Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Africa's Natural Resources: the Curse of the Gifts

It saddening Africa is synonymous with hunger, poverty, wars, graft, and bad governance. Granted, the international media seem to blow the negative out of proportion, but then again they aren't so far from the truth since there really can't be smoke without fire.
Along the Orange River, on South African side, at dusk [Pic: Tara Finglas]
Orange River
Photo Credit: Tara Finglas/BBC
Africa is a paradox. As the richest continent in terms of resources, it remains the poorest in the world. From North to South and from East to West, Africa is blessed. Blessed with Diamonds in Sierra Leone, Botswana, and South Africa; Copper and Tin in Zambia and the DRC; Gold in Ghana, Uganda and Zimbabwe; Crude oil in Nigeria, Sudan, Libya, Angola, Guinea Bissau, and of course the rare and endemic fauna and flora in Madagascar.

Africa, it seems, has it all. The scenic beauty and diversity of culture, language and ethnicity are breathtakingly resplendent to make Africa a first class tourist destination. Sadly it isn't because of the selfish, myopic pursuits of African leaders and the African people's tacit complicity in the mindless destruction of the continent.

Most of the ongoing conflicts in Africa are fueled and protracted by developed countries since it's far easier to rape Africa while she's in a state of anarchy, disunity and confusion. For example, the war in Sierra Leone went on for as long as it did because unscrupulous, western corporations secretly dealt with vicious warlords, exchanging money, fire arms and ammunition for diamonds. They had no scruples about fueling the carnage as long as they were getting diamonds for a steal.

Such is the fate the DRC, only this time tungsten, tin, tantalite and gold are the new conflict minerals sort after by multinational electronics companies. These minerals which are crucial elements in the manufacture of cell phones, laptops, gaming systems and MP3 players have made the lives of ordinary civilians brutally miserable.

Local militias, Rwandan and Congolese rebels as well as government troops, who fight one another to control the mines, terrorize, kill and rape women and children, and have dispossessed several Congolese. It's devastatingly ironic that with all the mineral wealth the DRC sits on, there are hardly any pliable roads in the country, healthcare is in a shambles and the education system is in dire straits.
A creek devastated as a result of oil spills in the Niger Delta on 22 March 2013
The vestiges of oil pollution in the Niger Delta, Nigeria
Photo Credit: AFP
In Nigeria, the oil rich Niger delta has become an oil drenched, contaminated wasteland where locals have yet to benefit from the crude oil that's been extracted from the land since the 60s. What's more, the sources of their livelihood have been stolen from them as the land is no longer able to grow crops and waters have become so polluted that live forms can't exist. Again, in this situation, as is common with the exploitation of natural resources, the government is working in league with multinational oil companies to wreak havoc on the environment and lives of Nigerians.

Sometimes I wonder whether Africa would have been better off sans natural resources. Maybe conflicts would have been non-existent. Maybe we Africans would take better care our wildlife, making Africa a rare ecological gem in a world where rain-forests and wildlife are plundered and destroyed on the altar of development.

Maybe more emphasis would have been placed on discovering other sources of revenue, like Japan and Singapore have successfully managed to do, rather than literally living off the land. With thoughts like these, it's difficult not to view our non-renewable resources as curses rather than gifts.