(Formerly called IRIN) Journalism from the heart of crises

Another stab at the "resource curse"

A child on the street in Diobu, one of the poorest regions of Port Harcourt. Despite the booming oil industry focused on the city, blue collar workers earn on average 20,000 naira (US$170) per month
Elizabeth Dickinson/IRIN

In Africa billions of dollars from oil, gas and mining revenues go missing, leaving populations dependent on international assistance, according to a new report on natural resource use on the continent.

The report, which details resource management in seven West African countries, was released on 2 July at the launch of West Africa Resource Watch (WARW) institute in the Senegalese capital Dakar. 

Established by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), WARW is set up to provide information, training and policy advice - for policymakers and citizens alike – to foster sound and equitable use of natural resource revenues.

The launch comes just days after a group of NGOs leading the drive for the Kimberley Process – an initiative against conflict diamonds – said the scheme has failed on many counts. Across West Africa natural resource wealth has not translated into better living conditions for the people and in some cases – including in the Niger Delta – has triggered violence. Sierra Leone's vast diamond reserves fuelled armed conflict during the 11-year civil war.

“In Africa, anywhere natural resources are found in large commercial quantities people suffer and the country is locked in under-development,” a WARW background paper says. “Africa’s vast natural resources have devastated the continent, fuelling conflicts, corruption and bad governance.”

But the so-called “resource curse” is man-made and can be reversed, OSIWA executive director Nana Tanko says.

“It is not inevitable that owning natural resources be a curse,” Oladayo Olaide, WARW coordinator, said at the launch. “Countries can actually manage their resources in such a way that it becomes a blessing.” WARW points to Norway and Canada – which have vast oil and other energy reserves – as examples.

Who benefits?
 GUINEA: Mining communities will not let up “despite repression”
 GHANA: Government prepares to battle the “oil curse”
 GHANA: Favouring gold over farmers
 NIGERIA: Violence creates “human security” crisis in Delta
 NIGERIA: Under-development continues to fuel oil theft
 CHAD: Parliament scraps ‘future generations’ oil fund
 MALI: Country must work to avoid the “resource curse”

According to the needs assessment report, which WARW says is a starting point for its work, West Africa has a long way to go.

The study gauges seven countries’ (Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Niger and Sierra Leone) capacity to manage natural resources in a transparent, accountable, equitable and sustainable way.

None of the countries has a long-term vision of extractive resources in the national economy, according to the report; each lacks a comprehensive strategy to manage its natural resources; in most of the countries civil society participation and influence have been minimal; and restrictive laws and lack of resources block the media from playing a watchdog role.

“None [of the countries] has a long-term and nationally shared vision for moving the country from where it is now to where citizens desire to be and with the role of extractives in that scheme spelt out," the report says.

OSIWA's Tanko told IRIN governance is paramount. “If we can tackle the issue of governance on the African continent a lot of these issues tied to natural resource management will be adequately addressed,” she told IRIN. "We really need a watch [mechanism] like this...and to let them [leaders] know we are watching.”

WARW – based in Dakar – aims to mobilize technical and financial resources to strengthen civil society, advocate for responsible use of resources and reinforce laws and policies governing extractive operations.

Bishop Akolgo, a member of WARW’s technical committee and executive director of ISODEC, a social justice NGO in Ghana, worked on the needs assessment. He said in some countries meetings held as part of the research marked the first time representatives of civil society, media, government and the private sector gathered in one room to discuss natural resource management.

“That was shocking to me because I didn’t know it was that bad.”

He said none of the countries knew the volume or quality of their natural resources.

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