Turning the Sub-Saharan Africa ‘Resource Curse’ into a Blessing

On 16 July, Manuella Appiah and Ting Zhang, researchers at The Hague Institute for Global Justice, co-moderated a panel discussion on The Resource Curse and Underdevelopment in Sub-Saharan Africa. The event was part of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) sessions of The European Model United Nations (TEIMUN).

One of the three panelists, Ms. Rosemarie Wuite – a human rights practitioner from ActionAid – set the scene for the discussion by outlining the socio-economic impacts of resource exploitation in Africa. Ms. Wuite discussed some of the human rights problems associated with resource exploitation, including the loss of traditional territories, long-term impact on health and nutrition, and the threat of continued violence. She also gave a detailed assessment of the huge potential for natural resources to contribute to economic development when well utilized. “The opportunities for change are ripe,” said Ms. Wuite. Two of the recommendations she listed included the implementation of legally-binding frameworks targeting the negative impacts of resource exploitation and the adoption of fair tax and financial flows legislations.

Dr. Steven Poelhekke, an economist from VU University Amsterdam, gave a detailed economic analysis of the correlation between the abundance of natural resources and underdevelopment in Sub-Saharan Africa. He emphasized the volatility of commodity prices, bad policies resorted to by government officials, rent-seeking, corruption and conflict, as well as the ‘Dutch disease‘ as some of the contributing factors to the curse. However, Dr. Poelhekke also pointed to resource rich countries which have experienced exponential economic growth due to good governance and investment in private sector development. These countries could be regarded as model cases.

Mr. Robert Dijksterhuis, strategic policy advisor for the Sub-Saharan Africa Department of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, described how multilateral and bilateral partnerships could help reduce or avoid the resource curse. Mr. Dijksterhuis emphasized three important factors to be incorporated in all policies: capacity building, transparency, and accountability. He illustrated three cases where successful implementation of the mentioned factors for development are yielding positive economic growth; respectively with regard to natural gas exploitation in Tanzania, Conflict Free Tin Initiative in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Heritage Fund and Stabilization Fund in Ghana.

After the presentations, students from around the globe engaged in an active discussion with the discussants on what the international community can do to reverse the resource curse in countries where it persists and how to aid countries which have discovered new reserves of natural resources to avoid the curse.

The topic of the session fits into The Hague Institute’s program of work on conflict prevention that focuses on, among others, natural resources related conflicts.

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