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One Flew Over the Resource Curse

GENEVA – Geopolitical insight is often gained through real-life experience, rather than big-picture thinking. Arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris from Conakry, Guinea, is a case in point: Conakry’s airport, located in one of the world’s poorest countries, outperforms France’s prestigious global hub in terms of cleanliness, service, and pride.

By amplifying such exemplars into a national project, Guinea could join the small group of commodity-rich countries that have bucked the curse of corruption and economic decay that often accompanies large natural-resource endowments.

History demonstrates the difficulty of avoiding the so-called “resource curse” – and that it does not plague only less-developed countries like Nigeria, as many assume. In the 1980’s, the United Kingdom’s North Sea-driven oil and gas boom undermined the country’s broad-based economic competitiveness, while Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government wasted much of the revenue on handouts that encouraged excessive consumption.

While a handful of commodity-rich countries have managed to buck the curse, including Botswana, Chile, and Norway, they have, nevertheless, failed to diversify their economies, remaining dependent on natural resource-based exports. But history is not destined to repeat itself, and leaders of commodity-rich countries are seeking alternative futures.