The April 2008 issue of SME’s Mining Engineering includes an article called Why the resource curse is a concern. Contrary to what you would expect from the bastion of United States mining, they conclude that a country can have too many resources, which, when mined, lead to negative economic growth and social development.

They state that the reasons are not fully known or agreed on, but they note, and I agree, that:

  • Mineral deposits if mined can generate wealth that can be used to reduce poverty;
  • Some countries have benefited from mining to foster economic growth, including Australia, Botswana, Canada, and Peru; and
  • Some countries have failed to take advantage of the opportunities inherent in profitable mining, including too many in Africa to list.

They note that these conclusions lead to the inevitable questions:

  • How can public policy maximize the benefits a country receives from the mining sector?
  • How can policy ensure that these benefits are effectively used to foster economic growth and to reduce poverty?
  • How should the international community respond when the good governance and other condition necessary to ensure that mining will promote economic development re missing?

And these questions all boil down to the simple question: what, if anything, can be done when a national government fails to represent the people and degenerates into a cash cow for a ruling clique?

The article’s authors provide no answers. Let me venture but one. The pessimistic answer based on the distressing events in Zimbabwe is: NOTHING

At least there is nothing the mining community can do. This is true regardless of whether you define the mining industry as one or a group of companies or as the associations and societies that represent mining interests. In fact there is nothing either the best or worse intentioned NGO can do either.

Absent genocide, even the international community and its most imperialist members, will do nothing. Except maybe support one or two mining companies as they try to wriggle in under the fence of oppression, dig a toe-hold, and sweat it out until change makes profit a possibility and/or reality. The best example of this is Canada and its support for Sherrit mining in Cuba.

As you would expect from academics beholden to special interests, the SMA article analyzes the situation with kid gloves and gives no real examples of the many egregious examples of the negative situations they abhor. But this is probably as it should be, for were they bold and entirely honest their article would not be in a prestigious and conservative magazine.