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Corrupt Elites and the Looting Machine

Corrupt Elites and the Looting Machine

The answer varies according to which countries one is talking about, but in many – particularly those relying on the sale of natural resources like oil or minerals – it is surely too late to expect any incremental change for the better. Anti-corruption drives are a show to impress the outside world or to target political rivals.

The anti-corruption summit in London this week may improve transparency and disclosure, but it can scarcely be very effective against politically well-connected racketeers, busily transmuting political power into great personal wealth.

This is peculiarly easy to do in those countries in the Middle East and Africa which suffer from what economists call “the resource curse”, where states draw their revenues directly from foreign buyers of their natural resources. The process is described in compelling detail by Tom Burgis in his book, The Looting Machine: Warlords, Tycoons, Smugglers and the Systematic Theft of Africa’s Wealth. He quotes the World Bank as saying that 68 per cent of people in Nigeria and 43 per cent in Angola, respectively the first and second largest oil and gas producers in Africa, live in extreme poverty, or on less than $1.25 a day. The politically powerful live parasitically off the state’s revenues and are not accountable to anybody.

Burgis explains the devastating outcome of a government acquiring such great wealth without doing more than license foreign companies to pump oil or excavate minerals. This “creates a pot of money at the disposal of those who control the state. At extreme levels the contract lootingmachinebetween rulers and the ruled breaks down because the ruling class does not need to tax the people – so it has no need for their consent.”

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