Africa is the world’s richest continent. It has a vast wealth of natural resources ranging from precious stones such as gold and diamonds to fossil fuels. The tropical climates, beautiful and diverse wildlife, and sandy beaches are also quite attractive to tourists. From these, the total derivable revenue has the potential to completely transform economies in Africa. But that is not the case. There is war and poverty instead of prosperity leaving you to wonder are these resources really a blessing or a curse? In a pattern that replicates itself, the discovery of a major resource has been followed by conflict, instability, and damage to the environment. This is called the resource curse or the paradox of plenty.
Leaders Cling to Power for Natural Resources
By definition, the resource curse refers to when countries with numerous natural resources tend to be underdeveloped, politically unstable, and with a higher level of poverty compared to nations that have lesser or no such resources. Michael T. Klare, a peace and world security studies professor at Hampshire College, Massachusetts and also the author of ‘Resource Wars’ and ‘Blood and Oil’, was quoted by CNN saying:
“The resource curse to me applies specifically to poor countries that don’t have a lot of sources of wealth to begin with; then there’s a discovery of a major resource – oil or copper or gold – that suddenly becomes a major source of wealth for that country.”
A Symptom of the Resource Curse in Africa
The resource curse is avoidable as it does not seem to occur in every resourceful country in the world. But in Africa, it seems to be unavoidable. In his view, it is this resource curse that has led to the rise of tyrannical governments clinging onto power for decades so as to control these resources. Klare states that:
“Theoretically the development of that resource could produce great wealth for that nation, but historically it leads to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few – those who monopolize the collection of rents from the mining or the drilling for oil – and the exclusion of the majority from any benefit.”
In retaliation, armed rebels, mainly from minority individuals who feel excluded from the benefits, rise and stage bloody conflicts. This is in a bid to gain control of the resources. For instance, DR Congo has witnessed some of the bloodiest conflicts resulting in the death of more than 6 million people in less than three decades. The country has some of the largest deposits of gold, diamond, copper and other precious minerals in Africa.
In some cases, the armed rebels claim ownership of the land on which the resources lie, especially in oil-rich fields. The rebels are funded by the illegal sale of these minerals or by corrupt government officials. The many innocent civilians caught in the crossfire end up losing their land, loved ones or even their own lives.
Oil Spillage Causing Infant Mortality
Not only has there been conflicts, but also severe damage to the environment. For instance, the illegal extraction of oil in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta region has led to an estimated 240,000 barrels of crude oil being spilled yearly. This has been causing water and air pollution with devastating results. A study conducted in the region found that infants born in this region were twice as likely to die in their first month of life. This is if the mothers lived near an oil spill before conception, even if that was long as five years ago. This has caused the infant mortality rate in Nigeria to double from 38 to 76 deaths for every 1000 births. Crops in fields are also contaminated.
With such devastating results, the common man has continued to remain poor while the rich continue to amass wealth for themselves. Bad leadership and corruption have been the main blame for this.
Not all African countries have suffered from the resource curse. Botswana, which is rich in diamonds, as well as Ghana, which is rich in a variety of minerals, have managed to tap into their resources and involve their citizens without conflict. Klare attributes this to good leadership and a functional democracy which ensures transparency at all levels of governance.
With many resources still lying unexploited and others being discovered by the day, it is our hope that Africa will steer away from the resource curse and benefit fully from its resources.
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