Many of the contemporary conflicts in Africa are characterised by the exploitation of and conflict over valued and lucrative natural resources. These resources include oil, water, natural gas, timber, minerals, gemstones, narcotics and fibres. Conflict over these resources ranges from minor policy issues to explicit violence. Their exploitation facilitated by economic globalisation and the liberalisation of financial markets. Revenues generated are used for the provision of weapons and other military materials; the hiring of mercenaries; personal wealth of warlords and Government officials; and to procure the support of bordering states and relevant groups.(2)
The two main outcomes of resource wars are power and wealth. Conflict often occurs in areas of pre-existing hostility and is intertwined with ethnic, religious and/or tribal rivalry. Even though the often pre-existing hostility can be exacerbated by the conflict over the relevant resources, it often happens that the struggle over the resources can act as the sole reason for conflict.(3) All across the continent, conflicts over these resources have posed a great threat to peace, security and stability. This threat is not only witnessed and experienced on African soil, but also felt across the globe. It is therefore crucial that the international community assist in the prevention and resolution of war, as well as the sustainability of peace often initiated by peacebuilding initiatives.
As such, this paper will discuss the role of the international community in the resource wars of Africa. A brief overview, with reference to the linkages between resources and conflict, the reasons for resource wars and the types of resource wars will be provided. This will be followed by an evaluation of the role of the international community, as well as practical steps that the international community should take to curtail conflict over resources in Africa.
Resource wars: A basic overview
Today, national power is associated with the dynamism of the economy and the development of technological innovation. For state authority to be maintained, dynamic domestic economies should exist in order to enable states to surpass other states in development efforts and the export of resources and commodities.(4) Resources in any area act as a means of obtaining funds for further economic development. The question to ask is: Why are these resources so lucrative? Various factors contribute to the lucrative character of resources. In the globalising world, the demand for resources and commodities are increasing. Rising population growth also leads to an increase in the demand for food, clothing, shelter and other necessities. Increased industrialisation and the steady worldwide increase in personal wealth all contribute to an undeniable appetite for resources and commodities. It is the strong demand for these various resources, commodities and products that makes illegal resource exploitation so lucrative.(5)
Even though the effective management of resources can contribute to the economic growth and play an important role in a country's economic stability, the abundance of resources often has a negative impact on a country's socio-economic sector and political stability. The dependence on these resources is associated with macroeconomic instability, corruption, poverty and the oppression of certain groups. Because of this, a country's affluence in resources is seen as a "resource curse" rather than an instrument of economic sustainability.(6)
Resources and conflict have a dynamic relationship. Most of the resources in Africa are shared by at least two states and/or lie in contested economic zones. As resource supplies become exhausted, states instigate plans to increase accessibility and power over resources. This type of tension that stretches over borders can be seen at large river systems as well as in subversive oil basins. The Nile, Mekong and Euphrates rivers run through, and supply water, to a variety of countries. The country in which the river sprouted has the ability to control the water flow to other countries. These countries thus use their power and location to secure and increase resources. When looking at conflict surrounding subversive oil basins - as seen between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)-the same type of tension can be found. Often, two or more countries share extraction rights of a specific oil basin. If it happens that one country exceeds its portion of extraction, oil revenues could be depleted faster and tension may increase between the relevant countries.(7)
Moreover, conflict over resources can also emerge when contested claims for offshore areas exist. Ocean bordering states, for example, are allowed to claim an exclusive economic zone. This economic zone stretches offshore for up to two miles. Countries are given the right to exploit the undersea resource deposits and the marine life in the given area. Conflict then emerges where several states border on an inland sea or confined water mass. Even though this is not relevant in Africa, it is important to note that conflict of this sort does exist in the South China Sea, as well as the Red Sea, where several countries share the same water mass.(8)
Therefore, the relationship between resources and conflict is inevitable - as resource consumption increases, shortages emerge more rapidly and Governments are pressured to solve the problem often at the expense of others. This, in turn, heightens the tendency of states to seek maximum control over resource supplies, which then increases the risk of conflict.
