Why are some African governments so bad at managing their countries’ resources?

UPDATE: According to Reuters,  Israeli billionaire businessman Dan Gertler sold one of his Congo-based oil companies to the government last year for $150 million – 300 times the amount paid for the oil rights – in a deal criticised by transparency campaigners.

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Just to reiterate what I have said before regarding the need to boost the capacity of African governments to manage their resources well, here is a long quote on Vale’s mining operations in Mozambique (H/T Anna).

The point here is that resource mismanagement in Africa is not just a story of rampant corruption and the complete lack of political will for reform. It is also a story of governments that remain completely out-staffed by multinations with far superior technical capacities. Improving resource management on the continent will therefore have to be as much about government technical capacity development as it will be about political reform.

Vale, for example, employs nearly 200,000 people around the world and has annual profits equivalent to nearly four times Mozambique’s state budget. It can recruit, train, and compensate employees to represent its interests on a scale far beyond what the government can do. Without Vale’s capacity for number crunching, Mozambique’s regulators lean on the companies they oversee for all manner of important data.

In 2011, the Mozambican government published an independent study of the country’s mining, oil, and gas industries. Conducted by a Ghanaian consulting company, Boas and Associates, the report was part of Mozambique’s application to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a World Bank-funded program designed to encourage an honest accounting of mining revenue and payments by participating countries and corporations alike. Mozambique’s candidacy was ultimately denied on the basis of its failure to publish what it earned from the companies involved, [but the report also noted a lack of qualified personnel in the agencies governing almost every aspect of the extraction of Mozambique’s natural resources]: licenses, prospecting, mining and drilling, sales, export.

According to the report, the [Mozambican government has no way of verifying the quality and quantity of minerals in the concessions it leases to private companies, and it depends on those companies for data on what is ultimately mined and exported]. Worse, the government has no system for monitoring global commodity prices or of tracking companies’ investment costs, which means it cannot independently verify a company’s profits.

Lesson? It’s not all corruption. It is also about the incentive structure that has resulted from government’s reliance on the word of profit-maximizing mining companies.

Improving government capacity to regulate resource sector operations is a key pillar of accountability and transparency that is currently missing from the discussion on how to manage Africa’s resources. It is easier to blame it all on thieving politicians and mining executives.

Not all governments might find it useful to improve their technical capacity (it is easier for them to steal if the valuation of state assets remain uncertain) but I bet many African states, especially those with moderately democratic regimes, can be persuaded to boost their technical capacity, if not for anything then just to improve their bargaining position vis-a-vis mining companies. At a minimum, this would mean more money for their pockets, and perhaps also more money for roads, schools and hospitals.

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4 thoughts on “Why are some African governments so bad at managing their countries’ resources?

  1. Pingback: Are some Guinean government officials idiots, criminals or both? « An Africanist Perspective

  2. Pingback: Mining in Kenya « An Africanist Perspective

  3. Pingback: Resource Dependence in Africa (with some thoughts on Mozambique) « An Africanist Perspective

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