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Lift Africa's Resource Curse, says Watchdog Group


During her trip to Africa, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit a number of countries rich in natural resources, such as oil, minerals, diamonds and timber. The group Global Witness is calling on her to put a strong emphasis on managing those resources, while at the same time avoiding conflict.

Among the countries Mrs. Clinton will visit are Angola, Liberia, DRC and Nigeria.

Global Witness spokesperson Amy Barry talked with VOA about what's called the "resource curse."

"We were struck when we saw the list of countries that Secretary Clinton was going to visit by the number of them that were suffering from or affected by…the 'resource curse.' [It's] the phenomenon whereby natural resource wealth…can actually turn out to be more of a curse than a blessing," she says.

Instead of those natural resources enhancing a country's development, says Barry, they can lead to corruption and conflict.

Being aware of potential problems

Global Witness is proposing specific actions for each country. But Barry says, "There is a broad overview, which is…an awareness and an acknowledgement that this exists and that the international community and the US government could usefully do more to address it."

She says the international community should help developing nations avoid the resource curse.

For example, she says, "In Angola we would really look to Secretary Clinton to not overlook some of the very concerning corruption issues…particularly around the oil industry, in favor of promoting US security or energy interests."

Coincidence or corruption?

Global Witness says it's found the same names of people supposed regulating Angola's oil industry on a list of those applying for oil drilling licenses.

"We think that is at best an extraordinary coincidence and at worst an example of the dangers of the resource curse and the corruption that it can lead to,' she says.

The organization has released many reports on the eastern DRC, which has been plagued by conflict for the last 15 years, leading to the deaths of over five million people. Global Witness says the conflict is being fueled by illegal mining operations conducted by armed groups.

"We'd really look to Secretary Clinton to acknowledge the role of the minerals in the DRC as a real underlying driver of the conflict...and to commit the US government to work with the DRC and other neighboring governments to address the issue of warring parties' access to the mines," she says.

Timber in post-conflict Liberia

"We're really hoping the current government will be able to learn from past mistakes in that country and really manage its natural resource wealth better. As we all know, timber and illegal logging helped fuel the civil war under (former president) Charles Taylor," Barry says.

Taylor is currently on trial for war crimes charges for his alleged support of rebels in Sierra Leone's civil war.

"We are concerned the Liberian government is in breach of its own regulations…and guidelines, which were put in place precisely to make sure that it did benefit from its natural resource wealth," she says.

Oil fueled unrest in Nigeria's Niger Delta

"We'd really be looking to the US not to overlook the concerns that exist around conflict and corruption…. As with Angola, Nigeria has suffered from corruption surrounding its oil revenues. And indeed, it's been a direct cause of the violence conflict in the Niger Delta region," she says.

Nigeria has taken steps towards transparency in the oil sector that the US should support, says Barry.

"The Nigerians have their own extractive industries transparency initiative, which is really looking at tracing the money that surrounds the oil revenue. And making sure that it's going to the right place and the right people are being paid in (an)...aboveboard way," she says.


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