Geological Resources and Good Governance in Sub-Saharan Africa

Published on 30th August 2011

Book Review

Edited by Jurgen Runge & James Shikwati
Published by CRC Press/Balkena, The Netherlands

Governance issues are critical in Africa. Government agencies, institutions, parastatals and NGOs have a long way to go in establishing governance and management channels devoid of corruption, nepotism, racism, mismanagement and downright theft of resources.

Geologically, Africa sits on vast untapped minerals and oil reserves. While the mining sector alone could make Africa the richest continent,  Africa’s  mineral exploitation has been largely left  to multinationals who, apart from repatriating profits, also export the raw minerals for processing abroad, leaving the continent impoverished.

Global attention turned to Africa when Europe became resource-starved amidst its fast growing industrialization. When vast expanses of mineral deposits were “discovered” in Africa, they partitioned the continent among themselves to own and better exploit the available resources for their countries’ benefit. In the guise of setting up governance structures to civilize the natives, they designed loopholes that allowed them to plunder Africa’s resources with impunity. Since the natives were not in their equation, no pro-native governance and mining structures were put in place.Unfortunately, such scenarios may be repeating themselves. The new emerging economic giants now have an insatiable need for geological resources from Africa. The so-called Asian Tigers, for example, are making lee-ways into Africa through perceived development projects. They proffer seemingly grand development projects like roads and sports stadia in exchange for Africa's resources.

Tonnes of literature that blame Africans for the dire predicament they find themselves in as far as resources and governance are concerned have been churned out. Most authors conveniently ignore the role of colonialists in mismanagement, misuse, corruption and short-changing of Africans in terms of resource exploitation. The governance debacle in Africa accrues from the fact that they [Africans] were not allowed to digest the new systems of governance imposed on them. Such alien political systems like democracy, communism, capitalism and other isms served only to confuse instead of enlighten the African.

Consequently, pre-independent Africans believed that to be a good leader, one had to amass wealth in whatever way he could. The departing colonial masters reinforced this trend in their favour but to the detriment of the African citizenry. That is how the term ‘neocolonialism’ found currency.

Geological Resources and Good Governance in Sub-Saharan Africa gives an update of the distribution, occurrence, potential and prospects of geological resources in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is an attempt to inform where the resources are, how they are being extracted, who is doing the extraction and how ordinary Africans within mining zones are affected. 

The book presents case studies such as Uganda’s oil boom, the Chad and Cameroon oil project and the World Bank’s involvement. In Nigeria, the experiment to be transparent led to the establishing of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) that was generally considered a success by the international community. In Kenya, the Titanium mining project by Tiomin Kenya Ltd. is still courting controversy to-date. One of the contributing authors, Charles A. Khamala, gives a candid explanation of problems besetting the extraction of this mineral. The environmental challenges posed by this mining project are not easy to solve. Yet these have to be balanced by social issues posed by the displacement of communities and the dictates of the market for Titatium. Add to this the fact that the main exploiter of the mineral is a foreign commercial enterprise that must factor in short and long-term profits and the right to repatriate the same back to the country of origin. One of the contributing editors traces the role played by West Africa and Zimbabwe’s geological resources as far back as 2000 BC in propping up the monetary systems of Western Europe.

So what is Geological Resources and Good Governance in Sub-Saharan Africa about? A more pertinent question is: Is such a publication necessary? Outside the research fraternity, readership for information and knowledge is rapidly dwindling. The social sites on the internet are quickly eroding the habit for reading books. It is a brave gesture to publish a hardcover 300-page book on a subject like Geology and Governance. The multiple authorship has also given the book a rather unwieldy feel. As a reader in modern times, I would have expected a number of small books on the subject. Preferably what are called monographs. This would have broken the subject matter into digestible pieces that can be put together as series of books.

Whoever picks this book as a coffee table flip-through will be a bit disappointed. The few interesting photographs are stacked at the back of the book, where the ordinary flip-through reader will only chance upon them if he starts flipping from the back. The double column layout and the lack of colour photographs lend to a rather grey outlook, but this is compensated by the content.

However, the keen researcher will find a treasure trove of information to cite in other similar publications. Apart from the well-arranged and appropriately captioned maps, tables and illustrations, the writing is free-flowing and lends itself to quick reference with paragraphs that are jam-packed with ideas and facts that are easy to pick. Most of the contributors have local and international. This lends the book credibility as most readers would most likely read articles by people they know as experts on a subject. The choice of cover is appropriate for the keen reader of research publications. It immediately relates to the subject matter of the book.

I would recommend this book to development partners in Africa, private individuals who want to know about the ravages of the mining industry in Africa and humanitarians who want to get in-depth accounts of the suffering that is often visited on the hapless mineworkers in most parts of Africa. University scholars will particularly benefit from including this book as one of their literature searches. I hope that this book will put somewhere on the internet for easy access.

Reviewed by Harrison Maganga

Communications and Public Relations Officer

African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS)

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