When looking at the reasons for resource wars, it should be noted that various countries, specifically most developing nations in Africa, grow excessively dependent on their primary resource(s). This happens especially when countries fail to diversify and stimulate their human capital and resources, which, in turn, would decrease the country's dependence on their primary resource(s). These countries share characteristics that include poor investment in human development - especially in the fields of health and education - and often suffer from poor governance manifested through the weak public services and institutions, as well as corruption and patronage systems.(9) Thus, nations that rely on the exploitation of one or more resources for the majority of their income are more likely to be victims of conflict than owners of development. Here, again, the idea of the resource curse comes to mind. Examples of these phenomena include the exploitation of diamonds in Sierra Leone and Angola, timber in Liberia and copper in Papua New Guinea.(10)
In an attempt to classify resource wars, four types have been identified.(11) The first type is where the looting of resources allows for wars, prompted by other factors, to continue. In most circumstances, the factors are initially driven by grievances or ideological toils. The second type is when the enticement of resources serves as incentives for Governments, warlords and criminal tycoons to gain or secure control over resources through the use of violence. The third type illustrates that conflict over resources can erupt in countries where foreign investors and a small domestic elite have mostly benefited from resources. During these circumstances, local communities carry the social and environmental burdens. Lastly, owing to a rise in global demand for various resources, disputes over the ownership of, and access to, resources are increasing. Repressive local Governments are increasingly supported by major powers who engage in sometimes violent competition with other powers in order to gain access to resources and secure their positions vis-á-vis the other importers. This constitutes the final type of resource war.(12)
The role of the international community
Since the 1900s, research in the field of resource wars has indicated that the abundance of resources can have either unifying or fragmenting effects on the host country. Actors in these wars range from Governments and rebel fighting units who fight in opposition with, or alongside, mercenary units; civil defence militias; Government-sponsored paramilitary organisations; international peacekeeping initiatives; spill over divisions from bordering states; and criminal networks. Furthermore, finance is provided by foreign Governments and corporations; allowances from expatriate populations; the acquisition of international aid and relief; as well as funding provided by transnational organised criminal groups. These actors have not been discouraged by growing tension, occurrence of war and anarchy to establish and develop lucrative operations in the resource industry of African states.(13)
It is important to note that most of the disputes over resources are resolved without turning to violence. In most cases, solutions are negotiated amongst the related actors. This outcome is greatly encouraged by global market forces where apparent economic benefits weigh much more than the apparent costs of war. It is, however, true that negotiation does not always work and many times the threatened resources is valued essential to the survival and existence of the state.(14)
Global market forces can also increase the probability of war. This is especially relevant with resources that are of financial value and when the concerned petitioners are not willing to accept losses. These types of conflicts usually manifest in countries that are poor and underdeveloped and where resources are perceived as being the only viable route to the accumulation of wealth.(15)
Businesses in general carry a degree of responsibility when involved with resources in the resource-abundant countries. These businesses could either play an active role where the firms are dynamically involved in the illicit resource exploitation. They could furthermore adhere to some sort of silent complicity where the firms conduct business deals with repressive regimes owing to lucrative contracts. Finally, they could also play a passive enabling role where the cheek is turned when questions about the origin of resource materials are asked.(16)
Individual countries in the international community also act as role-players in the resource conflicts of Africa. The present focus is on those resources that are a symbol of a country's industrial might and economic dimension of security. Without a stable and uninterrupted flow of these resources, countries, like the United States of America (USA), will not be able to expand and generate the products that are essential for continued competitiveness in the international sphere.(17)
Practical steps for the international community
A diversity of actions and incentives surrounding the topic of resource conflict exist and this suggests that there are various access points for policy to "alter the linkages between exploitation and trade in natural resources and conflict."(18) There are three distinct steps that the international community could take in order to play a more prominent and influential role to avoid resource wars.
The first step is to limit trade and finance associated with conflict. Here, monitoring systems surrounding all facets of trade and finance should be strengthened; conflict commodities and their financing tracked; counterterrorism initiatives and extended effects developed; and organised crime combated.(19)
The second step is to improve corporate responsibility and management of resource revenues. This step is directed towards the Multinational Corporations (MNCs), which are active specifically in the energy and mining sectors of African countries. This can be done by assessing company behaviour; providing conflict sensitive business practices, which include conflict management, resolution and prevention in general, support for anticorruption programs, the assessment of environmental and social impacts, as well as the transparency of resource revenue; enhancing the role of export credit agencies (ECAs) in investments and operations within the extraction industry; establishing revenue transparency; and enhancing aid and conditionality that could improve corporate responsibility and the management of resource revenues.(20)
The third step is to establish accountability amongst states and end impunity. Here, businesses should be regulated; conflict management of the MNCs should occur (by means of the Guidelines of Multilateral Enterprises); sanctions should be focussed on the political economy of law interdiction; corporate accountability and litigation should be enhanced; and more focus should be placed on international law.(21)
It is clear that the conflict in African states will continue to be fuelled by the natural resources of the continent. As long as there is firstly a demand for resources, the origin and conditions under which they were obtained will not always be relevant. Also, as long as industrial countries continue on the path of globalisation - with additional pressure placed on the acquisition of energy and material resources -, conflict over these resources will continue.
