Editor's Letter: Unsustainable development
Dear Reader

In our cover story this month we investigate the surge in investment pouring into Africa. Resource-poor, cash-rich nations such as India and China are seemingly leaving no stones unturned in their rush to secure supplies of sought-after commodities such as copper, cobalt, gold and, perhaps most importantly, oil and gas. The US and Russia are also muscling in, eager to grow their influence—and their own access to resources—on the continent.

For many African nations, which have long been left out of the globalization party, the sharply growing demand for scarce commodities presents huge opportunities. Their new trading partners are bringing not just cash but other sweeteners, including investments in infrastructure, contributions to social and education programs and invaluable know-how, as they help the African nations exploit their natural resources.

The downside for Africa is that the new economic colonialists are about as concerned for the long-term welfare of the countries they exploit as were the Europeans and Americans who were behind the first wave of globalization. In their eagerness to bring much-needed investment into their countries, the African nations are paying scant regard to the need to establish the environmental and social safeguards that will help ensure their development is sustainable for the long term.

There is hope, however, that this wave of trade won’t be just another smash-and-grab raid by wealthy nations on their poorer partners. At home, for example, China appears to be taking seriously the environmental impact of its own scorching pace of economic growth. Cynics might suggest that China’s focus on pollution will evaporate once the curtain comes down on this summer’s Olympic Games, but the fact remains that the country’s authoritarian government has shown it is willing and able to enforce anti-pollution rules that have real—and potentially lasting—beneficial effects.

The real test of the commitment of the world’s emerging economic powerhouses to responsible development will be whether they apply those same heightened standards in the countries from where they source their raw materials. So far, the signs are not good.

Until next month,


Dan Keeler
Editor
dan@gfmag.com
 

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