Unravelling the resource curse.


This year's Tana Forum (April 22-23) will focus on the thorny issue of how African countries can make the most of their abundant natural resources, which, in many instances, have not been beneficial to the majority of Africans. Desmond Davies looks at the problem of resource governance in Africa in an era of complicated global financial systems aimed at bypassing the payment of taxes and royalties.

A diamond from Sierra Leone has been in the news recently. A registered alluvial diamond miner in the diamondiferous Kono region of Sierra Leone extracted a 709 carats stone, believed to be the 13th-largest uncut diamond ever mined. The stone is to be auctioned and until then its value cannot be determined. But, experts have noted the private auction in London in February of an 813-carat stone that went for 51 million [pounds sterling].

Sierra Leoneans, long hardened by the corrupt diamond sector in the country, took to social media to make cynical comments about the find. They wondered whether the big play the government has been making about it was aimed at covering up the normally non-transparent nature of the industry in Sierra Leone. For many Sierra Leoneans, the secretive nature of the sector has allowed racketeers to prosper at the expense of the nation.

Deals that had been negotiated were never open and it was left to conjecture when it came to totting up the figures from diamond sales. Successive governments have been accused of woefully failing to negotiate in the interests of the country, which has in the past produced two of the world's top 10 largest and most famous rough diamonds. The first was the Woyle River Diamond, found in 1943 and weighing 770 carats (now the sixth largest in the world), and the Star of Sierra Leone, extracted in 1972 and weighing 968.9 carats (the third largest in the world).

The new diamond find in Sierra Leone is coming just before the Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa, which takes place at Bahir Dar in Ethiopia on April 22 and 23. The theme of this year's Forum--natural resource governance--is seen by the organisers as an opportunity for African stakeholders to question how much control they have over natural resources; how well they are managed; and whether Africans truly benefit from these resources.

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, chairman of the Forum's advisory board, has called on African governments to improve their negotiation skills when it comes to natural resource governance. He urged African communities to "stand up to the parties they are negotiating...

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