Natural Resources and Conflict in Africa: The Tragedy of Endowment

By Robbins, Nina Tanner | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, January 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Natural Resources and Conflict in Africa: The Tragedy of Endowment


Robbins, Nina Tanner, The International Journal of African Historical Studies


Natural Resources and Conflict in Africa: The Tragedy of Endowment. By Abiodun Alao. Rochester Studies in African History and the Diaspora. Rochester, N. Y.: University of Rochester Press, 2007. Pp. xix, 353; 1 map, 18 tables, 5 figures. $85.00 cloth.

Africa is home to some of the largest deposits of natural resources in the world. It is also the center of a disproportionate number of the globe's conflicts. Millions of people have been killed in these conflicts, millions more have become refugees or have been displaced within their own homelands, and women in particular have suffered "collateral damage" as rape is increasingly used as a weapon of war. What should be a blessing, then, is seen by many as a curse.

In Natural Resources and Conflict in Africa: The Tragedy of Endowment, Abiodun Alao has undertaken an extensive survey of the links between natural resources and conflict on the African continent. Alao, a senior research fellow at the Conflict, security and Development Group, School of Social Science and Public Policy, King's College, University of London, brings years of experience to bear in this timely study.

The book has two major objectives. The first is to provide a comprehensive review of Africa's natural resources and the continent's conflicts over recent decades. In a lengthy section, Alao describes the continent's key natural resources, dividing them into four categories (land, solid minerals, oil, and water) and examining the ways in which each has been linked to conflict. The author's thematic approach means that-with the significant exception of Nigeria and, to a lesser extent, the Democratic Republic of Congo-there is no particular emphasis on any particular country.

Exhaustive as this section is, it suffers in places from a serious time lag. For instance, there is only one reference to the conflict in Darfur ("There are also disputes over grazing and farming rights in the ... Darfur region," [p. 109]), and the author's source is a book written in 1991. Alao neglects some pertinent issues, such as the very substantial international trade in timber that is ravaging many parts of Africa, and the consequences of the increasing Chinese presence in Africa, which is barely mentioned.

Alao's second objective is to explore the relationship between governance and natural resource conflicts. The author does not place the blame for the continent's woes on either greed or grievance, but rather on "the complete defectiveness or the selective efficiency" of governance structures (p. …

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