Showing posts with label natural resources. Show all posts
Showing posts with label natural resources. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

More on How a Single Spot in the Sahara Desert Creates the Amazon Jungle

In case you missed it, a 2006 paper titled "The Bodélé depression: a single spot in the Sahara that provides most of the mineral dust to the Amazon forest" was recently dug up by science writer Colin Schultz. Listen below to Schultz's talk with Niagara Falls' News Talk 610 CKTB about the paper's findings:

As the title of the paper suggests, and as Boing Boing's Maggie Koerth-Baker helps us visualize, what "we're talking about is a patch of desert only a third the size of Florida supplying the nutrient needs of a jungle that is roughly the same size as all 48 contiguous United States." Maggie Koerth-Baker pulled this quote from the paper:
A total of 140 (± 40) Tg is deposited in the Atlantic ocean and 50 (± 15) Tg
[1 Tg = 1 million tons] reach and fertilize the Amazon basin. This is four times an older estimate, explaining a paradox regarding the source of nutrients to the Amazon forest. Swap et al suggested that while the source for minerals and nutrients in the Amazon is the dust from Africa, it was estimated that only 13 Tg of dust per year actually arrive in the Amazon. However, they pointed out that 50 Tg are needed to balance the Amazon nutrient budget. Here we show a remarkable arrangement in nature in which the mineral dust arriving at the Amazon basin from the Sahara actually originates from a single source of only ~ 0.5% of the size of the Amazon: the Bodélé depression. Located northeast of Lake Chad (17°N, 18°E) near the northern border of the Sahel, it is known to be the most vigorous source for dust over the entire globe.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Africa: Debts Paid for with Natural Resources

Over at Africamix, Le Monde's Herviaux Olivier reviews (translation) Odiot Alice and Audrey Gallet's new documentary - Zambia: who benefits from copper? Excerpt:
With a keen sense of narrative and didactic explanation, Alice and Audrey Gallet Odiot effectively dismantle the adage all too familiar in Africa: a rich country, poor people. Zambia, a landlocked country in the heart of the continent, holds in his basement one of the largest copper reserves in the world.... First shock: 1973 and the soaring prices of black gold. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB)... advise countries to borrow, the copper revenues allow sustainability repayment of the debt by the young nation. Second shock: in the early 1980s, the U.S. followed by Europe shrug their interest rates sharply. Result: Zambia must repay three times more interest. It's asphyxia. The country seeks the assistance of the IMF and the WB ... that shape their new credit to a privatization of the copper mines. Sell-off of farms in 2000 to multinationals, drastic fall in investment education and health systems ... The descent into hell begins.
For those who argue that the inability of most Afican countries to benefit from their natural resources goes deeper than corruption, technology or the loan policies of the World Bank and the IMF, then sit back and get blown away by the first 48 minutes of Zeitgeist: Addendum, a 2008 documentary by Peter Joseph, which makes a case for the centrality of debt to the creation of money and expansion of the money supply in a fractional reserve system. Coupled with profit maximization, the indenturement of labor, or of those with natural resources, in a monetary system therefore comes across not as some cladestine developed world conspiracy or plot, but rather as something that comes natural to the system itself:

H/T: Destination X

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

DRC: It's the Economics of It, Stupid

Pendergast and the "conflict mineral" lobby go after Apple.

... which makes sense because even though Apple is the biggest fish in the tech pond, it is still the most vulnerable because it trades in "brand" and "perception" -- things that don't go too well with rape and conflict. Also Apple's clientele of early adopters and trendsetters are also the kind of people who give 2 shits about how their tomatoes were grown or meat was grazed, and are likely to be concerned what kind of minerals go into their blackberries and iphones. UPDATE: Steve Jobs' response over at Kristof's blog.

