Africa may have enormous natural reserves of oil, but so far most Africans haven’t felt the benefit. In Nigeria, for instance, what’s seen as a failure to spread the country’s oil wealth to the country’s poorest people has led to violent unrest. However, this economic paradox known as the resource curse has been paramount in Africa’s inability to benefit from oil. This refers to the fact that once countries start to export oil their exchange rate – sometimes know as a petrocurrency – appreciates making other exports uncompetitive and imports cheaper. At the same time there is a gravitation towards the petroleum industry which drains other sectors of the economy, including agriculture and traditional industries, as well as increasing its reliance on imports. It is estimated that for every extra dollar in foreign currency earned from exporting resources reduces non-resource exports by $0.74 – Torfinn Harding of the NHH Norwegian School of Economics and Anthony Venables of Oxford University.
Economists also refer to this as the Dutch Disease which makes reference to Holland and the discovery of vast quantities of natural gas during the 1960s in that country’s portion of the North Sea. The subsequent years saw the Dutch manufacturing sector decline as the gas industry developed. The major problem with the reliance on oil is that if the natural resource begins to run out or if there is a downturn in prices, once competitive manufacturing industries find it extremely difficult to return to an environment of profitability.
According to the UN a country is dependent on commodities if they are more than 60% of its physical exports – in Africa that makes up 83% of countries. One of the major concerns for resource rich countries is the wild fluctuations in commodity prices which can lead to over investment – Sierra Leone created two new iron-ore mines in 2012 only for them to close in 2015 as prices collapsed. However the amount of jobs created in the mineral extraction industry is limited – across Sierra-Leone of 8m people, about 8,000 work in commercial mines. A major problem in these countries is that when there is money made from resources it tends to go on government salaries rather than investing in education. infrastructure and healthcare etc.
Norway – has a different approach.
In Norway hydrocarbons account for half of its exports and 19% of GDP and with further oil fields coming on tap Norway could earn an estimated $100bn over the next 50 years. Nevertheless there is a need to wean the economy off oil and avoid not only the resource curse that has plagued some countries – Venezuela is a good example as approximately 90% of government spending was dependent on oil revenue – but also the impact on climate change. Norwegians have been smart in that the revenue made from oil has been put into a sovereign wealth fund which is now worth $1.1trn – equates to $200,000 for every citizen. This ensures that they have the means to prepare for life after oil.
Source: The Economist – ‘When you are in a hole…’ January 8th 2022