South of the Revolution

PRETORIA – Over dinner in Algiers recently, we asked each other whether the youth-led revolutions unfolding in northern Africa presage the awakening of economic lions throughout the continent. Could the changes unfolding in the Arab north usher in an Africa-wide industrial revolution?

If so, it would mean shifting from production of commodities to higher-value manufactured products. It would also mean looking objectively at the concept and aims of international development cooperation beyond the lifespan of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Manufacturing is undoubtedly the principal propellant in transforming human and natural resources into economic value – beneficiation, as we call it in southern Africa. It is here that Africa’s natural resources come into play.

According to the United States Geological Survey, Africa holds 90% of the world’s deposits of cobalt, 90% of its platinum, 50% of its gold, 98% of its chromium, 64% of its manganese, 33% of its uranium, and 80% of its columbite-tantalite. The continent also ranks first or second in world reserves of bauxite, industrial diamonds, phosphate rock, vermiculite, and zirconium. Hydrocarbon reserves in Africa are estimated at 80-200 billion barrels. The current value of sub-Saharan Africa’s mineral reserves is conservatively put at $1.2 trillion.