Development and natural resources

Natural resources

Over the past years , government and civil society, not to mention the population, have been looking at the countries natural resources as a way of creating wealth and development. We have been blessed with resources such as land and water, which benefit agriculture, our traditional mainstay of the economy. But agriculture alone is not enough to develop an economy. Look at developed countries: they all use more than just agriculture. Even countries like China and Italy, known for their high volumes and quality of agricultural products, have industry. Others, like India, have developed a great IT service industry. And many countries have developed mining. In that direction lies the interest of many in Malawi at the moment. But let’s take a look at the use of natural resources: have they benefitted the population and created development, or have they benefitted a few in Malawi, and foreign big companies, that come and take, and leave whenever they feel like it?

Unfortunately, it is the latter rather than the former. Paladin has taken our uranium without even paying tax like you and me, and when the price of uranium collapsed, due to the Fukushima disaster, they just leave the mine lying there. Palladin has benefitted, the population is deprived of their land, and inflation has hit Karonga even harder than the rest of the country. No compensation, no clinics, no jobs. There even may be radioactive contamination, and we still don’t know the cause of the mysterious earth quakes there a few years ago. There are unconfirmed rumours that President Bingu wa Mutharika has profited greatly from the exercise, but we don’t know that for sure.

The way our natural resources have been used have not benefitted the population. Now that there may be oil, nobium and other valuable minerals, we need to look at ways to benefit the population. If we look at other African countries things do not look bright: in Nigeria the oil wealth has caused great pollution and violence, in Congo and Sierra Leone the minerals have driven wars, and in South Africa a white minority, together with rich foreign corporations have benefitted at the cost of the population.

Fortunately, there is a precedent that looks good as an example for us: Botswana.

There, the wealth in diamonds has been used to promote development. Mineral resources can only last so long and then they are finished: in Botswana a government of good governance has looked beyond the ending of diamond wealth: they have conditioned that DeBeers company move their headquarters to Botswana in order to be able to harvest the diamonds. This has created lots of jobs and a lot of spin off in the economy. Otherwise the diamond wealth has been used to develop other industries, mainly tourism and beef production. They got their beef approved for import to the lucrative market of the EU, and now they have renewable industries that will continue to generate wealth after the diamonds are finished. This is the way to go, and it all has been fueled by the simple principle of Good Governance. And that is what we need in Malawi. Not an elected dictator who views the population as his children, not a corrupt Cashgating class of politicians and civil servants, in collaboration with corrupt tenderprenuers, not an overage President who just sits there and has no vision. We need simply Good Governance, and a long term vision for the country. Then we can benefit from our minerals, and otherwise we better leave them where they are until we have reached a stage of Good Governance.

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