Africa's natural resources in a global contextRaf Custers & Ken Matthysen, August 2009
While, on the one hand, it is widely acknowledged that Africa has great natural resource potential, on the other hand, one cannot but regret that the complex interplay between political and economic factors at the national and international level appears to make it impossible to use a more substantial part of the revenues from the exploitation and trade of these resources for the promotion of the well-being of people at the grassroots level. This paper, which concentrates on non-renewable natural resources, aims to disentangle some of the processes that explain the paradox between Africa's natural wealth and its relatively limited level of economic development. It shows that the state of affairs in the resource sectors of most African countries is still to a large extent determined by external factors. Extractive industries in Africa tend to be export-oriented and contribute disappointingly little to local development.
The paper is divided into six chapters. The first chapter is dedicated to definitional issues and to the discussion of a number of applications of non-renewable natural resources. It is demonstrated that these resources are indeed of vital importance for the production of a wide variety of products, devices and instruments. The second chapter pays attention to Africa's position in the global economy. It is shown that, despite its natural wealth, the continent only plays a marginal role, not only in terms of production but also in terms of trade. An attempt is made to account for Africa's marginality and vulnerability by looking at the most significant developments in the continent's twentieth-century economic history. The third chapter zooms in on Africa's energy, metallic and non-metallic minerals. It does not only discuss Africa's production and consumption of these minerals, but it also makes a comparison with other producers and consumers across the globe. Chapter 4 contains a description of the outstanding expansion over the last years in the commodities sector and the mechanisms that explain this exceptional growth. The chapter provides a short assessment of how the financial crisis that arose in the US suddenly harmed the world economy. It also discusses how the global crisis affects the mining sector, specifically in Africa. Chapter 5 tries to answer the question whether we are witnessing a new scramble for Africa's natural resources. An attempt will be made to portray the actions of some of the main players in Africa at the moment, including the EU, the US, and China. The chapter offers an analysis of some of the special interest groups, their involvement in shaping policy and the influence that the aforementioned countries hold in the mineral sector. Finally, chapter 6 looks at how African governments can develop resource policies that have a positive impact on their national economies.