Territorial disputes: Africa (Part 3) [Post 138]

Africa, natural resources and conflict

Natural resources are often one of the causes (sometimes, the main cause) behind territorial conflict. In the case of Africa, it is easy to determine the presence of local, regional and international interests. The post today centers the attention on natural resources by briefly introducing their relevance in terms of conflict and the usual misconception (or oversimplification) when we refer to Africa. Two documents refer to these issues extensively. The reader will find a brief account of each document and the respective links below.

It is not unreasonable to suspect that territory with resources of any type will be inherently more valuable than territory without such a resource component. While territories already possess inherent value, be it the exploitation of the populace, industry, commerce, a strategic position, or ethnic brethren, resources should enhance this value regardless of type. Further, while states may vary in how they approach territory based on resource type, the mere presence of a resource will enhance the salience of the territory and push a state to be more aggressive in its pursuit of acquisition.

Resources represent wealth, and this wealth can be translated into military power or whatever other goals the states pursue, and in recognition of this, states will value the claim more highly than they would have were there no resource component. This increased salience will result in states being more willing to resort to armed conflict to settle their claim, or pressure competing states to recognize a better negotiated settlement.

In addition, the presence of resources will create incentives for autocracies and democracies to ensure the exploitation of the resource to benefit the regime.
For autocratic leaders, the resource will represent potential private goods that can be provided to their winning coalition alongside whatever benefits the state may benefit from exploitation, making their regime more stable and ensuring the survival of the autocrat.
Democracies face similar incentives, not through the provision of goods but from interest groups lobbying the government to secure the resource for their industry or local interest, ensuring that democracies will also pursue the resource more aggressively to satisfy their domestic constituents.

Natural Resources and Territorial Conflict Link to the complete document

The differences emanating from Africa’s human and physical environments allow for the misapprehension of the continent. There are numerous broad categorizations about Africa, few of which are valid when examined within the diverse realities of the continent. There is a tendency to the mistake of extrapolating a specific case to represent the entire continent. This is a mistake that extends to assessments often made about the continent’s political situation.

Geographically, the entire African continent is large and diverse. Its area of about 30,328,000 square kilometers (about 11,700,000 square miles), makes it the second largest after Asia and about a quarter of the world’s land surface. Its shape, however, is the most compact of all the continents, “measuring approximately 8,050 kilometers (about 5,000 miles) from north to south as well as east to west, and being bounded by a coastline which is generally straight and relatively short.”
Africa’s population is crucial to understanding some of the complications surrounding its natural resource conflicts for at least two reasons. First, human population is often considered the most important resource available to a nation, especially as it is needed to exploit other natural resource endowments.

Furthermore, it is only the human population that can engage in the conflicts. Second, the key issue in resource politics has always been how long the reserve of a particular resource would last in the face of an expanding population.
With an estimate of more than 600 million people, Africa’s population is exceeded only by those of Asia and Europe. Its population growth rate is, however, the highest in the world. Africa’s population characteristics raise a number of considerations for natural resource conflicts.
There is considerable natural resource endowment on the African continent to cater for its population. These resources are useful for domestic consumption and, in many cases, vital for the global market. Indeed, in some of these resources, the continent is well-placed to influence events in the global market, especially with a natural resource such as oil. But even the euphoria of abundance, which this may reflect, is, in itself, not a requisite cause of conflict, as there are also significant challenges associated with the management of these endowments that might engender conflicts.

Natural Resources and Conflict in Africa

Link to the complete document


This post is based on Jorge Emilio Núñez, Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty. International Law and Politics (Routledge 2020).Previous published research monograph about territorial disputes and sovereignty by the author, Jorge Emilio Núñez, Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2017.


Africa: natural resources disputes.

Wednesday 07th October 2020

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @DrJorge_World


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