The Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa Secretariat has announced that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will be the keynote speaker at its sixth Forum to be held 22-23 April, according to a statement released by Africa Press Organization (APO).
Held every year in the northern Ethiopian city of Bahir Dar, the Tana High-Level Forum is an informal gathering of heads of state and government, leaders of regional organizations, civil society, the private sector and eminent scholars and practitioners.
“Having President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as the keynote speaker is a great success for the Forum,” said Michelle Ndiaye, Tana Forum Secretariat Head.
“She can use her leadership to highlight the role of the state in natural resource governance and to call for a proper inclusion of women in all debates that focus on the utilization of natural resources in Africa.”
This year’s theme, “Natural Resource Governance in Africa,” aims to reflect on the centrality of natural resources, both in historical as well as in contemporary times, in understanding the far-reaching implications on state-society relations within the continent, and Africa’s disadvantageous position in global production and exchange.
The scale and diversity of Africa’s natural resource endowments reveal that the continent alone has 12 percent of global oil reserves, 40 percent of global gold deposits, and about two thirds of the world’s most suitable land for farming and forests, the APO release noted.
Unfortunately, and for a plethora of reasons, the flipside to this unprecedented potential is that the continent has not been able to fully maximize the developmental benefits that should have accrued from exploiting the resources. For example, the mispricing of natural resources in Africa leads to the loss of US$50 billion per year, more than Africa’s combined foreign direct investment and overseas development aid, said APO.
In addition, according to an Oxfam estimate, more than US$18 billion per year is lost through resource-related conflicts in Africa, not including indirect costs.
The choice, in many ways, reflect the centrality of natural resources, both in historical as well as in contemporary times, as acknowledged above, in understanding: i) the far-reaching implications on state-society relations within the continent and ii) Africa’s disadvantageous position in global production and exchange since the earliest days of European penetration and colonialism.
It also seeks to showcase how over time, the exploitation of the continent’s rich and diverse natural resources, both on land and sea, have created several paradoxes; in particular, those leading to inequality and poverty, corruption, unemployment, environmental degradation, violent conflicts, and the elusive quest to realize Africa’s full developmental potential, the APO release indicated.
While natural resources can serve as a critical national asset to lift citizens out of dire economic situations into sustainable development as the experience of many countries have clearly demonstrated, the flipside is that “[Over] the last 60 years, in any particular year, between 40 and 60 percent of ongoing internal armed conflicts have been linked to natural resources” (AfDB, 2016).
Clearly, then, one of the most important and contentious issues Africa currently faces in the natural resource sector is how to reverse the misfortunes of exploitation and, bring governance back in ensuring that benefits accruing from the continent’s providential endowments create new opportunities and positive multiplier effects for citizens and the state, the release stated.
For the 6th Tana Forum, the focus will go beyond the conventional wisdom that places sole premium on the long-standing contradictions within the extractive ‘non-renewable’ sector (oil, gas and minerals) in understanding and explaining the challenges of resource governance in Africa. Whereas debates around the governance of natural resources have understandably been fixated with the extractive sector, the 6th Tana Forum will broaden the scope to include issues around the governance of other natural resources, specifically: (a) land, (b) water, (c) the seas, and (d) forests and biodiversity.
It will seek to understand and explain why the exploitation of these resources is increasingly sources of tension and violence in ways that have profoundly disturbing impacts on peace and stability on the continent, the press release stated.