Perhaps it's time to add a new assumption to Moore's Law and technology's S-curve -- that the sustainability of exponential rates and product life cycles associated with such predictions about tech innovation indirectly requires that there be places like the Congo. One could argue that because the tech industry needs an insatiable amount of rare minerals to fuel the exponential increases in processing speed, memory capacity and pixelation that go into electronic hardware, hence it stands to reason that if places like the Congo didn't exist, heck, we would have to invent them.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Africa: Oliver Twists with Lots of Natural Resources

An interesting ABN Digital report on how African countries want more for their natural resources from foreign companies and the options available to them:

VOA's Mike Sterns explains how Nigeria's new Petroleum Industry Bill intends to split up NNPC into a number of companies partly as a way of deriving more from foreign oil companies:

Saturday, June 19, 2010

DRC: Leopold's Ghost and Haunting Premise

Riz Khan and Congo experts anticipate the DRC's 50th year of independence:

At the opening, author Didier Gondola gives a well worded definition of the DRC:
[Since Leopold founded the artificial country] the premise or the paradigm that has presided over the construction or the invention of the Congo in the 19th century was that this was an international zone for international exploitation.
The Riz Khan segment above didn't really find much to celebrate about the DRC. For that we turn to this old blog post (in French) from François Soudan, over at, which reminds us Congo is, for the first time in very long time, at peace with its neighbors and that this "international zone for international exploitation" is finally at the cusp of tackling the challenges that have always been there: restore state control over the whole territory and open up back-country areas that have returned to a pre-colonial state." He also takes on what has become a veritable media and NGO industry -- "Congo Bashing." My dodgy translation:
For the media and NGOs the DRC is irreplaceable in that it offers a virtually endless supply of clichés, motifs of indignation, shock stories, photos and other alarmist reports of hardcore misery. Not a week goes by without its share of atrocities in Kivu, rape in Upper Uele, blunders by special services in Kinshasa, corruption within the judiciary, not a day without a racketeering case officer... Telling the daily suffering of the Congolese can even bring big rewards: a Pulitzer Prize... Whether a humanitarian or journalist, you never return to this country of excess empty handed ...

Monday, January 4, 2010

Ghana: "Unlike Many of its Neighbours, Ghana has Struck Oil Under Democracy"

The Economist on Oil rich Ghana avoiding Paul Collier's "resource trap":
Unlike many of its neighbours, Ghana has struck oil under democracy. Its officials entrusted with drawing up legislation have been scrutinising oil-revenue laws from Norway to Trinidad and Timor-Leste. A draft bill proposes that part of the oil money should go directly into the national budget, with the rest split between a “stabilisation fund” to support the budget if oil prices drop and a “heritage fund” to be spent only when the oil starts to run out. Putting the money into ring-fenced funds should prevent a free-for-all among politicians and the corruption that could ensue.
However, there is the temptation democracy may be undermined if:
After an austere year the government may yet be tempted to blow its early oil revenues on restoring popularity. That would set a dangerous precedent; it would also be a lot easier if the government was not restricted by laws to stop it. For all the fine talk of heritage funds, the oil bills are behind schedule; none has yet been put to Parliament. “If you get the revenues before the laws, it will be very grey,” warns Moses Asaga, a member of the ruling National Democratic Congress who chairs Parliament’s energy and mining subcommittee. “Everybody will be struggling for the money.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dafur/ DRC: Puddings, Envoys and all Kinds of Reports

ISIS' Jacqueline Shire and Inner City Press' Matthew Lee are back discussing the U.N, this time in relation to the recent appointment of the Nigerian diplomat Ibrahim Gambari (former UN envoy to Myanmar) as the UN's and African Union's Special Representative to Darfur plus the recent aired CBS 60 Minutes report on "conflict minerals for your cellphones" in the Congo in the wake of the leaked now officially released jaw dropping report (blogged - here) by UN Group of Experts.

In the case of Gambari and on the basis of his "parliamentary approach"--i.e.: he is a by-the-numbers guy--to things in Myanmar, Lee doesn't see him doing much in Dafur. Lee also reveals just how many people wanted this top UN envoy to Dafur gig and the amount of clout Nigeria wields being the African nation with the largest number of troops in UNAMID.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Uganda: Place Your Bets -- Oil Prosperity or "Resource Curse"

Yep, energy companies found 700m barrels of commercially viable oil in the pristine Albertine Graben region, of Uganda, "representing the first major petroleum strike in east Africa." Using Paul Collier's "Resource Curse" analysis... (6.17 mins in)

...Anne Perkins rates Uganda's chances of getting out of  the oil trap alive:
The underlying factor is invariably low income. In that context, the prospect of the vast proceeds of globally scarce natural resources greatly sharpens competition for control over them. But natural resources do not only corrupt the political process in the obvious sense of illicit financial gain for a few (often abetted by global corporate greed), they also profoundly affect the relationship between politicians and voters.

