Strong economic growth in the past decade among African countries rich in oil and minerals has failed to make a significant dent on their poverty levels, according to a World Bank report.
Africa’s Pulse, a twice-yearly analysis of Africa’s economic prospects, noted that the decline in poverty rates in resource-rich countries has generally lagged behind that of countries without riches in the ground.
Some countries, such as Angola, Congo-Brazzaville and Gabon, have witnessed an increase in the percentage of the population living in extreme poverty.
The report confirms the common perception that, to a large extent, the benefits of growth have not reached the poorest segments of society. It raises questions for aid donors and African governments on how to deal with the “resource curse”, with strikes in South African mines providing a stark illustration of what is at stake.
"Resource-rich African countries have to make the conscious choice to invest in better health, education, and jobs, and less poverty for their people, because it will not happen automatically when countries strike it rich," said Shantayanan Devarajan, the World Bank’s chief economist for Africa, and lead author of Africa’s Pulse. "Gabon, for example, with a per-capita income of $10,000 (£6,200) has one of the lowest child immunisation rates in Africa."
How to ensure that natural resources benefit the general population, not just the elite, is a question likely to grow more acute as discoveries of oil, gas and other minerals in African countries are expected to generate considerable wealth in the future.
The region’s established oil producers represent less than 10% of the share of both global reserves and annual production. Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer, can keep supplying at 2011 levels for another 41 years, while Angola, the second largest producer in the region, has about 21 years remaining at current production levels before its known reserves are depleted.
With such sizeable reserves, it is likely the dependence on oil resources in these countries will continue. Production in new mineral countries such as Ghana, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Uganda could last for a substantial number of years.