of its crude oil is in Africa
  2. 40 % of its gold is in Africa
  3. 80 % of its platinum is in Africa
  4. Africa has the richest landmass of natural reserves of diamonds, uranium, copper, iron and much more.

By deduction then, Africa should not be the beggars of the world or the people who are more dependent on food aid and loans from the World Bank. Africa supposed to be independent and a global player on every front. The prodigious landscape of Africa lies like flotsam on the ocean of colonialism. Decades after liberation and independence it has has become inured by kleptocracy. The voracious appetite of the kleptomaniacs have lined the political space like phalanxes to secure their grip on the nation’s natural resources with huge budgets on military power which appear so analogus in its use that every uprising or revolt against them is squashed the second it becomes serious. Looting of resources takes place in boardrooms, plush hotels and in Parliament housings and not through the old method of imperilled colonial stratagems. What we see and made to understand through ‘pulp-fiction’ news and political hype is a far cry from the truth.

Nigeria as an example is testimony of how its people got the punishment of Tantalus. 1956 marks the first find of crude oil which was four years before independence and history records it as the beginning of Nigeria’s ruin. It is 2020 and 68% of its population live in extreme poverty, further entrenched in civil strife with BOKO HARAM, corruption and the 2 million lives that were lost in the civil war in 1976 still scars the landscape. Today it is a ‘petro-state’ as Burgis points out because, the country’s oil reserves are in the hands of secessionists, oligarchs, kleptomaniacs and corporate giants. On the point of it been a petro-state it is an alarming fact that four of every five dollars is government revenue. Looking after the petro-state means service delivery grinds to a halt. Nigeria produces enough electricity to ‘power one toaster for every forty-four of its own people.’ making it a country where privatisation is growing like a colossal cloud and people are left to use diesel generators at high cost. Money is just squandered and the greatest irony is that Nigeria has one of toughest regulations for visa applications! On the other hand, there is Nigeria for the rich but practically unknown to the masses. ISIS and Al Qeda’s network in Nigeria add to its pejorative political impotency because corruption, poor economic opportunity and inept security. To sum it up, it is a tale of two cities, Christians on one side and Muslims on the other dealing with the reality that the political class have abandoned their duties and responsibilities only to line their pockets with more and more and more money.

Money makes the world go round and that expression proves true for kleptomaniacs because without loads of money their lifestyles will come to a screeching halt. A country that surprised me is Angola. Angola today is the third biggest economy in Africa after Nigeria and South Africa. Burgis mentions that in Luanda rent for an unfurnished top-end three-bedroom apartment is $15,000 making it one the most expensive cities for expatriates. Isabel dos Santos, the president’s daughter, in 2013 Forbes magazine named her Africa’s first female billionaire. Her wealth is accrued through banking to television interests making Tantalus’s punishments in the shallows of the land where for the masses a reality. They see the wealth but, it is out of their reach. To keep the cache safe in the hands of few, a military complex is needed because, strikes and revolutions like that of the Arab Spring would loosen the grip of the cache. To illustrate the point, Burgis mentions that Angola’s 2013 budget portioned 18 % of public spending to defence and public order, 5 % to health and 8 % to education. Angola is making huge strides in developing infrastructure but, with the help of China. This whole relationship between first world countries and developing countries have so much of subterfuge that beguiles the masses into believing political promises are gifts from everyone other than African. This mentality perpetuates the mindset that all non-Africans have been born to give aid and loans to Africans. How absurd but, when you see the begging bowls of African leaders at the World Bank and the likes, it hurts so bad that you cry because it affirms the created colonial legacy. Angola has a heaven on earth for the very wealthy. In Kilamba for example the Chinese built a sprawling housing complex at a cost of $3,5 Billion where units are on sale from $120,000 and $300,000. This enclave is an escape from the central Luanda where it is congested and; where the sprawling low income housing appear like fish caught in a net. The fish caught in the net face the heat of the frying pan and like that, the half a million of Angolans live below the international poverty line of $1,25 a day. Each day the poverty grows and the millions look like Tantalus in the pond with basic human rights denied to them but, genuinely within grasp.

