The Sobering Truth About Africa’s “Resource Wealth”

Africa is a continent that is rich in natural resources“. This is not exactly true, as I have come to realize. Wealth is relative so the question is: rich compared to whom? I came across a top ten list for resource-rich countries and not a single African country featured on this list. We have bought into the notion that we have so much natural resource wealth and that poor governance is the reason why we remain poor. But the fact is, many advanced countries are incredibly resource-rich and some discovered these resources at the time when it mattered most. For example, the United States discovered commercial quantities of coal at the crux of their industrial revolution. Most of the world’s coal is deposited in North America, Australia, India and China. With the exception of South Africa, our continent has been and still is devoid of coal. When the world moved from the industrial era to petrol and gas, again who had these resources? Mainly the Middle East (controlling 70% of world supply), Russia and the US.

A List of the Top 10 Countries having the Most Natural Resources in the World

  1. Russia: Gas and Timber are its major sources of income. Overall resource estimated at $75 trillion.
  2. USA: Has the largest quantity of coal supply on earth. Overall resource estimated at $45 trillion.
  3. Saudi Arabia: Has the largest oil reserves. Resources estimated at 34.4 trillion.
  4. Canada: Has oil reserves valued at $21 trillion and overall resources valued at $33.2 trillion.
  5. Iran: Rich in oil, gas, timber and other reserves valued at $27.3 trillion.
  6. China: Coal and other earth minerals are major sources of income. Overall resources are estimated at $23 trillion.
  7. Brazil: Gold and uranium are its major sources but Brazil is also the second largest iron producing country in the world and also has 12.3% of the world’s entire timber. Its overall resources value 21.8 trillion.
  8. Australia: Coal, copper, iron and timber reserves provides the country with the bulk of its revenue. It also 46% share in the global uranium supply. Resources value at $19.9 trillion.
  9. Iraq: Produces more than 115 billion barrels of oil per year – almost 9% of world oil supply. It has the largest phosphate rock reserves. Resources valued at $15.9 trillion.
  10. Venezuela: Rich in oil, gas and timber. Resources valued at $14.3 trillion.

It is clear that most of these countries are rich in “energy resources” like oil, gas and coal which are absolutely essential for development. African countries tend to be rich (and I use the word “rich” very lightly) in non-energy resources such as gold, diamond, phosphate, etc. These minerals have industrial purposes but clearly, the energy ones are more valuable in economic terms. If you look at the Top 10 gold producing countries (see below), you will find just two African countries. Ghana is a very distant second to South Africa and produces half of what South Africa produces.

Top 10 Gold Producing Countries in the World: 1. China 2. Australia 3. USA 4. Russia 5. South Africa 6. Peru 7. Canada 8. Indonesia 9. Uzbekistan 1o. Ghana

So, we have to rethink this label of being a resource-rich continent. 1. We are not that rich; 2. A lot of the little we have were plundered by the colonialists; 3. We do not own the existing resources – western companies do; and 4. The resource curse is a real thing even though it doesn’t have to be. Guinea is a good example of the resource curse. It is the world’s largest known untapped deposit of iron ore and yet the scale of corruption that has engulfed the country, involving FBI, George Soros, Mark Malloch-Brown, Guinea’s former first lady (who convinced her dying husband to sign over rights to the mine), eminent South Africans, etc is one of Hollywood proportions! Another example of the resource curse is found in Angola, which has recently experienced a yellow fever outbreak. Angola is among the top 5 oil producers in Africa. This outbreak is a result of the slump in oil prices. This means that the country is struggling financially with the falling oil revenues and neglecting to take care of its sanitation. This has resulted in the yellow fever outbreak, which is transmitted via infected mosquitoes.

Top 10 Oil Producing Countries in the World

oil producers

Sidebar: China owns 40% of Sudan’s oil production. 

Natural resources remain important for Africa even though we aren’t as well endowed as we like to think – relatively speaking. Nonetheless, oil, gold, diamond, copper, timber etc, remain important and major sources of income for African countries. But, here is the other thing about resources: they are all exhaustible so they will eventually run out. Resource endowment does not automatically translate into efficient exploitation or value addition. The importance of diversifying and reducing our reliance on these resources cannot be overstated. We have to start viewing our youthful population as our key resource wealth. While other parts of the world will be having an ageing population in the next few decades, our continent will be even younger. More than anything, investing in human capital development in a politically and economically stable environment will deliver the most value for money. Our youth are a tremendous resource wealth potential if we plan for it and manage it properly.

Peace and Love!

All data and images sourced from and CIA Factbook.