Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad, 2018) – The Congo Diaries and Africa’s Energy Bounty

The Last Frontier…Africa’s gargantuan energy bounty!

Originally written in 1899 and titled the Congo Diaries, this great piece of English literature was written by a Ukrainian who set out to find adventure, as London has become to dull and liveless for him. Africa was one of the few places that remained hidden to the Western mind shrouded in darkness, which increased the young men’s desire to venture out to explore the inside of this unknown world. 

On his way to the African heartland, his fascination grew, as he passed along the misty shores of the west coast of Africa, like a solid mass that one cannot penetrate, a thick forest that lay behind a shoreline of little significance. Europeans had recently begun to exploit the continent for resources, and in the wild there was virtually no control or oversight by anyone given the distance and it was very hard to encounter the newly arrived resource managers. They were not limited by supervisory authorities, able to extort more concessions.


Rising to Your Level of Incompetence: In Africa

What I find fascinating is that newcomers to the African continent were once full of energy, they were enthusiasts who wanted to explore and expand their own horizon. They came to build bridges where river rapids were impossible to cross. As they spend time in Africa, the wilderness, risk and hazardous conditions led them to take a more short-term approach to manage the risk inherent in managing an African business. Such an approach meant that managers in Africa and in Congo had to make a compromise, they needed to rise up quickly in the business hierachy. This meant they had to make profits quickly because they were still accountable to a shareholders and superiors in Europe which wanted to be compensated for the risk of investing in Africa.

It was an all or nothing approach. They forced their way up the business chain, expanding their business forcefully, reaching deep into the African continent. They had to move up the hierachy and hit their superiors targets, which were fairly inflexible. Even if they are not able to manage this business in that particular environment absent of any social and physical infrastructure, they had to or leave Africa with almost no reward. This was the paradigm. The longer they were in Africa working for their superiors, the more they invested themselves in a long-term endavor which became like a lottery.


Congo’s Continuous Dilemma

The dilemma that Congo faces is that it needs foreign investment to exploit its energy resources, particularily uranium and oil deposits below a thick layer of very fertile soil that makes Congo famous. This would put Congo almost in the same position as in the past.


Long-term investments matter for Africa’s future. They also tell us something about how we should invest.

We often forget that Africa is the continent of lost dreams, but also of lost investments. Many have come to enrich themselves, but not many have come to invest in the long term. The industrial ones have come to speculate. But their investments have quickly infiltrated hungry minds, and were lost in inscrutable channels never to be seen again. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that only long-term investments, and clear oversight where the money is spend will lead to prosperity.


References:

Conrad, J 2007, Heart of Darkness, Penguin Group, London.

 

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