Nobel economist Jan Tinbergen has shown in his work the negative impacts that the exploitation of natural resources can have on the economics of a country, based on the example of the Netherlands with the extraction of natural gas in the 1960s. Since then, the “Dutch disease” theory has evolved to refer to the “resource curse”. Africa, a continent rich in raw materials of all kinds, obviously faces a challenge in terms of managing the rent derived from the exploitation of its resources.
The 2017 version of the Annual Report on Commodity Analytics and Dynamics in Africa (Arcadia) deals with the evolution of the various linkages between Africa and world commodity markets, considering both economic and structural developments. Talking about commodities, just like talking about Africa in general, is a huge challenge in view of the heterogeneity that characterizes these two fields of study.
The report therefore focuses on raw materials “that matter” to African countries. These is the case obviously of iron ore and cobalt, present in the African subsoil, which have soared this year. US and China investment announcements in infrastructure led to an increase in iron ore prices (+ 70% this year) and bauxite (the source of aluminium). A country like Guinea, which accounts for nearly a quarter of the world’s bauxite reserves, is expected to benefit from unprocessed export bans in Indonesia and the Philippines to become the world’s largest exporter.
However, there are many examples of countries illustrating the danger of a national economy and state budget dependent on commodities, whose prices are essentially volatile. The downturn in cocoa prices has led to serious social and economic unrest in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, despite the good macroeconomic performances of both countries. Angola, South Africa and Nigeria, the continent’s main economic driving forces, were also hard hit by falling prices for oil, precious stones and metals.
Obviously, the various economic difficulties of these states cannot be explained only by the fall in commodity prices. Each country has an economic, fiscal and budgetary context explaining its level of GDP and growth. However, pan-African challenges persist across the continent: improving the attractiveness of mining activities, promoting electricity generation through renewable energy, strengthening food security by developing an efficient agricultural model and increasing the capacity of states and companies to raise funds.
The challenge of commodities is to make it a source of growth for the African continent. Local demand for commodities in response to growing African demand and capturing a greater share of added value is crucial. And for that, let us not forget a fundamental aspect: the rent derived from raw materials must be managed in the long term with structural policy instruments, without falling into the trap of short-term management exposed to the risk of cyclical reversals. Thus, we will definitely make commodities an asset for African economies.
 Arcadia 2017, « Annual Report on Commodity Analytics and Dynamics in Africa », edited Philippe CHALMIN et Yves JEGOUREL, publishing house ECONOMICA et OCP Policy Center 2017