Every reason for Africa to keep asking itself on use of resources

09Oct 2021
The Guardian
Every reason for Africa to keep asking itself on use of resources

THERE was so much for Africa to learn from the African Development Forum held in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, nine years ago that reflecting on the event today stands as an immensely important reminder.

Among the high points was an impassioned appeal to African countries to harness their enormous wealth in natural resources for the benefit of their growing populations – now and in the future.

There was an especially relevant note from the African Development Bank (AfDB) – that it was decisive for the continent to do more in exploiting the many and varied natural and other resources it is endowed with to accelerate wealth creation, with a view to realising faster and far more noticeable social and economic transformation than obtained then.

According to AfDB, the continent boasted some of the world’s largest deposits of oil and gas, gold reserves and strategic minerals, these including uranium, cobalt and bauxite.

The bank could hardly have put it better in saying that the challenge for the continent was “how to govern and harness this rich pool of natural resources to achieve a broad-based growth”.

For its part, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) told the Addis Ababa forum that the continent accounted for some 75 per cent of the world’s platinum supply, half of the diamonds and chromium, and 25 per cent of the gold deposits.

It said that Africa was also a leading supplier of cobalt, copper, iron and coal, and was home to 60 per cent of the world’s uncultivated arable land.

Analysts have however long seen a paradox here in that, despite such wealth, the continent neither consumes its minerals nor adds value to them before exporting them.

It is widely acknowledged that the continent has high potential to feed its growing global population but it finds it hugely challenging realising this, a major explanation being that its largely underdeveloped agriculture translates into low crop yields.

To be fair to the continent, though, it has addressed – with some success – some of the factors commonly deemed as critical for a country to shift from being “resource cursed” to being “resource blessed”.

These factors include promoting responsible investment for broad-based growth, strengthening governance for enhanced transparency and accountability, and building capable and responsive mechanisms for human development and economic effectiveness.

At the Addis Ababa forum, UNECA emphatically recounted how outsiders continued to reap enormous benefits from Africa’s resources. It gave the Democratic Republic of Congo as exemplifying countries where all the inputs of the mining companies are imported, nearly all outputs are exported unprocessed, and the most important tasks are performed by expatriate labour.

For its part, the African Union Commission raised questions concerning the continent’s wealth and development paradox for the forum to consider and chart ways to tackle.

In the AUC’s own words: “Africa is today among the fastest-growing regions in the world. How come the growth is not generating enough jobs for our people, especially the youth? How come the jobs our people have are low-level and poorly paid?”

One of the several observations at the forum, which ran on the theme ‘Governing and Harnessing Natural Resources for Africa’s Development’, was that the continent could more effectively govern and harness its natural resources if it had a developmental state and transformational leadership.

Now, ADF is a UNECA flagship biennial event convened jointly with the AU Commission, AfDB and other key partners in establishing an African-driven development agenda.

It was to be expected that governments and people across Africa would take the deliberations and recommendations at the likes of the Addis Ababa forum with utmost seriousness.

It remains to be seen whether, just short of a decade since, this dream has come true. If not, the last thing one would expect is to lament the failures and instead wage a fiercer and more focused war of social and economic liberation.

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