Myths and Mining: The reality of resource governance in Africa

M yths and Mining: The reality of resource governance in Africa
There are two economic realities on the African continent today. You will find the first one in World Bank, IMF and Africa Development Bank reports – and in articles across the globe about ‘Africa Rising’. This reality depicts Africa as a continent that is forging ahead – onwards and upwards. And some of the world’s best perform.ing economies are indeed in Africa, such as Angola and Mozambique, which are growing at an extractive-powered rate of knots. Meanwhile, other southern African states are also surging ahead – with Zambia, Zimbabwe and the Demo.cratic Republic of Congo (DRC) growing at speeds not seen in a very long time. 
 
The second reality depic ts Africa as the world ’s poorest continent, where the majorit y of people live with no access to clean water, decent health care , e ducation and electricit y, and strug gle to sur vive in the face of high levels of unemploy.ment, pover ty and inequality. This is the realit y we see all around us when we travel through southern Africa. 
 
Unsurprisingly, many people are asking how there can be two such conflicting realities. And in particular they are asking about the exploitation and export of our region’s mineral resources. They want to know what governments are doing with the revenues that they collect from the commer.cialisation of these minerals – and why our natural riches do not seem to translate into a reduction in poverty. And another question that comes up time and again is – how have other nations managed to use their minerals to successfully build their societies and diversify their economies? 
 
The extraction of Africa’s minerals by Africans started long before colonialism and even before the slave trade. In fact, the oldest mines in the world are to be found in Africa – such as the Ingwenya mine in Swaziland, which was being exploited 2000 years ago for iron ochre for rock paintings. In addition, there are thousands of ancient gold and base metal mines across the continent. In general, these mines were integrated into the local pre-colonial economies, providing essential raw materials and high value goods for trade (gold, copper). 
 
The extraction took another form when the Arabs began trading in mineral resources, such copper and gold, in addition to their existing slave and ivor y trading. And extraction took yet another turn with colonisation, which stopped the evolution of mineral trading in its tracks by directing every thing towards Europe. Africa has never recovered.Following the European colonial conquest of the continent, African mining became integrated into the economies of European countries, providing raw material for their industrialisation. Subsequently, Europe monopolised the exploitation and commerciali.sation of Africa’s mineral resources for its own advantage. Indeed, African minerals contributed significantly to the development of Europe – a reality that is not always told. 
 
Europe expanded natural resource extraction in Africa dramatically by using forced labour and ensuring that access to the continent’s minerals was free. There was no compensation for people displaced from their ancestral land or for the destruction of the environment. Human right abuses were seen as normal and acceptable. The custodians of land and customs, the chiefs, were introduced to corruption. They sold their land and their people as slaves and labourers in exchange for beer and guns – often with no bullets. African chiefs were transformed into administrative clerks for the colonialists. This is important because the picture has not changed much today. 
 
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