Why is Africa Poor yet Rich in Resources?
This was to be a topic of discussion at the continental African Youth Action for SDGs (AY4S) some time back. I felt the need to address it even as we look forward to tackling the topic exhaustively in the coming weeks. As the youth of this continent, we are very critical to changing the poverty story. But as for any issue that needs ironing out, we need to understand the root cause of it first.
So we need to first ask ourselves, can abundance be a curse? What abundance does Africa have? With all that abundance, why then be poor? Before tackling those questions, let us first agree that more African countries are worse today than they were at independence. And this seems to point out that abundance to us is a curse. The abundance of gold, diamonds, oil and many more coveted natural and rare resources.
It is interesting that Africa has 15% of the world population yet her contribution to the world’s GDP is less than 3%. This is despite the fact that we have 60% of the world platinum deposits, more than 40% of the world’s gold and almost 90% of the world’s diamonds. Let us not forget that we have substantial amounts of oil reserves in Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan, Angola and other African nations.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has a lot of minerals yet also a very high number of guerilla groups that have affected exploration and the reaping of proceeds from the several minerals the country has. Angola on the other hand is battling a huge debt to China that stands way above the equivalent of Kenya shillings 4.2 trillion despite the huge oil deposits the country has. That is just but a sauce of the never ending problems facing our continent; once we subject ourselves into.
Early on, the west prospered through the interplay of the vital open society focused on work and knowledge which led to increased productivity, creation of new technologies and pursuit for change in all the vital aspects of economy, society, politics as well as academics.
Europe’s key advantage in the early days lay in the area of invention and know-how as applied in all the critical areas of its day that included war, transportation, generation of power and skills in metal work. All along Africa lay in the excitement of independence. We seem to have stagnated there to this day. That is the first explanation of our poverty.
The colonization effects seem to have sedated us for life. It seems we were colonized in mind and for life. We don’t seem to move on and the damage will keep us disabled for as long as we surrender our free conscience to the effects of this thing called colonization.
In a review article Why Africa Remains Underdeveloped Despite its Potential? Which theory can help Africa develop? By Negussie Siyum, the author classifies nations into three categories. The first group is of those countries whose people spend lots of money to keep their weight down. The second group encompasses those countries whose people eat to live while the third group is of those countries whose people don’t know where the next meal will come from.
The last group fits and describes Africa so well despite her abundance of resources. So why poor when we have all these riches?
Lack of political commitment makes it to the top. The bad choices made by our leaders have buried us deep in the compartment of agony and misery. We choose leaders who end up turning their countries into their personal enterprises. The decisions they make become conduits of exploitation for their own good as opposed for the greater good of the masses. So we are the first failures. We choose the wrong leaders simply because we agree to be bribed or psychologically manipulated
And because the leaders sometimes want to do all these craft and messy deals of striping the people of what belongs to them, they cultivate religious animosity. Often this is propaganda but it seems to work far too well. Religious intolerance has become an agent to divert the minds of many from development issues. The case of West Africa states such as Nigeria come to play here. It may not be religion alone but also tribalism and racism and South Africa and DRC are almost perfect examples here.
To protect their interests, this leaders nominate unqualified individuals to help safeguard their own selfish interests. The individuals they can manipulate. This leads to the third contributor of our poverty that lies in weak institutions. As a continent, Africa has feeble institutions characterized by unhealthy bureaucracies and corrupt gross misconducts. The greater effect of this is in the implementation process of the strategies and policies aimed at revitalizing the already rickety situation.
Our legal and political institutions are outdated and are described by unsustainable institutional capacity. Power is concentrated in ruling families and they are the only people who get to profit from personal deals of our resources entered into at the expense of the larger citizenry.
Then there is the aspect of multiple power groups in the mining industry, with oil and gas being their main targets besides gold, diamond and other rare minerals. The groups include governments, transnational corporations, NGOs and donor agencies. So any time one group misuses their powers, a lot gets lost and great damages are incurred. Corruption thrives well in this bureaucratic structures
For instance, if a country is run by dictatorial and repressive leaders, they monopolize collection of resources and wealth. They distribute and decide who gets what depending on the relations enjoyed between the ruling parties and those awarded. This confirms the fact that abundance of resources has repressed democracy in Africa. There is a lot of discrepancy in the distribution of the proceeds from the natural resources.
So if we are to develop as a continent, we have to improve on governance. It all stops with governance. Good governance. Good governance translates to operational equity, efficiency, effectiveness, transparency and accountability.
Edward Conway agrees that good governance activates natural resources as a catalyst for long term growth in his article on governance in the Republic of Congo (DRC). It is that simple. I couldn’t agree any less. If we are to change the poverty story, let us work on our governance and the rest of the issues will fall into position.
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