Think of the Niger Delta and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to mention just two prominent examples of what is often referred to as the resource curse. The usual “reasons” are thrown about for the instability, with the favorites being religious extremism, government corruption, and institutional insensitivity/unresponsiveness to the needs of locals. Never mind the heterogeneity of Africa: whenever a rich resource reserve is found then Africans suddenly are incapable of managing them, there is a war, developed countries interpose themselves, and their multinationals hang on the coattails to pick up the pieces. The latest entrant to this ignominious club is Mozambique, which has been battling an insurgency that not surprisingly erupted around about the same time the country announced a multi-billion natural gas development that has been touted as Africa’s biggest investment. An estimated 2,500 have died as a direct result of the insurgency, and more than 700,000 people have been displaced. Organized into a replicable academic concept by American geography scholar Richard Auty in 1993, the resource curse theory speaks to how countries that discover natural resources – rather than develop – end up suffering economic regression and conflict. The idea, also known as the Paradox of Plenty, is a convenient, theoretical umbrella which however does not address the intricacies of issues surrounding unrest in resource-rich parts of the world. Countries in the Middle East have been victims of this one-size-fits-all attempt to explain decades-old instability in that region. Consider the following formulaic argument by Open Democracy editor Adam Ramsay: “Around the world, there is a strong correlation between countries with significant mineral wealth and those with undemocratic political systems – a phenomenon known as ‘the resource curse. This is usually understood to be the main reason why, for example, the Middle East is both the region with the world’s most oil, and the world’s most dictators.
“The standard explanation for this is what political theorists describe as ‘rentier states. In most countries, democracies develop as governments need to raise taxes, usually to pay for wars. As citizens are taxed, they increasingly demand the right to vote in exchange. “States with high levels of mineral wealth don’t need to tax their citizens as much because they can raise revenue by extracting value from their land, wealth which economists describe as rent. As a result, these ‘rentier’ states are able to buy consent from their citizens, without submitting to their will.” However, there is a need for African intellectuals to be more incisive in their interpretation of issues, especially when it comes to strategic resources that may alter the geopolitical status quo and, more importantly, improve the lives of the continent’s cities.
African countries are mostly poor and are desperate for economic growth and development. As such, to think that African governments and people will immediately descend into tribal mayhem and sabotage their own development hopes when resources are discovered is far too simplistic. In addition, the religious argument is also as inadequate as the tribal one. Very few countries on the continent have religious homogeneity and just as few actively pursue imposition of a single religious belief over the rest. All the above applies to Mozambique. Mozambique is a secular state. In fact, the post-independence administration of President Samora Machel discouraged religiosity as a consequence of the dominant Marxist-Leninist bent of the time. There, therefore, cannot be a solely religious explanation as to why a civil war suddenly erupts and claims thousands of lives and livelihoods. Nonetheless, there is great enthusiasm by the West and its agents to define the instability in Mozambique in terms of Islamic fundamentalism, tribalism, corruption, and government ineptitude. At the same time, there is not as much enthusiasm to reveal who is supplying the weapons, how the weapons are being moved, how the insurgents are being organized, and – in short – who is financing their entire operation. Who directs the invisible hand, and what is their interest in Mozambique?
There is a Shona idiom which says, “Itsitsi dzei, harahwa kubvisa mwana wemvana madzihwa?” The import of the idiom is: “Why is the cat being courteous to the mouse?” A similar question is being asked about the glut of offers to “assist” Mozambique quell the insurgency from France, Portugal and the United States. Some commentators have hinted at the possibility of the West having either instigated or encouraged the Mozambique conflict in the first place. It is a dual case of wolves in sheep’s skin and wolves in wolves’ skin. History should be instructive: Countries that were happy to oppress Africa a few decades ago cannot be allowed to get away with simplistically claiming they have the continent’s best interests at heart today. Western countries have been known to splurge millions on funding political instability and civil disobedience all over the world. What is to stop them from funding armed insurgencies? Africa should not be hoodwinked by the idea of a harmonious global village: hegemonic contestations still exist. Suggesting that African countries like Mozambique are the victims of a “resource course” us a dangerous lack of nuance.