Africa: Why the richest continent Is also the poorest

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The ecological impact of natural resource exploitation on the lives of the poor in Africa and other regions is not being addressed sufficiently in aid effectiveness and development discussions

by Miriam Mannak
Inter Press Service, September 5, 2008

“Africa is known as one of the richest parts of the world when it comes to natural resources, yet it is also the poorest region — despite the natural wealth and the aid flow,” said Charles Mutasa, executive director of the African Forum and Network on Debt and Development (AFRODAD),  a Zimbabwe-based NGO working on Africa’s debt problem.

Mutasa was participating in a discussion at the Third High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF3), which took place in the Ghanaian capital of Accra from September 2-4.

“The ecological debt caused by natural resource exploitation plays a crucial role in this scenario,” Mutasa added. “It keeps the continent down, prevents the region from breaking out of the circle of poverty, and triggers the need for more aid.”

The term ecological debt refers to the debt accumulated by rich countries toward developing nations on account of resource exploitation, which often leads to environmental problems such as air and water pollution.

“Very few parties that are part of the development debate see the necessity of addressing ecological debt and its impact on people’s lives,” says Brenda Mofya, debt cancellation activist and the writer of a recent study on the ecological impact of copper mining in Zambia. The report will be launched at the end of September 2008.

Zambia is the world’s seventh biggest producer of the metal. In 2007 the country generated 521,984 tonnes of copper; this year the government expects production to increase to 600,000 tonnes.

However, Mofya said, the Zambian government and people are not seeing much from the wealth generated as most of the copper mines are in hands of the private sector — including many foreign companies.

“The Zambian government receives only 0.06 percent of the annual profit. Meanwhile the mining companies are getting richer, and ecological problems keep accumulating. These things have a profound impact on people’s lives,” she said.

She told IPS about the poor air quality in the copper belt, which does not meet international standards.

“Fugitive mine dust and dumped waste are causing health and environmental problems. We found that of the 45 waste dumps, 32 are overfull. This waste and fugitive dust have a negative impact on water quality too.”

According to Mutasa, rich countries involved in resource exploitation in Africa need to come to the table and repay the debt that has accumulated in Africa. “If we want Africa to develop, we need to have a critical and serious look at this issue.”


  • That Africa is the richest continent on the globe and yet the poorest or poor in terms of the livelihood of its citizens is something not far from the truth. In my opinion, this is based on many reasons but will dwell on two for now: 1) The greed and self-centeredness of its leaders, and 2) The exploitation by the western world, under the pretense of international development aid.

    By these I mean that, the leaders of Africa get into power for selfish reasons – that is to enrich themselves and families, thinking only about what becomes of them when out of the control of powers. For example, in most parts of Africa including Liberia, the question has always been “what did you get from being president or leader in x,y,z, ministries or agencies”, and if the individual (s) shows nothing but reference honesty, he/she become a laughing stock and considers a fool! On this note, anyone entering the house of power firstly thinks of his/her life after serving the state. And, on the issue of exploitation by the westerners, it is based on the fact that they give aide to Africa and follow same with so-called “experts”, who come relying on the efforts of Africans to do the work whilst they are highly paid than those Africans.

    They come with huge budget on salary and allowances/immunities, which almost costs the entire project. Meanwhile, whatever is given as aide to Africa is payable (debt). Thus, Africa and Africans are used as scapegoats to enrich the western world. For example, in Liberia, most ministries of government are filled with westerners, who came in the name of experts but does nothing, except to go on so many holidays and take big salaries and allowances, whilst the Liberians who do the work are paid little or nothing. In my opinion, these are some reasons why Africa is the richest continent, but its people poor.

  • In Zambia, the assault on the commons is waged by the unholy alliance of mining corporations and Government, and by Government itself (with donors simpering in the background) on renewable resources – aided again by misguided donors. Those of us who fight it are placed under state surveillance and then deported, despite being bona fide investors supposedly protected under the Zambia Development Agency Act of 2006. But then The Economist and other ‘experts’ tell the world otherwise.