One of the many challenges posed by the exploitation of natural resources in Africa is its potential for conflict – both internal and between states. At a recent meeting in Harare, African intelligence chiefs declared the illegal exploitation of natural resources a ‘national security issue’ and vowed to ‘defend the continent’s natural and other resources from illicit exploitation and appropriation’.
The 50 member states of the Committee of the Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA), which is based in Addis Ababa, met from 1 to 8 May 2013 on the theme ‘The nexus between Africa’s natural resources, development and security’. ‘[This] conference believes in the permanence of their countries’ sovereignty over their natural resources,’ retired Major-General Happyton Bonyongwe, who assumed the Cissa chairmanship, said, according to the Zimbabwean state-owned The Herald newspaper.
The AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, Ramtane Lamamra, who spoke at the conference, also told the Chinese news agency Xinhua that natural resources-centred conflicts involved ‘especially actors from outside the continent’. ‘When you look thoroughly at each one of the conflicts that the continent has gone through you will find that natural resources are always at the heart of it, whether acknowledged publicly or … part of the hidden agenda.’ He said there was a need for Africa to come up with strategies to stem natural resources-centred conflicts and allow the resources to become a blessing for locals, Xinhua reported.
Clearly, illicit exploitation of Africa’s natural resources is a grave concern and there is a lot that organisations like the African Union (AU) and CISSA can do to alert governments and mediate in conflicts stemming from resource exploitation, such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Yet this cannot be done without close cooperation with the global multi-nationals that exploit these resources. Revenue from oil and minerals can also be a benefit to Africa.
In the same week as the Harare meeting, international actors, meeting in Ottawa, Canada, were talking about the same issue, but this time in the context of management of natural resources for economic development. On 9 and 10 May, the Canadian North-South Institute held an international forum on ‘Governing natural resources for Africa’s development’, where delegates like Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala spoke about how the continent’s resources could be used as an engine of economic growth.
Many role players argue that mining and other non-renewable resources contribute to economic development in various ways, translating into higher tax incomes for countries, improved services and increased employment for local communities, and raised demand for goods and services. But this should be correctly managed.
The Ottawa meeting occurred against the backdrop of numerous calls by civil society and organisations such as Transparency International imploring Prime Minister Stephen Harper to commit to mandatory disclosure rules for Canadian natural resources companies. The two issues – an internal focus on security and the important role of global players such as Canada – cannot be seen in isolation.
The Financial Times in its edition of 13 May gave an example of some of the above concerns. In Somalia, attempts to carve up oil blocks before the government in Mogadishu is able to extend its control over the entire national territory are currently undermining efforts to consolidate the political and security gains made in recent years. A quarter of a century ago, multinationals BP, Chevron, Conoco, Eni and Shell purchased oil blocks in Somalia and started with vigorous exploration. By 1991 all had declared force majeure and put their projects on hold as the country disintegrated. Now that stability is being restored through the efforts of the AU and the international community, interest in Somalia’s natural resources has re-emerged, with a potentially disruptive impact. PetroQuest Africa, an affiliate of US exploration company Liberty Petroleum, for example signed a deal for a block also claimed by Shell with the regional government of Galmudug, a self-declared state to the north of Mogadishu.
Ironically, the new federal constitution of Somalia provides that mining falls within state and not federal jurisdiction – similar to the provisions in Canada and Australia – allowing the local governor of Galmudug to claim jurisdiction. The Financial Times concludes that ‘rival administrations have issued several companies the right to a clutch of overlapping oil blocks, redrawing the political map of Somalia in line with their own interests …’.
This is, however, not only a contestation between foreign oil companies and Somalia, but also between neighbours. Kenya and Somalia are currently in discussions over a disputed triangle of water where the Norwegian company Statoil, along with Total and Eni, has interests – reportedly an important motivation for Kenya’s military support to the AU’s peace mission in Mogadishu. The AU does have a role here. The continental organisation is currently pushing ahead with an ambitious effort to delineate all unmarked borders between countries. The discovery of rich deposits of oil, natural gas or other commodities along poorly defined and unmarked borders could clearly be a source of inter-state conflict in Africa.
There have been a number of precedents for such events – all linked to potential or actual oil discoveries. This includes the Bakassi Peninsula that Nigeria eventually ceded to Cameroon in 2008 following a judgement of the International Court of Justice. Rukwanzi Island in Lake Albert is also still in dispute between the DRC and Uganda, while Malawi and Tanzania contest the international boundary between their two countries in Lake Malawi. The former is claiming sovereignty over the entire 29 600 sq-km lake that straddles the borders of Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.
As the commodities boom continues, Africa is realising the enormous potential of its natural resources. Careful management can reduce the potential for this to destabilise individual countries and lead to conflict that make international investors in the resource sector take their money elsewhere.
Jakkie Cilliers, Executive Director, ISS