A great deal of the responsibility lies with the international community. These actors have the means, capacity and capital to reach into the continent where African states cannot. If steps can be taken to limit the trade and finance associated with conflict; improve corporate responsibility and the management of resource revenues; and establish accountability amongst the states as well as to bring an end to impunity, African states may have a brighter future in sight. It is, however, important to realise that the international community cannot be held responsible for the prevention and resolution of conflict and the subsistence of peacebuilding, but that initiatives should be undertaken by national Governments themselves. Policy reforms should be supported and embraced and criminal activities should be curtailed. Even though the end of resource wars is not a reality soon to be realised, African states should work together with the international community to restrain from conflict and to rather foster peace.
Written by: Lize-Marié Smuts (1)
(1) Contact Lize-Marié Smuts through Consultancy Africa Intelligence's Conflict and Terrorism Unit (firstname.lastname@example.org).
(2) Giordano, M.F., Giordano, M.A. & Wolf, A.T., 2005. International Resource Conflict and Mitigation, Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 42(1); Ballentine, K. & Nitzschke, H., 2005. "Introduction", in Ballentine, K. & Nitschke, H. (eds), Profiting from Peace: Managing the Resource Dimensions of Civil War. New York, Lynne Rienner.
(3) Klare, M.T., 2001. Resource Wars: The New Global Landscape of Global Conflict. New York, Henry Holt & Company; Humphreys, M., Sachs, J.D. & Stiglets, J.E. 2007, Escaping the Resource Curse. New York, Columbia University.
(4) Klare, M.T., 2001. Resource Wars: The New Global Landscape of Global Conflict. New York, Henry Holt & Company.
(5) Renner, M., 2004. Anatomy of Resource Wars in Session 2: Resources and Sources of Conflict. The Hague Conference on Environment, Security & Sustainable Development, 9-12 May; Klare, M.T., 2001. Resource Wars: The New Global Landscape of Global Conflict. New York, Henry Holt & Company.
(6) Ballentine, K. & Nitzschke, H., 2005. "Introduction", in Ballentine, K. &Nitschke, H. (eds), Profiting from Peace: Managing the Resource Dimensions of Civil War. New York, Lynne Rienner.
(7) Klare, M.T., 2001. Resource Wars: The New Global Landscape of Global Conflict. New York, Henry Holt & Company.
(9) Renner, M., 2004.Anatomy of Resource Wars in Session 2: Resources and Sources of Conflict. The Hague Conference on Environment, Security & Sustainable Development, 9-12 May.
(10) Klare, M.T., 2001. Resource Wars: The New Global Landscape of Global Conflict. New York, Henry Holt & Company.
(16) Renner, M., 2004. Anatomy of Resource Wars in Session 2: Resources and Sources of Conflict. The Hague Conference on Environment, Security & Sustainable Development, 9-12 May.
(17) Klare, M.T., 2001. Resource Wars: The New Global Landscape of Global Conflict. New York, Henry Holt & Company.
(18) Humphreys, M., 2005. "Natural Resources and Armed Conflicts: Issues and Options", in Ballentine, K. & Nitschke, H. (eds.), Profiting from Peace: Managing the Resource Dimensions of Civil War. New York, Lynne Rienner.
(19) Ballentine, K & Nitschke, H. (eds.), 2005. Profiting from peace: Managing the resource dimensions of civil war. New York, Lynne Rienner.
(20) Ballentine, K & Nitschke, H. (eds.), 2005. Profiting from peace: Managing the resource dimensions of civil war. New York, Lynne Rienner; Taylor, T. 2003. Conflict in Central Africa: Clandestine Network & regional/Global Configurations. Review for African Political Economy, 95; Le Billon, P., 2001. Angola's Political Economy of War: The Role of Oil Diamonds, 1975-2000. African Affairs, 100; Goodhand, J., 2003. Enduring Disorder and Persistent Poverty: A Review of the Linkages between War and Chronic Poverty. War Development, Vol .31(3).
(21) Ballentine, K & Nitschke, H. (eds.), 2005. Profiting from peace: Managing the resource dimensions of civil war. New York, Lynne Rienner.