As Collier points out, the opposite of the cry of American independence, no taxation without representation, is also true. There is no representation without taxation. Where a government's income comes from oil rather than the people, it becomes all too easy to ignore the people.

The final destabilising element in Collier's analysis is a question of geography: often the source of this new wealth is concentrated in one area, usually remote. In countries with an uneasy balance of ethnicities, it is easy to skew a fragile co-existence with what Collier calls the "romantic propaganda of identity politics". And secessionists with access to revenue from the disputed natural resource can all too easily arm themselves.

Uganda fits all perilously neatly into this mould. So the challenge is on to make oil pay for society as a whole, to turn curse into blessing.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sierra Leone: The Post-Blood Diamond Era

June Carter Perry, U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone, recites her lines on the situation in post conflict Sierra Leone.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Africa/ China: A $10 Billion Bet

In the wake of China's $10 billion pledge to Africa in concessional loans, The Telegraph's Mike Pflanz writes:
But Beijing's motives driving Sunday's announcement are far from purely altruistic, said Martyn Davies, director of the Asia centre at the Gordon Institute of Business Science at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. "In the last ten years, Africa's growth has been underpinned by Chinese demand for commodities, and to find those and get them out, you need stronger infrastructure," he said.
"The Chinese thinking is that Western interests are applying a level of protectionism in commodities markets, and this can disrupt China's potential growth. "So you can fully understand the massive commitments in infrastructure and political relationship building in Africa, and why they want to create a parallel market away from the established international commodities markets, just for themselves."
John Lee, writing in Time magazine, boils it down to a matter perception:
Our common impression of Africa owes more to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness than we would like to let on: Africa is inscrutable, wild, primitive and decades away from genuine modernization. Like the European businessmen in Conrad's 1902 novel, we assume Africa's only assets come from the land or beneath it. In the Heart of Darkness it was ivory. Now it is oil and minerals.

But China has caught on to something that eludes most governments and companies in the West. Chinese state-owned and private enterprises believe African consumers could be the great untapped gold mine. Beijing's engagement with African leaders and governments is increasingly about ensuring that Chinese firms are best placed to sell their products when Africans start buying.
Perhaps we will now cut Achebe some slack on Conrad. Perhaps China sees a little of herself in Africa and vise versa. Check out China's ambassador to Britain, Fu Ying, when she sat down for snooty British "tea with the Economist" to talk about recently released projections that China is still on course, global recession and all, to meet the government's target of an 8% growth this year. But to illustrate China's fresh memory of harder times, the ambassador brought along the coupons her mother had saved her; souvenirs from a time when China was rationing food. You won't believe the date on one of those coupons...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

South Africa: Gold

Striking miners want a 13 percent salary increase citing sky rocketing food prices and the fact that gold prices at an all time high of $1,000 an ounce.

CS monitor's Scott Baldauf's report  offers the mine company's spiel:
Over the past year, the price of gold has risen from $750 an ounce to more than $1,000 an ounce, but at the same time, the value of the dollar has dropped from 10 rand to 7.5 rand to the dollar. This means that in rand terms, the value of gold has not increased at all. On top of that, South African mines are more expensive to operate than elsewhere. "In South Africa, most of the gold is at very deep levels – up to 3 miles deep – where in other countries, including your own, many of the mines are much shallower," says Mr. Jammine. "The cost of producing our gold is much higher than it is abroad, so this is another reason why mining companies need to contain their costs."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

