The Looting Machine | Book Review

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It is hard to get a birds-eye view of whats going on in the African continent: Even if the continent is progressing forward, there seem to be a select few countries that never seem to catch a break. Journalist Tom Burgis gives some insight into the behind-the-scenes in his book “The Looting Machine”, from the oil fields in Nigeria to the junta controlled cobalt mines in Congo. 

“Depending on the vagaries of supply chains, if you have a Playstation or a pacemaker, an Ipod, or a laptop or a mobile phone, there is roughly a one-in-five chance that a inty piece of eastern Congo is pulsing within it” – Tom Burgis

During the process of reading “The Looting Machine”, I stopped at each chapter and had a conversation with my girlfriend about the topic at hand and it fascinated me how different we approached these things covered in the chapter: I with Upsetness cranked to the max because I just experienced something kleptocratic or unfair through the eyes of Tom Burgis and her more positivistic “Not everywhere in Africa” notions to most things.

I think the truth is somewhere between the two of us. Local politics, especially in Africa in a post-colonial world, can get really complicated and it is hard to get the complete picture when you are not there and experience it for yourself. It is very easy to have a biased tilt to either case depending on where or from who you get a third-party experience.

As Tom Burgis as that source, it was hard to not be upset at the state of things.

The insatiable demand for consumer electornics has exacted a terrible price. The coltan trade has helped fund local militias and foreign armies that have terrorized eastern Congo for two decades, turning what should be a paradise into a crucible of war” – Tom Burgis

The extreme rent-seeking on both city, county and the national level gets exposed: Where the local policeman copies and is protected by his superiors and state politicians, where the guerilla upsets this delicate balance and say they are a pro-people movement just to turn their backs on the locals at the first chance to squeeze some capital out of them. The saying “Politics is Downstream from Culture” gets very real in an unstable climate where violence and Might Makes Right is the culture.

It is with an as neutral pen as you can have (when you are in the midst of something like this) that Tom Burgis tries to follow the white rabbit through off-shore accounts, intercontinental networks, and distribution networks peddling goods brought out of the earth from someone that stared down a barrel of a gun.

When Burgis pause for a moment and changes his focus from connecting the international money spider-web and shares his up close and personal experience with starving children and poor, broken miners it is hard to not get caught up in an emotional storm.

“Even those lucky enough to be connected to a functioning [electric] cable face the maddening task of negotiating with what used to be called the National Electric Power Authority, or NEPA (but known as Never Expect Power Anytime). It was rebranded as the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, or PHCN (Please Have Candles Nearby, or simply Problem Has Changed Name)” – Tom Burgis

The Looting Machine


If it sounds interesting enough to buy, please consider purchasing it through Amazon and support the Utopium Project at the same time!

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