Thursday, October 25, 2012

BBC Africa Debate: Will Africa ever benefit from its natural resources?


Africa Debate: Will Africa ever benefit from its natural resources?

A file photo taken on April 14, 2009 shows a worker inspecting facilities on an upstream oil drilling platform at the Total oil platform at Amenem, 35 kilometres away from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

Whether Africa will ever benefit from its natural resources is a question that is more relevant now than ever, as new discoveries of coal, oil and gas across East Africa look set to transform global energy markets and - people hope - the economies of those countries.

But can the likes of Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Uganda really turn their newfound riches into tangible wealth for ordinary people?

This month the BBC Africa Debate team will be in Ethiopia asking just that. Politicians, business representatives, activists and academics from across the continent will be taking part, as over 800 experts gather in Addis Ababa for the Eighth African Development Forum.

Start Quote

On average, resource-rich countries have done even more poorly than countries without resources”

Joseph Stiglitz

"On average, resource-rich countries have done even more poorly than countries without resources," according to Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist at the World Bank and professor of economics at Columbia University, in the United States.

There are greater economic inequalities in resource-rich countries than elsewhere - as perhaps indicated by on-going miners' strikes in South Africa, considered one of the most unequal countries in the world - and too often there is also endemic corruption.

In Nigeria, the continent's biggest oil producer, at least $400bn (£250bn) of oil revenue has been stolen or misspent since independence in 1960, according to estimates by former World Bank vice-president for Africa, Oby Ezekwesili. That is 12 times the country's national budget for 2011. Meanwhile, 90% of people live on less than $2 per day.

There has been violence between Sudan and South Sudan over oil this year, and Malawi and Tanzania have yet to resolve their dispute over who owns the oil and gas in Lake Malawi.

A different story?

Ghana started producing oil in December 2010 and there is further exploration all along the West African coastline. Only five of Africa's 54 countries are not either producing or looking for oil.

From Algeria to Angola - and from petroleum to platinum, iron ore to oceans - the scramble for Africa's resources has often caused problems rather than created prosperity.

A diamond cutter in Gaborone, BotswanaBotswana is the world's largest producer of diamonds and the trade has transformed it into a middle-income nation

Meanwhile, much of the profits from resource exploitation leave the continent entirely in the hands of foreign-owned companies which pay low rates of tax.

Few African countries process their own raw materials - rather, the value is added elsewhere, to the benefit of others.

Foreign-owned resource extraction companies are often criticised for providing little in the way of local employment and contribution to local economies.

But could there be a different story?

Diamond-rich Botswana has been praised as a country doing things right, experiencing relatively stable and transparent economic growth for decades.

It has also managed to retain some of the profits from processing its raw materials - something most African countries have failed to do.

A once poor European country, Norway, also proves it can be done - distributing its oil wealth so equally that it heads the United Nations Human Development Index (Nigeria comes in 156th place).

So why have so many African countries failed to turn natural riches into benefits for the masses? Who is to blame for the foreign exploitation, and whose responsibility is it to put things right? What about possible solutions - renegotiation of contracts, better transparency mechanisms, higher taxation, resource nationalism?

Should the likes of Mozambique and Ghana be celebrating their resource discoveries - and what do they need to do to make the most of them? Will Africa ever benefit from its natural riches?

Join the debate by leaving your comments here. You can also take part on Twitter - using #bbcafricadebate and #resourceafrica - or via BBC Africa's pages on Facebook or Google+

Tune in to the BBC World Service at 1900 GMT on Friday 26 October to listen to the Africa Debate broadcast from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

I Now Have a Legitimate Reason to Use Foursquare, or a Tale of the birth of the Africa Media Forum for Geo-Information Systems(AMFGIS)

I have been home for the past hour or so mulling in my mind exactly how the day went. Simply put: it was fantastic. This is because for the first-time-ever, I got to chair a meeting impromptu and I actually had a few funny things to say--including wondering how the plot of "Avatar" might have been different if only Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver's characters knew how to use geomatics, which is basically another name for geospatial information technology.

If you are confused, don't be, because geospatial information technology is quite simple. It is about LOCATION, LOCATION, and LOCATION. The academics and specialists will give you long lectures of what it is about--including how it "refers to technology used for the measurement, analysis and vizualization of features or phenomena spatial occurrences, which has an impact on a country's socio-economic development ..."-- and much more. In my view, it is pretty simple, especially for journalists in the sense that it is about using maps to tell better stories.

I know that many of the Ghanaian journalists that were there probably got this sense, but I think it is important to home in on this point: it is to complement more than serve as a substitute for anything stories.

