The Inevitability of the "Resource Curse" in Sub-Saharan Africa? Relations between NGOs and Governments in Zambia, Botswana and Ghana

By Polus, Andrzej | The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs, October 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

The Inevitability of the "Resource Curse" in Sub-Saharan Africa? Relations between NGOs and Governments in Zambia, Botswana and Ghana


Polus, Andrzej, The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs


This paper is a result of field studies in Botswana, Zambia and Ghana, all mineral economies considered to be potential victims of the "natural resource curse" (NRC). According to the core assessment of the NRC hypothesis, mineral revenues in Sub-Saharan Africa do not necessarily improve the economy; instead they may lead to increased poverty and often to the establishment/empowerment of authoritarian, neo-patrimonial and cleptocratic regimes. Even though strong civil society is perceived as a potential counterbalance to governments' actions, in the case of Zambia, Botswana and Ghana three distinguished patterns of interactions between governments and civil society organisations (CSOs) have been created, and a vibrant and vocal civil society does not necessarily imply that the "curse" of resources is avoided. The principal aim of this paper is to examine, comparatively and critically, the involvement of the local and international CSOs in the governance process of resource based economies. The paper begins with a general theoretical reflection on the status of the NRC within the discourse, and goes on to develop a twofold argument. First, that the "resource curse" could be more usefully perceived as a treatable "disease," and secondly that the strength of civil society and its involvement in politics does not prevent the NRC.

Introduction

The principal aim of this paper is to examine, comparatively and critically, the involvement of local and international non-governmental organisations in the governance processes of three African resource rich states, namely, Zambia, Botswana, and Ghana.1 The natural resource curse is manifest in many different aspects of economic and political life (depending on the type of a raw material available, the technology of exploration, state history and its institutional capabilities, ethnic heterogeneity, international environment, and the conditions under which resource rent becomes available to the government). However this article aims to examine in particular whether a strong non-governmental sector and the nature of its relations with the government is a factor that can assure additional "resistance" to the resource curse.

Botswana is often presented as an "African success story" in that it is a mineral economy that is seen to have avoided the NRC. Botswana is also described as a de facto one party state due to the dominant position of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) in Botswana's politics.2 The economic performance of Botswana is unprecedented in Africa. From independence up until 2008 the real GDP growth in Botswana averaged 8.7% annually, due to the low base effect and the constant inflow of diamonds revenues. Simultaneously, Botswana is characterised as a "weak civil society." The biggest disagreements between international non-governmental organisations and the government did not concern mineral rent redistribution, rather the rights of indigenous people to their land where diamond exploration was planned. Zambia is at the other end of the spectrum; throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Zambia was considered a middle-income country with ample opportunity to match European states in terms of development. However, the country is currently ranked among the poorest nations in the world due to an undiversified economy and dependence on copper exports. Non-governmental players performed a key role in the process of removing Kenneth Kaunda from power, and it was expected that the government of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD, which originated in trade union movement) would launch a dialogue with civil society in order to create greater transparency in the mining sector. In contrast Ghana has been selected as a counter-example to Zambia and Botswana in this study as it has the potential to become a mineral state; oil exploration began in 2010 and institutional and legal infrastructures are being created in order to avoid the NRC. Simultaneously Ghana has a vibrant civil society and one of the highest numbers of registered NGOs in Sub-Saharan Africa, a fact that is presented as one of the safeguards in place against the NRC occurring in Ghana. …

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