Pollution: Africa’s real resource curse?

By Khadija Sharife

, by Pambazuka

This article is part of a special issue on water and water privatisation in Africa produced as a joint initiative of the Transnational Institute, Ritimo and Pambazuka News. This special issue is also being published in French.

A Tanzanian gold mine leaks polluted water into a major river. A mining town in Zambia is listed as amongst the most polluted places in the world. And a water pollution problem in South Africa that is caused by mining threatens national water resources. Khadija Sharife examines the hidden costs behind Africa’s resource extraction reputation.

Africa has long been synonymous as the poster child of the resource curse. Illicit financial flows, often siphoned through corruption and mis-pricing, are estimated to cost the continent $200-billion annually. Flowing back are the weapons propping up autocratic regimes, with the ‘externalised’ or hidden cost of conflict pegged at more than $300-billion during the past two decades. Despite resource revenues fueling GDP, growth does not necessarily translate into development thanks to exploitative policies implemented by the ‘human’ resources at the helm of the continent’s extractive industries.

But the nature of the ‘curse’ extends beyond ‘blood minerals’ to that of another more widespread externalised cost taking place in countries like Tanzania and Zambia: pollution. Take Tanzania: Africa’s third largest gold producer holds more than 45 million ounces of gold, economically valued at $39-billion excluding extraction costs. Since 1998, production has increased from 1-2 tonnes annually to 50 tonnes, valued at US$876 per ounce (2008). And for every ounce of gold extracted, more than 78 tonnes of mining waste is created.

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