Africa Impoverished?

By IndepthAfrica
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Sep 24th, 2012
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by John Campbell

I had always thought that Africa was a cornucopia of mineral riches:  gold, platinum, coal, diamonds, oil–you name it; Africa has it all.

Maybe not so, writes Bright Simons in “Africa’s Fabulous Mineral Wealth that Isn’t all There,” published in African Arguments. 

He argues, inter alia, that on a per square mile and on a per capita basis, Africa is poorer in mineral production and reserves than the world average. Only ten of the hundred minerals most important to industrial production play a major role in African mining. Further, their production and reserves are concentrated in only four countries: South Africa, Angola, Congo, and Guinea.

His “per capita” argument is intriguing:  Norway and Nigeria each produce about the same amount of oil per year.  Using 2012 prices, he calculates that if the oil revenue were divided equally among all 4,707,270 Norwegians, he or she would each receive $15,000.  But under the same methodology, the nearly 170,123,740 Nigerians would receive only $460. His discussion of the value of minerals is also fascinating.  He states that the worldwide value of gold reserves is about $2.6 trillion using 2012 prices.  The total value of gold production in 2011, again using 2012 prices, was $138 billion. Africa’s share was worth about $30 billion.  Iron is in short supply in Africa.  Worldwide, he estimates the value of iron reserves at $128 trillion.  The value of 2011 iron production was about $475 billion. So, the value of iron reserves and production greatly exceeds the value of gold.   And while Africa has the latter, it has little of the former.

Simons’ argument is the beginning of a conversation, not the end. But, these considerations highlight the possibility that advocates of the “resource curse” argument may be short-sighted.

It is also relevant to note that when the African National Congress came to power in South Africa after the 1994 ‘non-racial’ elections, its leaders were surprised that the country was not nearly as rich as they had thought it to be.

Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies

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