Africa's natural wealth: A curse or a blessing?

4 July 2012

The resource paradox

Prior to the RIO +20 conference, African leaders adopted the "African Consensus Statement on Rio +20" in which they noted that Africa is largely dependent on natural resources to achieve growth and development that may be hindered by the impact of climate change.

Civil society and other African organisations also drew the international community's attention towards the urgency to act in a comprehensive way to stop both the main causes of environmental degradation and the mechanisms that foster poverty, thus enabling Africa to use natural resources in a rational manner. They recommended that African States voluntarily commit their rebirth to the control of their resources and make the well being of current and future populations a priority.

Today, many African countries rely heavily on unprocessed primary product exports. In appropriate circumstances, the resource boom may be a key driver of growth. In fact, we often tend to think that such type of exports might enable these countries to finance all or part of their efforts in development, especially as oil prices, for instance, have increased exponentially over the past decade. However, despite their rich endowment in natural resources, many of these countries remain poor; this  is known as the  "resource curse". This notion refers to a situation where a country's exports are primarily based on natural resources, which generates substantial revenue but, paradoxically, leads to economic stagnation and political instability.

This month Bridges Africa features two articles on natural resources: Citing World Bank research, Otaviano Canuto and Matheus Cavallari cast doubt on the assumption that large endowments of oil, gas, and minerals can actually become more of a curse under certain circumstances, slowing economic growth and spurring redistributive struggles. Dan Heglund follows with an optimistic take on this resource curse and explains what mineral-dependent countries and other stakeholders can do to prevent natural resources from becoming a curse and, instead, turn them into a blessing.

Also, this issue offers other articles related to the private sector involvement in sustainable development, regional integration from an African perspective and gender issues related to trade. We hope you enjoy reading this issue!

Next month read the latest edition of our French-language Africa-focussed periodical Passerelles. This issue will focus on the outcome of Rio+20 from an African perspective.  Meanwhile, Bridges Africa will publish a special summer issue dedicated to trade in services in Africa, don't miss it!

Bridges Africa is now accepting nominations to join our editorial advisory board: For more information or if you would like to submit an article for review, please contact the managing editor Kiranne Guddoy at:

This article is published under
4 July 2012
An abundance of natural resources is intuitively expected to be a blessing. Nonetheless, it has been argued for some decades that large endowments of natural resources—oil, gas, and minerals in...
4 July 2012
WTO members have reached a preliminary agreement updating the accession guidelines for least developed countries (LDCs), according to Geneva-based delegates. The 29 June draft recommendations,...