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African Progress Panel Urges Leaders to Exploit Resources

Kofi Annan after launching the 2012 African Progress Report during the World Economic Forum on Africa, Addis Ababa, May 11, 2012.
As the African Union celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding, a group of respected leaders and activists led by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is urging African leaders to maximize the continent’s natural resource potential.

The African Progress Panel released their 2013 report this month, stating that African countries must not miss the opportunity to exploit the continent's vast stores of coal, oil, metal ores, and other natural resources. The panel believes the resulting revenues could transform the continent's economy and societies.

Carlos Lopes, executive director of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, agrees with the panel, saying the way Africa currently deals with natural resources resembles the colonial model.

“Where you extract, you try to build infrastructure to go to a port, and then this port exports it out of Africa," he said. "[There's] no value addition, no possibilities of really taking advantage of the full value chain and, as a result of that, not creating jobs. But more importantly, no opportunity for transformation.”

Recommendations made by the panel to maximize natural resource benefits include establishing a broad economic development strategy, making revenue streams more transparent and spreading benefits of these revenues via public spending.

According to the report, mineral wealth in Africa has also been labeled a “resource curse,” because most of the time it does not benefit ordinary people. Liberia is one such African country, whose underdevelopment persists in the face of vast natural resources.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf agrees with the recommendations and says implementing them is of critical importance.

“That is where we know we are going to have our challenges," she said. "Resources allocation efficiency, curbing illegal [revenue] flows, ensuring that the benefits go to developing people and preparing them to contribute to our economic advancement.”

Progress toward transparency and accountability, the report indicates, will also help fight another major challenge: intentional tax avoidance and evasion. According to the panel, the continent loses twice as much in illicit financial outflows each year than what it receives in development aid.

The Africa Progress Panel releases a report each May that tracks Africa’s development progress. In addition to Annan chairmanship, panel members include former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, former International Monetary Fund chief Michel Camdessus, and the singer and activist Bob Geldof.