It is now a fact that in most developing countries, the abundance of natural resources tends to be a curse or a bane rather than a boon to society, an unfortunate situation, indeed.
Examples of third world countries experiencing economic and political instability, thanks to being blessed with plenty of land and a variety of other natural resources like minerals, gas, oil etc are many and well known.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has known no peace since independence in the early 1960s, mainly due to local and international plotters whose motive is to exploit its rich mineral wealth.
Nigeria’s political instability is, in a way, associated with its wealth, although what are seen on the surface are ethnic and religious complications. Countries like Iraq and Libya are what they are now partly because of local and international vultures fighting directly, or indirectly over their natural resources. The list is long.
Recent developments, that is social conflicts related to natural resources, some of which have been simmering for years and are yet too be resolved, clearly indicate that our land of apparent “peace and harmony” is slowly being haunted by the natural wealth curse.
In the past few weeks we have witnessed unprecedented chaos in the remote southern regions of Tanzania, spurred by the now famous, or rather infamous gas pipeline saga.
Should the entire gas discovered in Mtwara be pumped to Dar es Salaam for local industrial use and export, or be processed in the area to provide employment and other benefits to residents in the southern parts of the country? This is one of the key questions being raised.
Why are the residents of Mtwara and regions in the neighbourhood suspicious that once the gas is pumped to Dar es Salaam, where there is a concentration of the country’s elite and decision makers, then they may not have much to gain thereafter? Well, their feelings are based on what the proverbial best teacher, that is experience, has taught them.
There are several precedents to learn from. You have cases where water is tapped from source X and piped thousands of kilometers to cater for the needs of the elite in urban centres while those at the source and residents in areas where the pipes pass through experience acute water shortage.
The same applies in the case of electricity, where residents at the source and in areas which host the infrastructure to transmit the much need energy to urban centres remain literally in the dark.
Worse situations have occurred in the mining sector, where in some areas subjected to intensive mining operations, massive pits have been left behind and the environment has been badly polluted while the residents have little to show or be proud of as gains resulting from the exploited wealth.
There are documented cases as well of small scale miners who have lost their lives in the course of confrontation with foreign companies over mining rights. On most of these occasions, the latter simply get away with it, thanks to the backing of local administrators - cum- agents who happen to have too much of a say on the allocation of the country’s natural resources.
In fact it is not by accident that as residents of Mtwara are up in arms and determined to get a fair share out of the gas deal, their compatriots in some of the mining areas around lake Victoria are also raising hell about chemical environmental pollution affecting their health, while officials responsible for environmental protection do not seem to take serious measures against the culprits.
Another natural resources related event which has taken place as the gas pipeline controversy rages, was the clash between farmers and pastoralists in Morogoro, over the right to land to cater for the interests of each of the contending parties - which under normal circumstances are expected to coexist mutually.
The longstanding conflict is this time round reported to have been aggravated by wrong administrative decisions made in the process of trying to resolve the issue. Lives have been lost and property has been destroyed.
Do we need more evidence or services of a fortune teller to prove that our natural resources are likely to turn into a curse if the power wielders of this country continue to mismanage them?
Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant(firstname.lastname@example.org)