Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Weekly Sneak: Resource Schmeesource

For the first time in over one hundred and fifty something weeks, I missed my column deadline in the EA. I wish I could blame it on my bad karma, but it wasn't even that. It was a technical glitch- thanks, Gmail- compounded by a whole 24 hours spent offline. Perfect record: gone, just like that. But as my very nice editor pointed out: it buys me a week off, so, like, chill. Anyways, coming to an East African near you next week is this week's offering:

"Territorial disputes are nearly as boring to keep track of as footballers' careers, but I tried patriotically to have some – admittedly limited- interest in this particular one. The story that is emerging smacks to me of colonial baggage, avarice and no small amount of military restlessness. Even as I am of a mind to scoff at the thought of boys in uniform and their toys in matching camouflage getting excited about mud-wrestling over invisible lines, I am aware that there is a seriousness to these matters that should never be disregarded. Land is becoming a surprisingly valuable commodity in Tanzania, appreciating with every prospector who comes to scratch and sniff at what useful things might be lurking beneath."

If you've been keeping even half an eye on the regional news you'll have noticed that East Africa in general and Tanzania in particular is brimming with natural resources of all kinds. Oh, frabjous day, callooh, callay. Let me explain my disinterest thusly: resource curse. Stuff underground, especially in Africa, is usually a precursor to massive amounts of misery.

Take Tanzania, for example. If I thought there was even an inkling of a chance that those in public service were capable of engineering contracts that would squeeze every penny's worth out of our natural resources for the good of the collective, I'd say dig that stuff up right now (in an environmentally friendly way, of course). We could use our mineral wealth to jump start all kinds of development projects that would drive us into a glorious near-future. I might despise Dubai's tacky parvenu ostentation and Saudi Arabia's neanderthal gender politics BUT I do admire how the Arab nations transformed from nomadic desert tribes to ridiculously wealthy citizenry in the blink of a petroleum discovery. And let's not forget: they gave us Al Jazeera.

But our truth is that present day Tanzanian politicians lack the wherewithal to master our potential for the greater good. The political will is just about nil, and I don't doubt for a second that any and all can be bought by local and international "investors" for a couple thousand dollars, maybe a couple of million. Those that can't be bought... aren't anywhere near the wheeling and dealing, now are they? We're doomed by the petty hungers and limited ambitions of the men and women in short-sleeved suits.

And so I see two things coming out of our resource wealth in the near future. First, it will engender opportunistic greed in our friends and neighbors such as the Malawi debacle has shown. If in doubt, ask the Congolese how that mess works out. Secondly, may I drw your attention to the platinum miners in South Africa who have been thoroughly done over by their own police force for getting in the way of vested interests. Cautionary tale? Sure. It's not like Barrick has managed yet to quell for good the rumors of their malfeasance here in Tanzania. But let's not forget that for such gross inhumanities to take place the responsible government must be complicit. And ours is a government just writhing with excitement at the thought of being complicit, given the right price...

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