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30.05.2012 Feature Article


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“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”

The possession of natural resources within most Africa countries has always been a source of grief and unhappiness to its citizens. On the positive side, in some countries, such as Botswana, where the possession of these resources is sustainably and wisely managed, the nation has gained economic blessings and much-needed foreign exchange earnings. It is often argued that Botswana avoided conflict over resources by distributing its benefits equitably within the population. However, in African countries where the management of natural resources is weak, the future of the nation is at the risk to degenerate into zones of chaos. Most conflicts in Africa started as clashes over access and control of natural resources. An example is the blood diamond war in Sierra Leone where "rebel" terrorists of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) chopped off thousands of civilian hands, feet and ears and thousands more men, women, children were slaughtered and left to rot in village streets.

In August 1998, like many African countries, Congo experienced war which eventually ended in 2003 as a result of access and control of water resources and rich minerals. The war took over 3 million people lives due to disease and starvation. More than 2 million people became refugees. Many women were raped due to intimidation, resulting in a rapid spread of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV-AIDS. National parks housing endangered species were exploited together with minerals and other resources. T he Refugees hunted wildlife for bush meat. Elephant populations seriously declined as a result of ivory poaching. A survey by the WWF showed that the hippopotamus population in one national park decreased from 29,000 thirty years previously, to only 900 in 2005. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) listed all five parks as 'world heritage in danger'.

Another scenario is the Niger delta conflicts which took place around 1990(s). The oil-rich Delta region of Nigeria was plagued with political instability, weak governance, and continuous conflict, which has made local communities in the Niger Delta remain as some of the poorest communities in the world. Conflict in Nigeria was worsened by competition for oil – both between multi-national corporations and the Nigerian Government. As a result, fish stocks have been negatively affected, mostly due to the regular oil spills and leakages from the pipelines in the Niger Delta. Furthermore, Nigeria's wetland areas have also been damaged. In addition, frequent disruptions – such as seditious attacks on oil pipelines by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) – characterize the Niger Delta.

It has been reported that nature and location of natural resources to some extent influence the occurrence of war. Two main types of resources have been identified. First, there are point resourcessuch as minerals; these are non-renewable, geographically concentrated and their extraction requires little labour input. Second, there are diffuse resources such as soils and water, these are renewable and geographically spread and they are used in the production of crops and livestock usually mobilizing large amounts of labour. The argument is that countries that are abundant in point resources are more likely to experience conflict than countries that experience only diffuse resources, especially when the later also undertake land reform. For example, in Congo-Brazzaville where there is one mineral resource, offshore oil, it was necessary for the rebels to capture the capital city, the centre of the state apparatus, and the main port, Ponte-Noire during the 1997 civil war. In contrast, Angola's two mineral resources, offshore oil and alluvial diamonds in the interior, enabled both the MPLA government and Unita rebels to engage in a protracted conflict for decades. In Liberia and Sierra Leone, the diversity of resources and their geographical spread led to the development of warlords and a highly fragmented conflict between a weak government and numerous armed groups controlling resources in the interior.

Ghana is endowed with so many natural resources such as gold, bauxite, diamond, timber, fishery, rich national parks et cetera and has currently been blessed with oil; which often referred to “black gold” due to its significant value, surprisingly, the required development that we hope these resources would brought us continues to be illusive. Has Ghana really learned her lessons from other African countries?

Unlike many other Africa countries, Ghana has seen peace since independence and continues to safeguard this peace before, during and after this year's election. Campaign against factors such as ethnicity, violence and the use of intemperate language which have currently characterized our politics has been initiated to condemn such practices in order to protect the peace of this nation in the upcoming election. However, it must be noted that, inequitable distribution of natural resources in a nation could also bring about civil war.

It is against this background that, the underdeveloped regions of Ghana such as northern and Volta and so forth should be given the needed attention. The unfortunate thing is that these natural resources-endowed regions are among poorest regions in Ghana; however proper management of any natural resources must first seek to benefit the resource dweller. Initiative like Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) by government is great. Resource managers of this project should be moved by the plight of their own fellow Ghanaians or be motivated by history to make sure that the nation gets the best. Private investor should explore opportunities in these areas. The funds given by American president recently against hunger should target these areas and be used accordingly. The road that leads to Baubeng Fiema and Mole National park should be constructed to enhance easy access to boost its annual income. The current surroundings and management of paga crocodile sanctuary, and Kintampo WaterFalls is evident of poor resource management and therefore needs enhancement. Government should be committed in developing the deposited villages into modern towns with the necessary amenities that go with it. That is the only way we can prevent Niger Delta in Ghana.

Obviously, the aftermath of any type of war destabilizes countries and flout human rights. A story told by A 23 year old Congolese woman to Human Rights Watch that the soldiers "raped us and dragged us to their camp which was not far away. I stayed there for one month, under constant supervision. Even when I went to fetch water, he came with me to ensure that I did not run away.... There was no conversation between us; he had sex with me at any moment, when he felt like it, and with a lot of violence. I spent my days crying. I begged God to free me from this hell." In countries where the benefits of resource exploitation such as those of oil extraction and mining have only profited some corrupt elites and foreign companies due to poor negotiation by governments, the local populations habitually suffer from social, political, and economic problems which eventually lead to civil war. More often than not, this is the case in African countries.

“War does not determine who is right - only who is left''


Schandorf Adu Bright
Schandorf Adu Bright, © 2012

The author has 13 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: SchandorfAduBright

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