Day for Preventing Exploitation of Environment in War: Are Resources a Blessing for African Nations?
17:40 06.11.2023 (Updated: 10:57 07.11.2023)
On Monday, the world observes the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict, established under the auspices of the United Nations. Created in 2001, the day is meant to remind us that there can be no lasting peace if the natural resources that support livelihoods and ecosystems are destroyed.
The environment has often been one of the casualties of armed conflicts, as well as being clogged, forests burned, and soil poisoned in the pursuit of military gain.
Moreover, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, at least 40% of all internal conflicts over the past 60 years have been related to the exploitation of natural resources including high-value resources such as timber, diamonds, gold and oil, as well as scarce resources such as fertile land and water.
In the nexus of conflicts and resources, Africa deserves special recognition, because it has proven deposits of almost every known mineral resources.
Africa possesses the world's largest reserves of manganese, chromite, bauxite, gold, platinoids, cobalt, vanadium, diamonds, phosphorite, and fluorite. Concurrently, the continent remains a quagmire of violence and instability.
Sputnik Africa examines Africa's major struggles and their connections to the continent's natural resources.
Not all conflicts in Africa are of local origin, as "there is a lot of foreign intervention [infiltration] in Africa," Dr. Chidochashe Nyere, a research fellow at the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg, told Sputnik Africa
According to him, Western countries are not in favor of the trend of liberating African nations because they want to dominate in order to take over African minerals. For this purpose, the expert noted, Western countries favor opposition parties and "exploit that [this] gap where we fight each other politically."
"They [Western countries] are guarding against their own interests and their interests are to exploit Africa in terms of Africa's mineral resources," the expert stressed.
An apt illustration of this approach can be found in the United Nations' 2002 list of 80 Western companies linked
to the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone.
'Blood Diamonds' for Militants
Research has shown that 'Diamonds' are historically associated with conflicts in Africa, as a result of its small size and high price makes it easy to smuggle, allowing smugglers to buy massive quantities of weapons, pay militants, or otherwise support military activities.
As Ernest Harsch of the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University wrote, in the decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone (1991-2002), the fiercest battles were fought over control of the country's diamond deposits. He explained that diamonds have also fueled conflicts in neighboring countries and played an instrumental role in conflicts in Angola, for instance.
"Diamonds smuggled from Sierra Leone also helped finance one side in the war in neighboring Liberia, as did illegal exploitation of Liberian timber and iron ore. In Angola’s war, each side had a ready source of revenue — the government controlled offshore oil fields, while the rebel UNITA movement sustained itself for years through illegal diamond mining," the researcher explained.
This view was shared by the human rights organization Amnesty International
, which places the DRC in the same category as Sierra Leone and Angola.
"The mining and trade of diamonds, among other natural resources in the DRC, have been causal factors in the armed conflict involving at least six foreign government armies and many armed political groups," the organization said.
Moreover, the UN Panel of Experts, in its report of April 2001, stated that "the conflict in the [DRC] has become mainly about access, control and trade of five key mineral resources: coltan, diamonds, copper, cobalt and gold."
The struggle for control of oil has been a common cause of conflicts on African soil.
Nigeria, one of the continent's largest oil producers
, has not been spared. According to Roudabeh Kishi, a researcher with the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, the West African country [Nigeria] has experienced a significantly higher number of such events than other African countries since 1997.
"In southern and southeastern Nigeria, for example, much of the conflict is over oil: communities in these areas have fought the authorities and international oil companies over land and subsoil use rights, as well as environmental degradation of land used for fishing and agricultural activities due to oil spills," geo-ingeneer Ugbong Innocent Akwasi wrote.
The oil factor has also directly influenced the inter-ethnic conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan (2003-2020). According to one version, the current conflict was triggered by an agreement between the Sudanese authorities and southern rebels on the sharing of oil revenues. The black population of Darfur believes that their economic interests were not taken into account in the agreement.
Undoubtedly, conflicts never manifest themselves because of a single factor, but rather constitute the embodiment of a series of contradictions between conflicting parties, including ethnic and religious ones. There are also a number of African countries rich in natural resources that have been bypassed by violent clashes over resources, such as Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania, and so on.
However, as the examples on the other side of the coin demonstrate, the environment, and in particular the struggle for resources has affected and may continue to affect the development of a number of African countries.