I am currently examining the mining sector in Rwanda. Classically, this would examine potential drivers for future conflict that could stem from extractive activities. However, I am interested in Rwanda for exactly the opposite reason—there are many reasons that Rwanda could escape the “resource curse” common among developing countries rich in natural resources.
I am a comparativist, and the best comparisons do one of two things. They either juxtapose two cases in which everything is similar but there is one key difference that calls for study. Or, they juxtapose two disparate cases that for some reason have one salient similarity, and that similarity is what matters. In considering my past work on Nigeria and my current work on Rwanda, these two cases are the latter in that their only similarity is an abundance of natural resources, oil in Nigeria and the 3Ts (tin, tungsten, and tantalum) in Rwanda. However, Rwanda is managing its minerals with a degree of success that Nigeria has never enjoyed, so any comparisons are limited.
In considering a case more similar to Nigeria’s, I thought of Pakistan. Although natural resources aren’t usually at the fore of discussion of Pakistani politics, indeed, it holds reserves of limestone, iron ore, silver, gold, gems, and copper, among others. Very importantly, most of these resources are located in Balochistan, a semi-autonomous region bordering Afghanistan and Iran that has always been difficult to centrally govern, natural resources aside.
A risk assessment report produced by the Minorities at Risk Project places the Baloch population at high risk for future rebellion by Baloch nationalists. A detailed analysis of the ongoing conflict reveals that in addition to the classic greed- and grievance-based explanations, poor governance resulting from the ongoing plunder of Balochistan’s natural resources and its economic and political marginalization has been a major cause of mounting tension between the Baloch people and the government of Pakistan. The presence of insurgent groups and the continuation of violent conflict in neighboring Afghanistan might lead to further instability in Balochistan. Like with Nigeria, natural resources alone wouldn’t explain violence or instability, but instead, could grow to be a necessary condition or organizing principle for conflict. Here is a comparison of the resource-rich Niger Delta and the resource-rich Balochistan in terms of the resource curse:
Baloch similarities with the Niger Delta:
- Highest poverty rates in the country despite being the most resource-rich;
- Sea access;
- investment by China;
- meaningful indigenous tribal law;
- Similar grievances: natural resources employ little of the indigenous population, lack of educational investment, elite wealth, chiefs keep trickle-down revenue
Differences between Balochistan and the Niger Delta:
- Diversity of Balochistan’s resources;
- “Lootability” of many of Balochistan’s resources;
- Baloch low population density;
- Baloch low degree of ethnic diversity;
- Quality of neighboring countries/cross-border conflict
Unlike the Niger Delta, however, the Baloch tensions have evolved over very different issues–legal autonomy, degree of religiosity, non-Punjabi ethnic identities, and political and economic marginalization by the more populous and wealthy Punjab region despite Balochistan being the geographically largest region. It is unlikely that natural resources would ever be central to Baloch nationalist causes, but it certainly wouldn’t hamper their voicing of grievances either.