Africa has become a feeding ground for foreign investors hoping to strike it rich by exploiting the continent's mineral resources.
In London last week, a group of protestors disrupted a major event designed to attract new investors -- which was entitled "Mining on Top in Africa" -- arguing that an avalanche of new investment is posing huge environmental and social risks for African nations.
The protestors included members of international and British environmental and social-rights groups, including the Gaia Foundation, London Mining Network, War on Want, Divest London, Global Justice Now, and Stop Mad Mining, among others.
In addition to disrupting the proceedings, the protestors presented to the conference organizers a letter signed by 56 different environmental and social organizations (including ALERT) that underscored their many concerns.
They also distributed a list of ten case studies in which foreign-funded mining operations have had disastrous consequences for African nations.
Each year, hundreds of billions of dollars are pouring into African nations for mining projects. China alone is investing over $120 billion annually, with India, Brazil, Russia, Canada, and Australia also making huge private investments there.
These investments are having many impacts. For one thing, they are providing an economic impetus for a stampede of road and infrastructure expansion. At present, there are plans for 29 massive "development corridors" -- almost all prompted by mining investments -- that will open up huge swaths of wild and semi-wild areas to a range of new human pressures, such as poaching, logging, and habitat destruction.
Beyond this, huge influxes of foreign funds for mining can promote large-scale bribery and corruption, which is already an endemic problem in many African nations.
Large foreign investments can also fuel inflation. A few become fabulously rich from big mining projects but many others are left behind -- and often struggle just to put food on the table or pay their rent.
Beyond this, many have questioned the value of so-called "Corporate Social Responsibility" investments by mining corporations, claiming they are little more than greenwashing designed to make the corporation look good but often have few real benefits for local communities.
Finally, foreign investments tend to drive up the value of national currencies, sometimes dramatically. This makes other industries such as tourism and agricultural and manufacturing exports less competitive. As a result, the economy becomes less diversified and stable -- and more prone to a 'boom and bust' when the minerals run out.
According to Hannibal Rhoades from the Gaia Foundation, one of the organizers of the protest, "Foreign investors can smell blood in the water in Africa right now. They're after quick profits but we see huge long-term risks to Africa's natural wonders and native societies if this feeding frenzy isn't brought under control."