Lessons from Africa’s Wild Frontiers
Blog by Wayne Visser
Birthplace of blood diamonds
We start our journey around the world in Africa, in the country known today as Zimbabwe. This is the place where I was born and spent my childhood years. At that time, however, the country was still called Rhodesia – so named after the colonialist Cecil Rhodes in the late 1800s. Rhodes, an English-born explorer turned entrepreneur and business magnate, is the focus of my first story – a lesson in the abuse of corporate power.
In 1871, Rhodes joined the diamond rush and headed to Kimberley in South Africa. By 1889, he had formed an effective monopoly through a strategic partnership with the London-based Diamond Syndicate, which agreed to control the world supply of diamonds – around 90% at one point – and thereby maintain high prices. In the same year, Rhodes established the British South Africa Company, which was empowered under royal charter to trade with African tribal leaders, as well as to form banks; to own, manage, grant or distribute land; and to raise a police force.
In return, the company agreed to develop the territory it controlled, to respect existing African laws, to allow free trade within its territory and to respect all religions. Four years later, however, the very same company had recruited its own army and invaded tribal king Lobengula’s territory in what became known at the 1893 Matabele War. The troops and white settlers occupied the town and Bulawayo was declared a settlement under the rule of the British South Africa Company. Rhodes ordered that a new town be built on the ruins of Lobengula’s royal place.
For me, the lesson to learn from Rhodes and his British South Africa Company is clear: when companies have too much power—either political power or economic power – they will tend to abuse that power to enrich themselves. The fusion of private economic interest with public political sanction is the ultimate toxic recipe for corporate irresponsibility. We see it in all the classic cases of business crimes against society and the environment, whether it is through the regressive political lobbying of the oil industry in the United States (going all the way back to Rockefeller’s Standard Oil company), or the majority ownership of Shell by Nigeria’s former military dictatorship government.
Man versus wild
My second story from Zimbabwe is about how greed and exploitation is decimating wildlife on the planet. I have a childhood memory of visiting Hwange National Park (then called Wankie), which is
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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-quest-for-sustainable-business”]Link[/button] The Quest for Sustainable Business (book)
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Cite this blog
Visser, W. (2013) Lessons from Africa’s Wild Frontiers, Wayne Visser Blog Series, 26 June 2013.