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Africa’s Mineral Exploitation Is Yet to Benefit Africans. But Who’s to Blame?

Many African leaders remain instruments in colonialists’ hands, facilitating colonially inclined domination through mineral-based economics.

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Africa is rich! For adventurous and nature-appreciating minds, this would cross one’s mind when an opportunity presents itself to travel by road or fly over the African landscapes. According to available data on mining, the continent harbours 5.2 per cent of the world’s iron and ferroalloy, non-ferrous, precious metals, industrial minerals, and mineral fuels.

Africa is also home to different and unquantifiable deposits of gemstones, including diamond, tanzanite, paraiba tourmaline, ruby, apatite, andalusite, Iolite, citrine, chrysoberyl, aquamarine, topaz, garnet and kyanite.

The advent of African mineral exploration and exploitation dates back to the pre-colonial era. We cannot tell the exploration and exploitation story of Africa’s vast mineral resource deposits without mentioning merchants from Arab countries and the ‘explorers’ from Europe.

Records show that Arab merchants entered the mineral exploitation scene on the East Coast of Africa between the 7th and 8th centuries. These dates particularly refer to the commencement of mining activities in Tanzania. In the Central and West parts of Africa, exploitation of the minerals is recorded to have started between the 5th and the 11th centuries, respectively.

The long history of sophisticated precious metals craftsmanship in East, Central and West Africa would halt between the last quarter of the 15th century and late-19th century in the wake of European interests in the African mineral fields.

Scramble for Africa

Validated at the Berlin Conference in 1884, Africa was cut in the manner the United States of America, the Ottoman Empire and other European countries deemed fit. At this point, the continent was distributed to promote the economic fluidity of the said countries while confined and fixed within colonial territorial and political boundaries.

The Berlin Conference was not good news for Africa. It signalled a rapid change in how the continent’s resources and self-regulation management were run. Resource-based trade was affected greatly. An introduction of a peculiar coercive, command-and-control style of power was established. The scramble for Africa commenced.

READ MORE: Here is Why Small-Scale Miners are the Future of Tanzania’s Mining Sector

With this leadership style across African countries, where trade relationships were almost filial, rigid systems were introduced through colonially inclined systems of learning and production.

This required a new set of knowledge among local community members that would assist in expanding European domination and exploiting the African continent. This education was selective by nature. It brought a rift between community members.

It implied favouritism of a kind and also caused the selected members of the community to feel a little more important than the ones who were not selected for the acquisition of this new knowledge. Conservation skills for sustainable use of resources were neither taught nor were any help to create confidence and promote pride in being an African.

Apart from the fact that this education did not consider the pillars of the African societies (and hence the values communicated through community learning and language), it did not have the depth to equip the local community members for employment beyond cheap labour.

Uneven development

The Eurocentric education was meant to create a sense of the difference between Africans and Europeans. It also created an uneven development field among the community members socially and academically.

It was used as an effective and systematic, if not structural, means to “eradicate African political power” by depoliticising selected Africans and imposing European political views and understanding through the colonial education system.

READ MORE: What Does Formalisation of Artisanal and Small-scale Mining Sector Look Like?

The sociopolitical and economic environment created by the European colonial powers on African soil resulted in household rivalry and, to a greater extent, hate. This could be described as ‘selective despotism.’ The latter adopts an approach where a select group of oppressed persons are given ‘privilege’ to exercise power over the entire community.

Local community members who were not working closely with the white European settlers felt marginalised in the colonial power structure. These also had a sense of estrangement from the community members selected to work for the colonisers.

Another visible type of hate came from the colonially educated community members. This group hated their traditions as required by the colonisers. This was to show total loyalty to the enslaver.

Still, there was another type of discomfort felt by the “colonised intellectuals.” They felt discomfort, if not hate, towards the colonisers after a realisation that by siding with the colonists, they risked exclusion from their communities – kith and kin.

The politics of the colonial power was indifferent to the needs of the local communities. Their activities included appropriation of large tracts of land, mineral extraction and illegal transportation of plants and animals to foreign lands. All these were for the benefit and economic security of the dominant power – the colonial power.

Resource exploitation in Africa, especially in the mining sector, was for the benefit, material security and furtherance of the European colonial enterprise, principally that of the British colonial powers.

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The well-being of the general population throughout Africa, including Tanzania, was considered insignificant in the main decision-making processes. Contemporary mineral regimes in Tanzania are similar to colonial ones if not the building blocks of continuing imperialistic legacy.

Not much has changed

The ineffectiveness of leadership and governance structures in postcolonial African states, especially in addressing political and economic affairs, could be viewed in three different ways.

First, the views of the late Mozambican freedom fighter Eduardo Mondlane alluded to the fact that the African liberation struggles were partly misguided and lacked concretely formulated political thought.

Second, political theories adopted by ‘post-colonial’ African nation-states immediately after ‘liberation’ were not formulated independently from those introduced by the colonial powers.

READ MORE: Infographic: Tanzania’s Gold Production and Export Trends

Subsequently, the affiliation with colonial political theories weakened young African ‘post-colonial’ states from developing assertive, constructive and inclusive political theories to maintain African communal associational life and environmental values.

Last is the view that postcolonial African leadership and governance structures were influenced by the desire to dominate. Today, as I sit here to reflect on the mineral development-based economies in East, Central and West Africa, and the entire continent, Africa’s population is at 1.4 billion and counting.

However, even in the 21st century, African leaders in the ‘post-colonial’ nation-states are busy seeking new social, political and economic alliances to protect and further wealth and imperialist political interests.

In their majority, African leaders remain instruments in colonialists’ hands, facilitating colonially inclined domination through mineral-based economics. The same leaders enter bilateral mineral-based development agreements regardless of the consequences to the citizenry.

Evans Rubara is a Tanzania-based international development analyst. He is available at or on Twitter as @ThePunditsFolly. These are the writer’s own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of The Chanzo. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at for further inquiries.

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2 Responses

  1. I am Stephen Mulambia, Chairperson of Gem North Mining and Lapidary Cooperative Society Limited: based in Kasama, Northern Provinces of Zambia. I have really enjoyed the information, which is very educative and informative.
    I feel that something big, should be implemented; that is educating and informing our Children,about our Minerals.. how rich we are and show them how to grow our economies in Africa. They (Children) should be taught from Primary to University level.

    See here in Zambia; School of Mines, got established in 1973; producing Geologists and Mining Engineers; now, my questions are:-
    1. Where are these educated people?
    2. Why have they not formed Mining Cooperatives so that they create jobs and run Mines in Zambia?
    3. In their Mining Syllabuses, do they cover also Entrepreneurship Skills Training Programmes?

    I, personally feel very uncomfortable to see poverty levels going up in Africa, despite the mineral-wealth.
    I am appealing to you, to continue enlightening us with such rich information and l hope you will be sending more information about our mindset…do that we do not remain idle and divided.
    Thank you,
    Stephen Mulambia +260 977925830

    1. Dear Stephen,
      Greetings with thanks for your feedback. Africa is rich. Africa is beautiful. I had the opportunity to work in Zambia for Two years as a fellow seconded to the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) from 2009 to 2011. The narratives told in Tanzania and other African countries is similar. Our resources ate pillaged. The educated are part of the Colonial fiat that is leaving holes and chemical filled trenches polluting our environments. Just like it was in the Colonial era, our learned members are sold out to selfish trends. They have become worse than the Colonists.
      I will reach out soon.
      Thank you for your kind gesture. Let’s keep the discussion alive.
      Evans Rubara
      Rhe Author

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