Africa is endowed with considerable strategic renewable and non-renewable natural resources, of which only a fraction has been exploited for the benefit of the African people. The role of natural resources as major contributors to economic growth and poverty reduction cannot be overstated. However, natural resources can be a curse or a blessing, depending on the quality of governance, institutions and governments’ capacity and willingness to manage them for development and the public good.
While intra-State conflicts over natural resources have dominated much of the policy and academic debate on the root causes of conflicts, little attention has been given to current and potential interstate conflicts over transboundary resources. It is worthwhile noting that competition over, and the scramble for, natural resources between the industrialized and industrializing countries has created an incentive for the control of these resources by national and international players. As Africa has embarked on the path of structural economic transformation and industrialization, its demand for raw materials and natural resources will also increase, with the potential for the re-emergence of old boundary disputes or the emergence of new disputes over transboundary resources.
To be sure, as the demand for commodities and natural resources increases, so too does competition between States over transboundary natural resources for domestic use, national development and export. For example, the evolution of the conflict of the Democratic Republic of Congo from a domestic conflict to a regional one engulfing the Great Lakes region is testimony to the proposal that intra-State disputes can develop into interstate conflicts. For example, the war of 2012 (a year after South Sudan gained independence from the Sudan) and protracted conflicts between the Sudan and South Sudan over the oil-rich Abyei region have typically been transboundary resource conflicts that have dominated the geopolitics of the two countries. Or consider, for example, the dispute between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire over their maritime border, which ensued as Ghana began oil exploration and production in the Tweneboa-Enyenra-Ntomme and Jubilee oil fields in the Atlantic Ocean. Similarly, Somalia and Kenya have engaged in disputes over maritime borders, potentially rich in oil and gas resources. The present report presents only a few examples of transboundary disputes over natural resources, with the aim of drawing on relevant experiences and offering lessons on policy and practice.