DRC: Rape as a Weapon of Mass Displacement

With Jeffrey Gettleman taking the issue of rape to the next level in his NYT piece last week about men raping men in the DRC, the only hint he gave about why rape is being employed as a strategic tool in the Congo is where he wrote, "the ... sexual violence against men is yet another way for armed groups to humiliate and demoralize Congolese communities into submission." "Submission" for what exactly? In the AlJazeera panel discussion above, Kambale Musavuli adds, apart from other things, some much needed context to the Gettleman article:
Rape is a tool used in wars throughout the world. Look at Algeria with the Algerian revolution. Look at Liberia, you see the same thing as well as in Kosovo. This has been a strategy to put fear inside the communities, to intimidate the population, and for a mass displacement. Just remember, where those people live is where the minerals are located; those are areas rich in minerals. The cheapest way to displace mass populations is by instilling fear inside the community... those are just some of the effects ... of the scramble for Congo's mineral resources that has been at the root of [ongoing conflict in the Congo] for 125 years

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sudan: A Stone's Throw From a Genocide, the Business of Mining Gold is Good

Weird report from France24 about the French mining company Areva, which has been mining gold in Sudan's North Eastern Nubian desert since the 90s. Like the anchor says at the start of the report, "how does a company based in a nation like France, a nation which prides itself of being a defender of freedom throughout the world, end up doing business in an African state whose leader is subject of an international arrest warrant?"

Well, neither the report nor the reporter interviewed at the end could answer the question, which makes you wonder what hidden agendas locked horns, got forced into preemptive mode and into making this piece of rhetoric. Areva mines stuff all over Africa, even Plamegate uranium in Niger, so why is it opening its gates for the first time to television cameras and trying to get its own side of this story out? Beats me.

But as an example of a rhetorical sleight of hand, the report is very good. It evades the story of the glaring disconnection of how a gold mine producing 65 million euros in revenue a year for France and Sudan can exist next to a genocide that has claimed 300,000 lives since 2003.

Instead, it tells the romantic, discovery channel story of human beings doing the tough, dangerous, lonely job of extracting a rare metal from a very inhospitable place. The report creates sympathy for the French, Sudanese and Australian miners going about their job, which they treat just like any other job, and even though the report knows it can't sell the ethics of the big picture of what Areva and France are doing in Sudan to a child, it tries to do the next best thing. It lays some of its cards on the table and leaves it to the audience to decide.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Madagascar: Sapphire Diving

The Steinbeckian pursuit of a life saving treasure is explored in this 2 part Al Jazeera doc from last year, which looks at the Sapphire rush in the tiny Madagascan frontier town of Ilakaka.

Even though Ilakaka shows up on a google map, it is not officially a town; in fact the Madagascar government considers it merely a surburb of Ranohira, which is 14 miles away. And because the Sapphire miners are too poor to register their newly born in Ranohira, the children, like where they live, do not officially exist.

Part 1 here and here is a BBC travel doc marveling at the primitiveness and danger of the sapphire mining process .

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Africa: CNBC and Erin Burnett Go to Lagos

In a preamble to its much larger special report, "Dollars and Danger: Africa, the Last Investment Frontier," Erin Burnett and the other "Cramers" at CNBC talk about how investors--forced by this economic downturn to take a second look at emerging markets--are coming to the realization that the real resource in Africa is no longer oil, diamonds, gold or even tungsten. Rather, it is the continent's growing population of young consumers.

I'm sure David Riedel meant to say "countries in Africa" and not "countries like Africa." But still he lays out a pretty good premise for this stage of investing in Africa:
Africa has a very large, young population driving a consumer boom. I really think we are entering a third phase of investing in emerging markets. We've had the manufacturing and exports trade. You've had the commodity trade. Now I really think you are going to be focused on the consumer trade.... as we put feet on the street and really do that local reconnaissance, the story we are seeing is a consumer story and I think that's what going to drive investing [in Africa] over the next 10 years the same way commodities drove it over the last 10 years.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Africa: Cursed by the Economies of Scale

Ghana's Akosombo Dam
The New York Times' Lynda Polygreen begins a series of articles looking at the role of natural resources in spurring conflict and inhibiting peace in Africa.

Sean Jacobs, over at Africa is a Country, thinks the project, though excellent, falls back on the "Africa is a
cursed continent" meme and bromide. He is right; it is difficult to look at the accompanying interactive feature and not come to the same conclusion -- no person or continent can be this freaking shit out of luck.

