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social protection

The Case for Sharing Africa’s New Minerals Wealth With All Africans

Makhtar Diop's picture

In country after country in Sub-Saharan Africa, new discoveries of oil, natural gas and mineral deposits have been making headlines every other week it seems. When Ghana’s Jubilee oil field hits peak production in 2013, it will produce 120,000 barrels a day. Uganda’s Lake Albert Rift Basin fields could potentially produce even greater quantities. Billions of dollars a year could flow into Mozambique and Tanzania thanks to natural gas findings. And in Sierra Leone, mining iron ore in Tonkolili could boost GDP by a remarkable 25 percent in 2012.

My strong hope is that all the people living in these resource-rich African countries also get to share in this new oil and mineral wealth. So far, with one of few exceptions being Botswana, natural resources haven’t always improved the lives of people and their families. From what I see on my constant travels to the continent, economic growth in most resource-rich countries is not automatically translating into better health, education, and other key services for poor people.

Many resource-rich countries tend to gravitate towards the bottom of the global Human Development Index, which is a composite measure of life expectancy, education and income. 

One strikingly effective way to make sure that all people, especially the poorest, share in the new minerals prosperity is through safety nets and social protection programs. These are designed to protect vulnerable families and promote job opportunities among poor people who are able to work. This in turn makes communities stronger and more secure, while reducing painful inequalities between people.

Social protection programs are already central to poverty-fighting, higher growth national strategies across Africa, and have played a significant role reducing chronic poverty and helping families become more resilient in the face of setbacks such as unemployment, sudden illness, or natural disasters such as droughts or floods. These programs have also allowed families to invest in more livestock or grow more food, and increase their earnings. 

Going to school in Om AlBadry

Kavita Watsa's picture

Mid-morning in the little village of Om Albadry in Sudan’s North Kordofan state, and it is market day. But a curiously dull market, eerily silent but for the occasional sounds of livestock. In a few minutes, I realize why. All the village children are safely in school, and that accounts for the peace. In other Sudanese villages that we typically visited late in the afternoon, the first sounds of greeting were always whoops and cries from a horde of excited little boys, while the girls hung back, shy of strangers.

We carry on for half a mile past the market, passing large camel pens, in search of the school. We find a collection of small shacks that houses the older boys and girls, while preschoolers sit in a dusty group under a shade tree. The preschool teacher is seated on a plastic chair, and the children are repeating their lesson after her. It is a while before I notice the teacher is nursing a baby, even as she recites to her pupils. When the lesson ends, some of the girls begin to skip, using ropes that the teacher fishes out of her bag. The others play listlessly in the soft, warm sand, some lying down in it and falling asleep. None leave the shade of the tree, not even the little skippers.