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José Manuel Cuevas Borda, Assistant at research of the Navarra Center for International Development (ICS-University of Navarra)

The 'resource curse': a solvable paradox

There are those who rub their hands together knowing that there are natural deposits in their territories. programs of study shows that an informed population can help to avoid harmful decisions and mismanagement of money.

Fri, 15 Mar 2019 12:29:00 +0000 Published in Planeta Futuro (El País)

For a community, having natural resources to exploit is not always a blessing. In countries at development, it can even be the opposite: it is the so-called resource curse or paradox of plenty, whereby areas richer in minerals and fuels are less developed than places where they are not abundant.

As it often involves the intervention of some local officials and politicians, experts also speak of political resource curse. This is the idea that the exploitation of natural resources, combined with rent-seeking practices and corruption on the part of those closest to political power, can undermine public policies.

A case in point has been occurring in the northeastern province of Cabo Delgado, one of Mozambique's poorest and mainly rural provinces. In 2010, a field of some 3.7 trillion cubic meters of natural gas was discovered in the Rovuma Basin, which could catapult the country into the market of major exporters. In fact, the U.S. Energy Information Administration referred to Mozambique as "one of the most promising countries" in Africa with respect to this hydrocarbon.

However, institutional fragility is not financial aid: the organization Freedom House, for example, lists Mozambique as a "partially free" country, with 51 points out of 100, and the limited penetration and freedom of the media, as well as the scarce control mechanisms, lead to private interests in the extraction of resource harming a population that in principle does not know what is decided on the matter, in this case, in the city of Palma, capital of Cabo Delgado.

In this sense, according to the study Does Information Break the Political Resource Curse?published last January by researchers Alex Armand, from the Navarra Center for International Development, and Alexander Coutts, Pedro Vicente and Inês Vilela, from project Novafrica of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, if the community is informed about what is happening with the extraction of the natural resource resource in its territory, a different scenario regarding the management of money and political decisions can occur than if only those directly responsible (politicians, businessmen, controllers...) are aware of it.

From agreement with the findings of the research on site, it is necessary to inform not only the community leaders, but also the rest of the population, whose mobilization is necessary to avoid corrupt practices around exploitation, as has also been studied in countries such as Tanzania or Sao Tome and Principe.

But it is not only a matter of letting people know what is going on, but also of letting them know the possible positive effects for the community if they get involved in the projects and if they are carried out correctly. Thus, according to the study, informing and involving society can even contribute to the reduction of violence in the area, as in the case of Cabo Delgado, where extremist groups have been recruiting young people from the civilian population.

Therefore, although it is more difficult for the population to act directly in decision-making on the exploitation of a natural resource , it is positive to involve them in the debates on those implications that may affect them, first written request, through communication campaigns that serve to raise awareness and, if the project is viable, promoting participation, the demand for accountability and that the exploitation of the resource contributes to social welfare and economic development in an efficient manner.