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In 2008, exports of oil and minerals from Africa were worth roughly $393 billion - over ten times the value of exported farm products ($38 billion) and nearly nine times the value of international aid ($44 billion). If used properly, this wealth could lift millions of people out of poverty. However, more often than not, the main benefits of resource extraction go to political, military and business elites in producer countries, and oil, mining, timber and other companies overseas.

logs wrapped in money

The resource curse – also known as the paradox of plenty – describes the phenomenon whereby countries that are rich in natural resources such as oil, gas or minerals, end up poorer and more unequal than countries without them. This can be because of corruption, a decline in the competitiveness of other economic sectors, and volatility on commodity markets. Countries that have successfully escaped the resource curse include Botswana and Norway.

Countries relying on oil and mining revenues are often poor, badly run, corrupt and prone to violent instability. This is in large part because the political elite place their own vested interests above their responsibilities to their population, undermining democracy and basic human rights. Global Witness was the first organisation to open the lid on the resource curse and has an impressive track record in finding long-term systemic solutions, often at global policy level.

While the past decade has seen some improvements in international practices, such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the continued scramble for valuable mineral and other resources poses ever-present and increasing risks of corruption, instability and conflict.

Global Witness carries out in-depth investigations, both overt and covert, that form the basis of detailed evidence-based case studies which we use to advocate for policy change. We believe that if the resource curse can be tackled more systematically, the world stands a much better chance of reducing conflict, promoting development, and lifting the citizens of resource-rich countries out of poverty.

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