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Opinions of Friday, 19 July 2002

Columnist: Abudu, Dr. Paul B.

The Mismanagement & Abuse Of Africa's Natural Resources

The problems of Africa continues to grow and its solution is not clear or well articulated. African leaders continue to depend on foreign countries to solve their problems. Not only that African leaders continue to blame colonialism for the continued ills of Africa.

The problem of AIDS has continued unabated and some African leaders just pay lip service to the problem. For all that they do is that they “can talk” and appear to be believable as if they will solve the problems facing Africa based on their rhetoric.

Now the problem has sifted from AIDS to famine and poverty. Six to Eight African countries mostly in Southern Africa are facing famine and the extinction over of 80 million Africans within the next ten years according to experts.

This writer believes that Africa still, after colonialism, has vast natural resources in each country which when well developed and managed, most of the problems in Africa can be resolved by Africans themselves without resorting to foreign aid, foreign grants and continued foreign loans.

Natural Resources are important aspects of a nation’s power. Africa as a whole has vast resources and if well utilized can be a major force in world affairs.

Our limited research indicates that access to raw materials is essential to the standard of living and the security of the state, and dependence upon them relates to the technological developments that create demands for them either at home or abroad. Iron and coal (both of which are plentiful in Africa) have long been the basis for industrialization, but increasing technological sophistication is creating new demands for other materials, such as uranium as an energy source, titanium for jet engines, and germanium for transistors. The advanced technologies of such fields as space exploration, medicine, and warfare depend on high levels of industrialization requiring a wide diversity of raw materials.

National power and well-being are directly dependent on the possession and availability of, and capacity to use, raw materials.

Our limited research indicates that African leaders are still unaware that the natural resources of each African state is a source of power in international relations. If the argument is that they are aware of this, then the conclusion is that their corruptive tendencies override their national interests of which they are sworn to uphold.

The colonization of Africa was based on the exploitation of its natural resources and not because of the love of the people of Africa by the imperialists.

Africa controls the majority of natural resources as compared with other continents. It appears that the creator of the universe gave the continent this advantage over the rest of the world. The colonization of Africa therefore was not by incidence but by a cool and economic calculation by the colonial powers.

The uneven distribution of raw materials around the world is a prime reason for international trade and the development of transportation facilities. It is also, and should be emphasized that the need for secure sources of supply has also been both an historic cause of imperialism and war and a reason for the drive to liberalize trade policies that has occurred since World War II.

Recent and continuing civil wars in Africa, notably, Sierra Leone, Angola, Congo, has been intensified because of its natural resources basically gold and diamonds. The corrupt African leaders and the so-called freedom fighters have benefited by selling these natural resources to the same colonial “masters” that had left as a result of the independence of these countries. During the pre-independence years, these raw materials were taken away without any trouble. As a result of independence they had to resort to corrupting the leaders and ensure that their supplies are not hindered.

The so-called freedom fighters reason that the political leaders of the country are corrupt and have given away the country’s natural resources. They claim that they will be different and have the people share in the benefits of the natural resources. But lord and behold, where do they establish their centers of operations? Nowhere but in the mining areas. Examples are late Savimbi of Angola.

In other to appreciate the blessings of Africa with natural resources, the following is the list curled from The World Factbook, 2001.

  The World Factbook.  2001.


Natural resources





petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, phosphates, uranium, lead, zinc


petroleum, diamonds, iron ore, phosphates, copper, feldspar, gold, bauxite, uranium


small offshore oil deposits, limestone, marble, timber


diamonds, copper, nickel, salt, soda ash, potash, coal, iron ore, silver

Burkina Faso:

manganese, limestone, marble; small deposits of gold, antimony, copper, nickel, bauxite, lead, phosphates, zinc, silver


nickel, uranium, rare earth oxides, peat, cobalt, copper, platinum (not yet exploited), vanadium, arable land, hydropower


petroleum, bauxite, iron ore, timber, hydropower



Cape Verde:

salt, basalt rock, pozzuolana (a siliceous volcanic ash used to produce hydraulic cement), limestone, kaolin, fish



Central African Republic:

diamonds, uranium, timber, gold, oil, hydropower


petroleum (unexploited but exploration under way), uranium, natron, kaolin, fish (Lake Chad)

Congo, Democratic Republic of the:

cobalt, copper, cadmium, petroleum, industrial and gem diamonds, gold, silver, zinc, manganese, tin, germanium, uranium, radium, bauxite, iron ore, coal, hydropower, timber

Congo, Republic of the:

petroleum, timber, potash, lead, zinc, uranium, copper, phosphates, natural gas, hydropower

