Natural Resources

The research programme Natural Resources brings in-depth research on the exploitation of natural resources and puts into perspective issues such as the redistribution of rents, poor governance and corruption, and the financing of conflicts.

Through field research in African countries south of the Sahara, we look into problems caused by competition over natural resources and try to find solutions to inform decision-making by governments, companies, and practitioners in conflict prevention, peacebuilding, and development. Natural resources are earth materials that humans use to support life and meet their needs. Oil, coal, natural gas, minerals, stone, and sand are natural resources, as are air, sunlight, soil, and water. Unfortunately, they are often at the heart of armed or structural violence. The latter term refers to the root causes of conflict, such as poverty, socio-economic injustice, and discrimination against minorities, which in many cases are related to an unfair distribution of benefits from natural resources.

Through field research in African countries south of the Sahara, we look into problems caused by competition over natural resources and try to find solutions to inform decision-making by governments, companies, and practitioners in conflict prevention, peacebuilding, and development. Natural resources are earth materials that humans use to support life and meet their needs. Oil, coal, natural gas, minerals, stone, and sand are natural resources, as are air, sunlight, soil, and water. Unfortunately, they are often at the heart of armed or structural violence. The latter term refers to the root causes of conflict, such as poverty, socio-economic injustice, and discrimination against minorities, which in many cases are related to an unfair distribution of benefits from natural resources.

In armed conflict, revenues from natural resources can fund warring parties. Gaining control over resource value chains can also be a major motive to spark and perpetuate war. In such contexts, we analyze war economies and try to find out whether resource revenues provide a financial basis to perpetuate violence. For instance, revenues from minerals tainted by conflict at times enter global supply chains causing consumers worldwide to, unknowingly, finance gross human rights violations. Such violations, however, do not necessarily occur in the context of large-scale conflicts. Foreign investors in natural resource exploitation, for example, can become guilty of grave abuses through the misconduct of armed security contractors on their payroll.

When conflicts formally end, peacebuilding and conflict prevention (should) begin. Unfortunately, this seldom leads to structural solutions that address persisting inequalities in the distribution of benefits from Africa’s natural resources. A prime example of costly but inefficient attempts to reduce the conflict potential of natural resources are international control regimes for minerals such as the Kimberley Process or human rights due diligence regulations for 3TG minerals. These international regulatory efforts may seem to offer guarantees to global consumers but, by overlooking the developmental role natural resources should play, they don’t tackle the root causes of conflict.

Much of the work under our natural resources program consists of gathering first-hand information, often in remote and conflict-affected places, to show that communities in African mining areas more often than not suffer the consequences of gross socio-economic injustice, which causes grievances that risk erupting into violence. At the core of our program lies the task we set ourselves to bring this message from the grassroots level to international policymakers.

Natural resources News