Africa Notes: Middle Africa's Minerals: From Myth to Reality? - February 1989
February 28, 1989
One of the images of Africa that began to evolve soon after the first Europeans set foot on its shores is that masses of mineral wealth exist under the forbidding tropical terrain of the continent's vast middle belt.
As the World Bank's Andrew Kamarck observed a decade ago, the image has served a useful purpose for many different interest groups: "In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, it was diligently peddled by European imperialists and colonial officers to persuade reluctant ministries of finance and parliaments to back the grabbing of African territory and to pay for the minimum of infrastructure required. At the same time, financiers and stock market speculators, busily floating African concession companies at handsome profits for themselves, led the investing public into the shearing shed with similar fabrications of easily exploitable African riches. After World War II, the myth was picked up by African nationalist leaders, who roused the people by placing the blame for their poverty on foreign exploitation." (Andrew M. Kamarck, "The Resources of Tropical Africa," in Daedalus, Spring 1982).
A range of new technological and attitudinal developments make this a timely moment to assess past myths, present realities, and future prospects.