To grasp the depth of Thomas Burgis’s book it needs more time and cross referencing. I have read four chapters and perused others too. It is intense and the research is incipient for my knowledge which I appreciate. Note that I have only discussed two countries in brief using broad spraying patterns like graffiti artists because at least it will catch the eye. The new thing learnt was the application of ‘guanxi’. Guanxi is the Madrin maxim on social etiquette that is best translates to returning the favour or one good turn deserves another. This maxim applied by diktats, former spy agents, wealthy businessmen, officials and the whole host in the echelons of power and meagre wealth companies is so widespread that it cannot be distinguished from nepotism, corruption, kleptocracy and corporatocracy. USA, UK, China, Russia, Canada and the lot from high tech north countries to down south first world countries the guanxi is prodigious. So prodigious that it is making the Tantalus punishment a plague. Faugh!

The expression of disgust that concludes the last paragraph illustrates the calumny on humanity’s intelligence and will to do something that can make a change. The change we can make is that in our individual dealings we do the following:

  1. Keep to our word.
  2. Be honest in our social and economic transactions.
  3. Speak the truth.
  4. Don’t wish for material possessions that would be a burden to maintain.
  5. Keep good company.
  6. Keep reading.

Opinion Matters:

Little do you and much do you speak of the little you know. You need to read to know!

When I place the cover of the book over South Africa it reads that our taxes are for the lower rung of the looters whilst the bigger deals are for those in power. Those in power who are the architects of carving out colossal stakes for themselves from the infinite natural resources of the country. You see, it is less work and more high flying, sophisticated meetings, superlative luxury, expediant word masonry and extravagant living that feeds their voracious greed for more. More municipalities will fail, more railway stations will be looted by criminals for the blackmarket, more days with load shedding and more crime will be the new normal in South Africa. The great majority like you and I who have smaller vested interests in the country of plenty are becoming disillusioned in horizon of great opportunities too.

Opportunities are growing in the wonderful country but, we must face the brutal facts where we are voting in parties who having a party with the country’s natural resources. Their vertiginous positions in the echelons of parliament and foreign investment companies as examples, gives them so much power that they shape the socio-economic-political climate. Give it thought on how for example, the EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters) appear in their red overalls in parliament and how they look when they having high flying parties on boats and pubs. It is irrefragable that the masses are deceived into believing that political parties are genuinely on the peoples’ side when poverty grows daily, begging gets so common that it is not strange to see our President make a plea for funding too.

Furthermore, sprawling townships with hopeless infrastructure have become common place near communities that are fully developed and organised. These new townships come on the political hand of land restitution giving wake to hopeless town planning and total avoidance by government to build a decent town from grass roots up all because it costs too much and it is hard work. Why work hard when you can loot billions quicker through a scheme. South Africa is vulnerable to many schemers who are cogs in the Loot Machine.

South Africa can fund its own people, feed its own people and give medical care at a nominal cost but, this is not happening as promised by politicians. Why? It cannot be fulfilled because our farms have been handed over to people without skill and aptitude. Politicians that hold office have scant knowledge of their portfolios to say the least. SoEs are bankrupt but bailed out in billions of Rands every time to keep the LOOTING MACHINE oiled! When last did we read a remarkable research paper by one of our parliamentarians on climate change or education? We did not in a long time and we have the mind power in the nation to put the right people in the right places.

Tantalus is in a place of misery every time he desires food because it recedes from his grasp. No mater how lush the fruits are, his tastebuds are tantalised and his appetite is never satisfied. He looks back on his crime and realises that he killed his own son for a transient meal to appease the gods. His realisation makes him the tragic hero whose misguided volition rendered him a prisoner asphyxiating on regret. Regret that he had a son who could have been his best legacy or a son who would have immense predilection of and by the other gods and in a passage of good, he would have soared to higher degrees of celestial greatness. Alas! He lost out because he got lost in his guanxi.

In the same way, our politicians, if they continue withe their guanxi and subterfuge will in the long term find themselves like Tantalus. They will eat their own dirt in their misery of the tantalus punishment because they might see their very enemies dangling their stakes close but, never to be in clutching distance. Or, the worst of the Tantalus punishment will be when they sacrifice the whole country, chop it into small parts and serve it to the gods of greed who live out of Africa. This is a nightmare I don’t want to have. Therefore know, ‘the art of life is to know how to enjoy a little and to endure much.’ A life lesson few pay attention to because treachery and kleptocracy have become kingpins in the life goal plan of those caught in the web of greed. Tantalus is alone for now and his pool is humungous enough for all who choose to oil the LOOT MACHINE.

Abdullah Sujee

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