Africa's paradox of plenty

25 March 2015

That Africa is a continent of contradictions is starkly apparent in the great poverty that rides in tandem with its great mineral wealth. Researchers call it the 'resource curse', or the 'paradox of plenty'. With its long mining history, South Africa has not escaped this paradox.

The Marikana disaster at Lonmin Mines reminds us that the mining landscape is little changed, says professor of private law Hanri Mostert.

"The mining elite is largely indifferent to the poor."

And in Africa, this reality persists; perhaps with the exception of Botswana, she adds. Some resource-rich countries, such as Norway, Australia and Canada, have escaped the 'resource curse'. But it's not the resource itself; rather, it's in the governance of that resource that the problem lies, and in the inadequacy and complacency of African governments in managing it, says Mostert.

Fear of investment

The result is poor investor confidence (mining is Africa's main source of foreign direct investment), perpetuating the cycle of poverty, corruption and degradation.

"The common feature of these African countries is that they are all postcolonial states in a development phase," wrote Mostert in a project overview. That project – Mineral Law and Governance in Africa (MLiA) – is proving to be crucial.

Collaborating with UCT's Centre for Comparative Law in Africa, the initiative will map mining law across the continent through a network of legal academics, practitioners and universities; to build capacity, disseminate information, and transfer knowledge.

"The project responds to the clear need to support the governments and citizens of mineral-rich countries with tools to debate and develop legislation, reframe the global discourse around their mineral wealth, and pass informed legislation derived from broad citizen participation to create the right environment for the sustainable use of mineral resources for shared prosperity."

Mineral law library

The primary goal is developing an African mineral law library. The team will write a series of academic books on African mineral law and governance – one each for the jurisdictions involved thus far: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique, Eritrea, Tanzania and Nigeria.

The second goal is to build a network of practitioners and scholars in mineral law in these countries, as well as in Liberia, Ghana and Cameroon.

Third, to provide easy access to mining law information, the World Bank has initiated the African Mining Legislation Atlas (AMLA), a web-based, open-source platform containing all mining law in Africa.

Story by Helen Swingler

Monday Monthly Read more stories from the March 2015 edition.

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