Some might say that I would say this wouldn't I, for I had the priviledge of attending a Trainer-of-trainer's meeting on Geospatial Technologies from 16-18 September in Addis. I partly agree. I say partly because I am still trying to get to grips on what it can do for journalists. I have not quite hit it, but I am getting there. Did I say it was using maps to tell better stories?

Out of the Addis meeting, a baby was born--the Africa Media Forum on Geo-Information Systems, which seeks to "be a leading information; knowledge and awareness-raising platform on “Geospatial information science and technology system for socio-economic development."

Today's meeting--sponsored by the UN Economic Commission for Africa--is the first-ever meeting held by AMFGIS. The workshop comes a day before the 7th Annual African Conference & Exhibition on Geospatial Information, Technology & Applications,-which takes place at Movenpick Ambassador Hotel from 3-4 October, 2012 (

Journalists were drawn from print; online; radio; and television, and included Multi TV's Mary-Ann Acolotse and Dansowaa Awuku; Ghanabusiness News' Emmanuel K Dogbevi; Mawutodzi Abissath of the Information Services Department(ISD); Ghana Community Radio Network's Kumadzra; Ghana Radio's Rayborn Bulley; and CITI97.3fm's Citi Breakfast Show producer Philip Kofi Ashon.

The UNECA were in town to offer their usual insights into Geospatial technologies. Aster Denekew Yilma, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Officer of the ICT and Science and Technology Division and the Director of the Division Mrs.Aida Opoku-Mensah (who is incidentally a prolific tweeter on offered very useful insights, including providing information on the UN Global Geospatial Initiative ( Most importantly, however, were her statements regarding what the UN is doing (in response to a question raised by a participant).

Aida explained that the UN can only do what the UN member states ask it to do; secondly, if we think about how geospatial technology was used to track Al-Qaddafi, we already know what situation we are dealing with. The issue is that one's sovereignty ends, where someone has access to your domain. Third, there is an issue of intellectual property in the sense that Google has our data. Question is: WHO owns the data that Google has of our digital layouts: is it Ghana that owns it, or Google? These kind of issues are those that will inform the discussions of a meeting that will be held in Morocco at the end of October, including legal and regulatory frameworks for geospatial technologies.

If there is anything we should probably take away from the AMFGIS workshop, it is that elements of GIS are already around us as GIS technology can already be found in our smartphones, what with GPS and all. In social media, there has been a development of location-based social media , such as foursquare, including an increased number of web applications that enable one to anchor tweets.

For me, however, a foray into GIS usage would have to be the usage of foursquare. It is essentially location-based social networking. I don't know how many Ghanaians are on that site, but I do know people do use it to show where they are, and to show pictures to attest to their location.

I want to imagine a world where many more Africans find themselves on foursquare, and decide, therefore, to use it constructively by broadcasting their location--not all the time, but at critical times, such as holidays; when they are in town and witness an accident; when they are in the village and want to showcase an innovation coming from there; during public celebrations; etc etc. While the so-called crisis-management community are those likely to benefit  from many more Ghanaians on foursquare, I want to think that it can benefit us all.

The question, now, is whether our journalists have seized the opportunity to think this way, too. I do not know how many participants are on social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, or foursquare, but I do know going forward, it might be important to do a quick mapping of these skills and see how they can be built. In addition, it would be good to know what they think they learnt from the meeting, and what examples they found could be localized.

AMFGIS and geospatial technologies are not an easy sell, but we must all believe it to be useful for development in the long haul and long run.

Happy October! Happy new month!

I am alive! Yes, I am alive. If you are reading on my Trials and Tribulations... blog, allow me to just say that apart from living life to the full, some serious tectonic changes have taken place in my life seriously obviating the ability and desire to write full-blown entries. 

July is too long a time to have written an entry. Let me just say that it is a new month, bringing a lot of hope and excitement in my life--so be prepared to read more entries of life in Ghana. There's so much going on you would not believe. 

For my Accra Daily blog, I want to thank my loyal readers who keep coming back to read old entries, or who have just uncovered--or discovered--the blog. There are many pictures waiting to grace the blog, and they shall do so this month!

With regard to my Africa Union Citizen blog, let me just say that a paucity of entries is far from a reflection of no-work. I have written quite a bit on the African Union for the past couple of months--just that I thought it was not always necessary to post the entries on that specific blog. Instead, let me direct you to the site where you can find those entries:

I still love Ghana very much; I still love taking pictures of Accra; and I very much love writing about the AU. 

Expect so much more this month--and when you think I am not delivering, write me:

See you on the other side!

Psst...The picture of SMART TV is a note-to-self about getting smarter on my blogging!;-)



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