Cote d'Ivoire:

petroleum, natural gas, diamonds, manganese, iron ore, cobalt, bauxite, copper, hydropower


petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, phosphates, manganese, limestone, gypsum, talc, asbestos, lead, zinc



Equatorial Guinea:

oil, petroleum, timber, small unexploited deposits of gold, manganese, uranium


gold, potash, zinc, copper, salt, possibly oil and natural gas, fish


small reserves of gold, platinum, copper, potash, natural gas, hydropower


petroleum, manganese, uranium, gold, timber, iron ore, hydropower

Gambia, The:



gold, timber, industrial diamonds, bauxite, manganese, fish, rubber, hydropower


bauxite, iron ore, diamonds, gold, uranium, hydropower, fish


fish, timber, phosphates, bauxite, unexploited deposits of petroleum


gold, limestone, soda ash, salt barites, rubies, fluorspar, garnets, wildlife, hydropower


water, agricultural and grazing land, some diamonds and other minerals


Iron ore, timber, diamonds, gold, hydropower


petroleum, natural gas, gypsum


graphite, chromite, coal, bauxite, salt, quartz, tar sands, semiprecious stones, mica, fish, hydropower


limestone, arable land, hydropower, unexploited deposits of uranium, coal, and bauxite


gold, phosphates, kaolin, salt, limestone, uranium, hydropower

note: bauxite, iron ore, manganese, tin, and copper deposits are known but not exploited


iron ore, gypsum, fish, copper, phosphate, diamonds, gold


arable land, fish


phosphates, iron ore, manganese, lead, zinc, fish, salt


coal, titanium, natural gas, hydropower, tantalum, graphite


diamonds, copper, uranium, gold, lead, tin, lithium, cadmium, zinc, salt, vanadium, natural gas, hydropower, fish

note: suspected deposits of oil, coal, and iron ore


uranium, coal, iron ore, tin, phosphates, gold, petroleum


natural gas, petroleum, tin, columbite, iron ore, coal, limestone, lead, zinc, arable land




Fish, phosphates, iron ore


Fish, copra, cinnamon trees

Sierra Leone:

diamonds, titanium ore, bauxite, iron ore, gold, chromite


uranium and largely unexploited reserves of iron ore, tin, gypsum, bauxite, copper, salt

South Africa:

gold, chromium, antimony, coal, iron ore, manganese, nickel, phosphates, tin, uranium, gem diamonds, platinum, copper, vanadium, salt, natural gas


petroleum; small reserves of iron ore, copper, chromium ore, zinc, tungsten, mica, silver, gold, hydropower


asbestos, coal, clay, cassiterite, hydropower, forests, small gold and diamond deposits, quarry stone, and talc


hydropower, tin, phosphates, iron ore, coal, diamonds, gemstones, gold, natural gas, nickel


phosphates, limestone, marble, arable land


petroleum, phosphates, iron ore, lead, zinc, salt


copper, cobalt, hydropower, limestone, salt, arable land




copper, cobalt, zinc, lead, coal, emeralds, gold, silver, uranium, hydropower


coal, chromium ore, asbestos, gold, nickel, copper, iron ore, vanadium, lithium, tin, platinum group metals



Upon a very careful analysis of the above, one should be able to sympathize with the poor Africans the state of their agony. There has not been any successful mechanism for a successful development due to lack of experience by the African leaders who continues to depend on the advise of so-called western experts that dominate the World Bank and IFC.

Several financial institutions have provided ideas, studies and whatever they can recommend to African governemtns on the right modes of development. These institutions include the World Bank, IFC. Economic Commission for Africa, ECOWAS. Sadacc, the OAU. These ideas have not worked because it does not contain the African concept of development but based on the western approach which is alien to Africa.

As these approaches have not yielded any successful results, it is about time that new development concepts and strategies with African flavour be adopted. It is in light of this that four African leaders (President Mbeki,South Africa; President Abdoulaye Wade, Senegal, President Obasanjo, Nigeria and President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria)? have initiated the new? concept by the name of New Partnership for African Development or NEPAD. NEPAD aims to combine increased investment and trade opportunities from the West with a continent-wide commitment to good governance, democracy and peace.

The immediate problem with this new approach is that it still relies on the West for any success. It does not seek to rely on Africa’s abundance of natural resources to build Africa from the bottom up. The pre-requisite of good governance, democracy and peace is an ideal. These are the issues that continue to set Africa back and should be the first and priority issue that should be taken care of.

However, in the so-called non-interference in the affairs of sovereign states, African leaders lack the political backbone to criticize each other. These same leaders who are the proponents of this new development approach could not condemn the misery in Zimbabwe.

