Africa: Not So Resource-Rich

Quora: Why are countries in Africa the poorest in the world if they have rich resources?

Balaji Viswanathan, CEO of Invento Robotics.

Most of Africa is not as resource rich as it is believed. It is just their scarce few resources were denied access to their local population, and carted off to foreign countries giving an illusion of resource richness.

For instance, the continent’s largest oil producer — Nigeria — produces about 1.5m barrels per day. This sounds a lot, but is just 10% of what US produces and again much less than Russia or Canada. If Nigeria grows its middle class, it won’t have sufficient oil for its own population.

Most of Africa’s population don’t have oil, coal or other key energy access. And nuclear power is nearly absent from most of the continent.

Here is water — the most critical resource for mankind. Most of the continent is either in red or yellow (deserts). The dark blue zone in the center is rainforests and not as suitable for farming. That leaves very few parts of Africa that are suitable for large scale farming.

This leads to this map of farm lands.

And that brings the food production. This chart is a bit old, but the ratio has not changed a lot.

Let’s come to metals. The continent’s largest producer of iron ore — South Africa — produces about 77000 tons/year a third of India’s and less than 10% of Australia’s. And most of rest of Africa have hardly any iron ore mines.

The continent’s largest producer of Aluminium — Mozambique — produces 1/7 of India and 1/70 of China. Most of Africa have hardly any aluminium production. The continent as a whole have very limited Bauxite reserves.

In copper, the continent does a little better — Congo and Zambia have decent copper resources — but a fraction of what a major producer like Chile produces.

People think of diamonds, gold etc as profitable. But, they are not. South Africa and Botswana each export about $2billion a year worth of diamonds and they cost a lot to mine. India and Israel make far more money off these diamonds than the two African producers. Diamond Exports by Country

$2b is not bad, but not world changing either. To put that in context, Norway exports $49b in Oil & Gas and they are fairly cheap to extract too. Whenever you think Africa has gold, diamonds, lithium etc, convert that to dollar terms and you would find it pretty average.

The countries in the continent that have some natural resources — South Africa, Nigeria, Botswana — are also among its richest. And the countries that are pretty poor also tend to be ones without a lot of resources.

So, being a comparatively resource-poor part of the world, the varied African nations and tribes are going to have to funnel their resources into

  • improving cropland,
  • improved water distribution…
  • and improving the lawfulness & self-discipline of her people, a la Japan or Singapore or South Korea.
    • Higher education is no guarantee of excellence, per se. But literacy, numeracy, entrepreneurship, and a respect for other people’s lives and property will go a long way.
    • There’s still something to be said for leveraging internet access for improved education and gaining the needed job-hunting credentials.

And the Africans had better get started. Now.

As the population of the rest of the world is slated to age out and fade away over the next century: no more helping hands from outside.

(Or oppressive/thieving hands, for that matter.)

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