South Africa

When Africans are united, even powerful multinationals have no choice but to toe the line

When Africans are united, even powerful multinationals have no choice but to toe the line
“Justice with courage is a thousand men,” was the quote that summed up President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo’s words at the African Investment Forum in Sandton last week. Taken from a Handel oratorio titled Judas Maccabaeus, it describes what it takes to reverse centuries of colonial exploitation.

Handel’s heroic character, Judas Maccabaeus, uses the rallying cry to get his fellow countrymen to fight off foreign onslaught on their faith. Ghana and neighbouring Ivory Coast displayed the combination, setting the tone for African leaders to emulate.

The two west African countries’ combined cocoa production is 65% of the world’s output. If we add Nigeria’s contribution, 65% could easily be 75%. The two have, for decades, contributed the key ingredient to chocolate without commensurate benefits to their farmers, who toiled for a pittance.

The global chocolate industry, dominated by Switzerland, France, the US and others, is worth more than $100 billion (R1.6 trillion), said President Akufo-Addo. Sadly, he added, the farmers responsible for growing the cocoa received a measly $6bn. Such is the injustice of the global commodity markets.

There is nothing wrong with buying commodities and adding value to them for profit. However, the unfairness of the chocolate industry - as with jewellery, auto-catalytic converters or cobalt in electronic appliances - is that the buyers have not taken much interest in the producers’ welfare.

If the countries from which they source raw materials are at war, as has been the case in the Democratic Republic of Congo, they do not care. They produce whatever pays their dividends; making them complicit in the human rights violations. Wars in Africa have mainly been fuelled by foreign commercial interests in our resources.

The strategic Ghana-Ivory Coast partnership to produce and market cocoa jointly, therefore, is a watershed moment.

The trade imbalance between Africa and the rest of the world, especially with the likes of China, EU countries, the US and India, is due to the one-sided flow of commodities out of Africa and voracious affinity for their imports - which cost a small fortune.

Under the policy, cocoa farmers in Ghana and Ivory Coast will receive a Living Income Differential of $400 a tonne from the 2020/2021 crop season. Think of that as a fair deal bonus for the hard-working cocoa farmers. The new price of cocoa will be $2600 a tonne.

Kudos too to the African Development Bank, the sponsor of the African Investment Forum, for helping the two to increase their warehousing capacity and enhance their processing of raw materials. There have also been chocolate factories, including one by French company Cemois, being established in Ivory Coast and Ghana.

When Africans are united, even powerful multinationals have no choice but to toe the line.

Ignore the advocates of free trade who will accuse the two countries of market interference. Markets hardly ever regulate themselves, let alone help a lowly African country. It is this kind of boldness to collaborate that will rescue Africa from its perpetual yoke of exploitation and make the African Continental Free Trade Agreement a reality.

* Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business, a media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.