For generations, coastal communities in West Africa have lived off the land and sea, depending on the region’s abundant natural resources for their nutrition, health and economic activity. Coastal habitats such as mangroves and coral reefs, both important breeding grounds for fish, as well as hydrocarbon and mineral deposits, have helped foster thriving cities, trade, commerce and economic development in the region’s coastal zones, the source of 56% of West Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP.)
Luck has struck the region of East Africa: for a couple of years now, new announcements of natural resource discoveries are being made every few months. Mozambique has found some of the largest natural gas deposits in the world, while Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya have also discovered gas and oil. Exploration is still ongoing, so even more discoveries could be forthcoming. Luck has definitely struck the region, but the main question is: how will the people in these countries benefit from this?
Travelling across Africa these days you are likely to run into increasing numbers of mining, oil, and gas industry personnel engaged in exploration, drilling, and extraction across the continent. Although commodity prices are moderating, the discoveries being made in Africa offer the real prospect of significant revenue to many cash-poor, aid-dependent governments in the decade ahead. If you care about development, the question is whether these revenues will catalyze broad economic development and whether they will benefit the poor in Africa.
In a recent interview on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, I reacted to statements by Patrick Bond on Africa’s export of raw materials and on structural adjustment policies. I said that the problem with natural resources was not that Africa exports them, but that many African governments have not used the revenues from these resources productively. On structural adjustment, I said that policies followed by the better-performing African countries over the last 15 years were quite similar to