Friday, February 13, 2015

Natural resources: Africa’s curse or blessing – A case study of Sierra Leone

That there are problems in Africa for several decades even after many countries in the continent went through transitions from colonialism to independence, is not a deniable fact. However the African situation is not as bleak as portrayed in the media or by Africanists. In terms of political instability in Africa, it is also undeniable that the continent has had some difficult moments during the last fifty years or so. But what is still unexplained in the many analyses that have been looking at events in Africa is the fact that in almost all the cases of political instability in Africa, it is evident that the major problem is leadership. In this context, Africa has seen its freedom heroes turn into dictators, while plunder of natural resources, politics of exclusion and deprivation to tilt the balance of power continues to dominate the public sphere.

Every year on September 21, in a bid to highpoint a worldwide efforts towards conflict resolution and peace building globally; the International Day of Peace established by a U.N. resolution in 1982 is marked. This day is more relevant to the continent of Africa where most conflicts have taken place. Some countries in Africa has natural resources - oil and mineral wealth that has the potential to transform their economies. But historically, these resources have more often than not spring up questions which demand more than just simple answers, or repeated mythical notions about Africa’s problems as purely inherent in its resources.

On the subject matter on determining if Africa’s natural resources be tagged as a blessing or curse; there are several factors are to be considered but these factors are as uncomplicated as two side of a coin where there is no midpoint. Blessing is a literal word so is curse, one brings peace, growth, development and all the goodies that come with the tag while curse brings war, bitterness, conflicts, etc.

There are numerous examples of African nations where the discovery of natural resources has been followed by economic instability, conflict and environmental damage. So common is the phenomenon that it even has its own name -- the "resource curse." Africa as a continent is vastly endowed with rich natural resources. Some school of thought are of the belief that these resources have been used to develop economies of the euro zone since hitherto the era of industrial revolution and the subsequent era of colonialism.

A more lucid example of the so called conflicts caused by natural resources can be traced from the days of slave trade when Africans were hunting their fellow Africans to be sold to the slave merchants, the merchants aided this process by introducing guns and gun powder, which escalated the crisis. This trend was witnessed in all areas of Africa. There were conflicts between Africans and the white colonialists in the process of land acquisition and ownership, resource control, rivers, lake and even forests; boundary disputes, oil wells and many more areas of resource advantage which manifested itself in what can be called settler colonialism. This was experienced in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, Namibia and some other parts of southern Africa. Ethnic rivalry and conflicts manifest themselves from a process of resource allocation and in the process of the struggle to have a sharing formula, of such resources. Therefore seen from the perspective of political instability and as a “drifting continent”, many

It is estimated that resource based conflicts in Africa have claimed plenty of lives. An historical excursion to East Africa will provide an illuminating picture of such conflicts. During the era of Idi Amin in Uganda, conflict had spread all over major states in South Africa. Due to the nature of Amin’s avarice, artifice and macabre frivolities of his sadism, he tried to control all aspects of the state of Uganda, including the Ugandan resources and non-Ugandan resources, Confiscated from foreign business men who stayed in Uganda. This totalitarian and dictatorial, if not despotic nature of the regime of Idi Amin, had attracted protest and rebellion.

The Central African Republic is not unconnected with the scourge of conflict which manifested itself from resourceful background. The conflict between Hutus and Tutsis of Rwanda was instigated by an attempt to maintain a permanent dominating power which would ease resource domination within their territories. It was estimated that almost one million Africans lost their lives. In Southern Africa as observed by sheriff Ghali, the push and pull syndrome is prevalent; hostility has caused the death of innocent souls and homes destroyed, which engendered poverty, hunger and starvation. The conflict between ANC and Boers for many decades had then destroyed the economy of South Africa. It is still on such resource based conflicts as experienced in Africa that Sheriff Ghali observed inter alia: The present issue of Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, particularly between Mugabe’s and the Ndebele in Bulawayo on one hand, and between Zimbabweans and the white population on the other hand is creating a new dimension in African politics. The people of southern Rhodesia popularly known as Zimbabwe are fighting their white colonial settlers who settled in their territories and occupied their land for agricultural purpose. The Liberian conflict which lasted for decades has been seen as a great epitome of resource based conflict. The recent case study of Charles Taylor following the election of July 1997, where he intentionally chose to govern in the same manner which created turmoil between the AmericoLiberian “settler class” and the indigenous Liberian population. He initiated the Tubman presidency and even created the ambiance of the office of the late President Tubman.

Sierra Leone Taylor’s mission was to dominate the Mano River (resources) union countries (Guinea, Sierra-Leone and Liberia). The Mandingoes of Liberia declared war against Taylor, Guinea also waged war against Taylor. Sierra-Leone viewed Taylor as a threat, by his attitude and mission to dominate the resources around Mano River union

It is quite unequivocal that resource based conflicts sometimes begin as political, ethnic or religious conflict. But in Africa, political and ethnic conflicts are tantamount to resource based conflicts and this is primarily because those who wield political power also control the national resources. Fear of domination from a rival group or opposition parties may however, resort to conflicts. It therefore becomes axiomatic to argue that African conflicts are resource – oriented. To have few resources at the disposal of a colossal number of people is to direct the emergence of poverty, just as Ghandi of India put it. “Poverty is the worst form of violence.

Some of the obvious causes of resource based conflicts in Africa, especially in West Africa as identified by Kaye Whiteman may include chieftaincy disputes, land disputes, struggle over access to and distribution of resources such as gold, diamond and timber, political machinations and struggle for power, religious intolerance and poverty.

In order to deal with the issue of resource based conflicts, the following strategies as recommended are essential: One, Political Strategy: Politics as generally known is all about conflict resolution, reconciliation of differences and disputes. The political process may begin with the legislative political arm to have a clear picture of the conflict; be neutral and objective; then pass a sincere law or policy which could resolve such conflict. The executive should implement the law, and institutions of the judicature should adjudicate the law. Two, Social and Economic Strategy: This strategy is the type that envisages justice and equal allocation of resources among all conflicting parties so as to avoid the claims of marginalization. The government should coordinate this process of peace with proper monitoring and evaluation Three, Militaristic Strategy and Security enforcement: All conflicts are relative to time, space and the participants, so also the process of resolving the conflict is relative, depending on its magnitude. It may therefore require different methods of resolution. If such conflict has reached to the apex or to the extent of killing and turbulent breakdown of law and order, the security forces should be deployed to bring back law and order. Four, Mediation and Dialogue: External bodies who are accepted by the conflicting parties can mediate in the process of peace to calm the situation. Five, education and creation of awareness: awareness should be created about the impact of conflict on the society, and the gospel of peace be taught in schools and colleges, so as to enable the younger generation imbibe with the culture of peace.

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