But let's for the sake of this argument say there is, indeed, an African curse, then I would argue that, in terms of Africa's mineral wealth, Polygreen is barking up the wrong tree.

In the 50s and 60s a newly independent Africa and her ample bosom of resources entered the postcolonial world and global economy only to find herself already priced out of it. Like in a situation where crops rot on farms while people in the streets starve, Africa's natural resources have stayed in the ground or have been mined and exploited in ways that bring little or no revenue to the countries in which they are found simply because the economies of scale at work do not work in Africa's favor. And why should they? Those who have managed to stack the deck erased all inefficiencies and catapulted themselves into the position whereby they get larger returns at lowered costs. To dig up Africa's resources in a way that actually lends to human development and develops the infrastructural landscape of African countries, will be considered an inefficient process at best. If Lynda Polygreen wants to write about the curse of natural resources in Africa, why not write about Ghana's Akosombo Dam:
When Ghana became one of the firstAfrican colonial countries independence in 1957, it envisioned the Akosombo damproject as the most economical source of energy to assist with the industrialization and modernization of Ghana. The company Kaiser International, owners of the VoltaAluminum Company (Valco), which got the contract for the refinery and to help create and finance the dam, decided to process the Ghanaian bauxite to alumina in Jamaica and South America. The alumina produced there would then be shipped backto Ghana and smelted to aluminum in Valco’s plant, which was fueled by the Akosombo Dam. The 135 m high Akosombo Dam on the Volta River was constructed between 1961 and 1964 under the supervision of the Volta RiverAuthority (VRA). It was intended as multi-purpose project as, in addition to the generation of electric power for industry and for urban and rural household energy needs, it was to provide opportunities for large-scale irrigation, modernization of agriculture, promotion of factories and industries, and the establishment of tourist facilities. Based on the subsequent events, it appears that the need at the time for the country to have a cheap source of electricity did have overriding priority over other considerations. Valco’s alumina smelter required 24% of the electricity produced at Akosombo. Industrialization increased, Ghana continued to expand its very inefficient electrical distribution system from the dam to the countryside and the amount of rainfall and therefore the water provisions for the dam continued to decrease. Eventually, Valco had to shut down at the end of 2003; its parent company, Kaiser International, sold 90% of its shares to Ghana, with the remaining 10% belonging to the Australian mining company Alcoa. Ghana and Alcoa are eager to not only restart the Alumina refinery, but also to set up the Bauxite refinery. For this, however, it is clear that Akosombo can currently not provide enough electricity for such a project. Ghana is therefore turning to other energy generating projects, such as a West African Gas pipeline and a new controversial dam in the Bui national park. Cited from Case Study: The Consequences of the Akosombo Dam by Hans Peter Arp and Karsten Baumgärtel.
So, in terms of Africa's minerals, the curse we should be talking about are the economies of scale already in place, which is why Kaiser International, in search of unique paths to increasing production and at the same time minimizing costs, chooses to process the Ghanaian bauxite to alumina at processing plants they own in Jamaica and South America and then ship the alumina produced there--on its own ships I bet-- back to Ghana to be smelted into aluminum at their Valco plant. If Ghana were to go at it alone, with such a scale in place, no way can the country even hope to recoup enough at the other end to even justify taking the bauxite out of the ground. That's the curse: it is the fact that Africa and her natural resources can never be the players; rather they are left to be a piece in the expanding capitalization that allows others to maintain their own economies of scale. That's the real curse.

On a different note, a clearer picture of the important role Africa is going to play in the new cold war for natural resources and markets between America and China is still emerging. However, China's rapid expansion puts an immense pressure on the global market of resources. And as we are witnessing, it is enough pressure to push this pursuit of natural resources into the next, possibly, final frontier: places once considered not worth the political trouble to mine in are now being mined, setting off powder kegs of conflict when poverty, weak and corrupt central governments, and cheap AK 47s all fall into a mix that fuel mining corporations in the guise of rebel insurgences, who will seek to justify their existence by stoking the embers of some tribal grievance or just invent a new one.


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