This new approach to development should be carefully examined and implemented. Rather than criticizing the framework, ideas should be brought forward that will make it workable. It is always important to study the past economic development initiatives such as the Lagos Plan of Action and make necessary corrections to avoid the repeated mistakes that made such initiatives to fail.

The African people are suffering in the face of abundance natural resources and this is inexcusable. Critics of the lack of development should suggest means of appropriate and successful development. It is no secret that African leaders – most of them – are not competent to be Presidents of their countries. Until recently, most of them came to power by the barrels of the gun. In fact some of these leaders before they came to power did not read and or study the Constitution of their countries. Africa needs strategic planners and above all patriots that have their countries and Africa at heart and not their individual selfish interests.

The need for transparency is the daily pronouncement of African leaders, yet they are not transparent and continue to loot the resources of the country.

It is important to note here that many of these African leaders have been in power for over twenty years and they have nothing to offer their countries or Africa. It is time that they exit the political scene honourably. It is time for them to go. They have to retire.

The most amazing if not annoying approach to African development is that most of the suggestions come from outside of Africa. In an editorial in the Washington Post of June 26,2002 under the caption “Africa’s Obstacles” the editors raised the issue of African leaders meeting with the G-8 leaders and asking for assistance in the following areas: African Renaissance Plan, Education and Trade.

The editors raised very serious issue with the African Renaissance plan put forward by South African President Thabo Mbeki and other African leaders. This plan commits the continent to democracy, the rule of law and anti-corruption efforts. It is hoped that good governance will be rewarded by inflows of fresh capital. It is a good plan in theory, the editorial stated, and is welcome in that is written by Africans rather than outsiders. But, the editorial continues, it is not credible. For example, President Mbeki had a chance to put into practice his pre-democracy sentiments by pressuring Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe into respecting political, human and economic rights. However, President Mbeki failed to intervene effectively while President Mugabe stole the election, tortured hundreds of opponents and expropriated private farms. This non-interference in the affairs of Zimbabwe has crippled the basic concept of the African Renaissance.

The issue of education is another critical issue. African leaders are looking for assistance from outside to educate their people. What a sham? Yet these African leaders and their cronies continue to send their children outside of their countries to be educated abroad from either their ill-gotten money or from the government limited resources.

The third issue is that of trade. Yes, it can be stated that there is complete in balance in international trade. But what are these leaders doing to correct the situation. Nothing. It can be concluded that the most important raw materials of Africa are sold out to foreign investors because of the kickback received by the leaders. Secondly, there is no uniformity in Africa to tackle the issue of trade with the West. If a unified approach is taken, Africa will command a very strong role in international trade. They will control the price mechanism rather than the price for Africa’s goods and raw materials being set from outside and not from within. All these amount to the corrupt approach to business by African leaders. Africa cannot continue to blame the West for the in balance in international trade, which favours the West. The W?? est seek their own interests and it is up to the African leaders to seek the interests of their people but they are so corrupt to think in that line of thought.

The headlines from the reports in respect of the G-8 meeting in Canada (June 27-28,2002) has been “the world’s seven leading industrial democracies and Russia agreed to a new deal to help African countries out of poverty. This statement angered many Africans. A Kenyan economist summed up Africans feelings when he stated “The feeling is that they are begging and embarrassing us, they are not really representing Africa. They are running away from their own people. It is totally ridiculous”.

While the African leaders present at the G-8 meeting sounded optimistic, the general feeling in Africa is that this is a sell out and these leaders should consult with their own people and find solutions.

The problems confronting Africa and Africans continue to mount, as stated at the beginning of this article. Unless African leaders begin to see their own shortcomings in respect of governance, and consult with their own people the problems will not be resolved.

It is not the creation of organizations, committees that will solve the problem. The only solution will be the effective management of Africa’s raw materials and the placing of Africa first on the agenda of it’s leaders. All studies done by many African scholars have not been taken seriously and they become merely academic. The, unfortunately, uneducated leaders (these includes the Ministers, and all those that form a government) despise educated Africans. They rely more on the advise of foreigners than advise from their own people. This should stop. Africans are smart people and when given the chance will solve their own problems and create a good livelihood for their people. Politicians are a mess but politics is part of the development equation. The politicians should listen to their own people. Advise given from outside is self centered to benefit the advisor’s country.

It is here recommended that there should be an African oriented creation of a blue ribbon commission to take a serious look at the natural resources available in each country and recommend how it can be best used for the benefit of the people. This should be the very first priority of the African Union that has recently been inaugurated with great fanfare in Durham, South Africa.

Dr.Paul B. Abudu
Founding Executive Director
African Institute of Strategic Studies

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of Ghanaweb.