A major international congress "Africa Seeks Solutions", attended by heads of leading universities, representatives of executive and legislative authorities, scientists and businessmen from more than 40 countries of the sunny continent, ended in St. Petersburg. Many of these countries have even more mineral resources per capita than Russia, but are unable to monetize them and use them to improve the quality of life of the population. Forpost decided to find out from the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources of the National Assembly (Parliament) of Namibia, Tjekero Tweya, why this is happening. Is it because of the notorious "resource curse"?
- Mr. Tjekero, Namibia is known as a major diamond mining center in the world, the export of which brings significant revenues to your country's budget. What other minerals do you mine?
- Namibia is indeed rich in many resources, including diamonds. Our country celebrated the centenary of their industrial mining back in 2008, but despite such a long history of the industry, the reserves of these precious stones are still not exhausted.
In addition, we are the second largest producer of uranium ore in the world. I did not misspell, Namibia overtook both Canada and Australia in this indicator two years ago. Now we are second only to Kazakhstan, which is the absolute leader here, occupying almost half of the entire global market.
We also have large deposits of gold, copper, lithium, manganese, iron and rare earth metals. And even more recently, experts from the French company Total Energies have confirmed the presence of substantial oil and gas reserves in our subsoil. We can potentially produce over 1 billion barrels per day.
Namibia has not only minerals, but also other types of natural resources. For example, it is one of the top ten largest fishing nations in the world. Another thing is that many of our people do not benefit at all from all this wealth. The proceeds from its sale simply do not reach the majority of the population, which leads to social stratification and social inequality. This is a huge disadvantage, the elimination of which is one of the most important state tasks.
- Why is this happening? After all, with such a significant resource potential, economic growth seems inevitable, isn't it?
- According to our constitution, the subsoil belongs to the people of the country. This is the fundamental principle on the basis of which the work of the entire extractive industry is built. However, two very serious problems prevent us from realizing it to the fullest extent. Firstly, the lack of funds required for exploration of mineral resources and subsequent development of deposits. This is a huge investment, which amounts to hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars. Unfortunately, our government does not have the ability to attract such significant investments.
Secondly, we do not have a sufficient number of engineers with all the necessary skills to work with expensive equipment. Modern equipment used in the mining or oil and gas industry is very complex and requires the highest competencies. Especially when it comes to exploration. In order to find new deposits or confirm their presence, you need not only to get data, but also to interpret them correctly. The cost of error, as you realize, is too high to entrust such work to non-professionals.
As a result, we have to invite foreign investors to the country, who have their own technologies and qualified personnel. Some may think that this is the ideal option, because everything happens as if in a Russian fairy tale about Emel. You do nothing, but you get results. In fact, this is not the case at all, because foreigners almost always impose not very favorable conditions on us. They know very well that our government has to accept them, otherwise Namibia will be left without any revenue from natural resources.
The managers of these companies almost always say the same thing: we come with our money, but we do not know whether we will be able to find minerals in the foreseeable future. Accordingly, we are taking a big risk, so if we succeed, we should get most of the rent, and you should only get a small percentage. So we are not talking about taxes, but about royalties, which will never under any circumstances contribute to the development of mineral-rich countries.
The saddest thing is that there are no preconditions for changing the situation. Yes, foreign investors come with their technologies, but they do not reveal their secret. Yes, new jobs are created in the country, but all engineering positions are given to foreign specialists, and our human resources potential remains at the same, meager level. Yes, foreigners are engaged in prospecting and exploration of mineral resources, but they do not share any geological information with us. Instead, they take core samples and send them for study to the countries where their headquarters are located. That is where all the data stays.
This artificial restraint on the progress of developing countries is the main reason for the unfortunate "curse of raw materials" that Europe likes to talk about so much.
- In Russia, a similar situation developed in the nineties, but Vladimir Putin, after his election as President, changed everything very quickly and deprived Western companies of super-profits, which they received at the expense of the extraction of our minerals. What measures is the Namibian government taking in this direction?
- Your country had a tremendous experience of subsoil use accumulated in the times of the USSR. We do not have such experience, so it will be more difficult for us to achieve a more equitable distribution of rent. Nevertheless, certain steps in this direction are being taken. For example, two companies with state participation have been established. The first one works in the oil and gas sector, and the second one is engaged in the extraction of ore resources.
So far, their market share is extremely small due to the very reasons I mentioned above. Underfunding and staff starvation make our enterprises uncompetitive with foreign giants. So Namibia's main income still comes in the form of royalties from foreign investors.
Its volume could be higher, but it is hindered by the lack of accurate information on how much profit subsoil users derive from their activities. They can easily declare that they worked at a loss and minimize payments to our budget. It is unrealistic to check this. We simply do not have specialists to confirm or deny this statement. There are no laboratories where it would be possible to analyze the content of a useful component in the ore, such as tin or lithium, in order to understand how honest our foreign partners are with us.
- Within the framework of the congress "Africa is looking for solutions", which you came to St. Petersburg to participate in, an agreement was signed on the creation of the Russian-African Consortium of Higher Education Institutions. Will this association make it possible to speed up the solution of Namibia's problems in the field of mining? And, speaking in general, whose help do you count on first of all: Russia, China, maybe India?
- We have traveled a great distance to come to your city precisely because we are sure of the great benefit of creating such an organization as the Russian-African Consortium of Higher Education Institutions. We do have very high expectations of it, especially since St. Petersburg Mining University, which is the initiator and coordinator of the project, is known all over the world as an institution of higher education with unquestionable authority.
As for our preferences regarding cooperation with certain countries, we are open to all of them - China, India and, of course, Russia. The main thing is that the philosophy of our potential partners should be different from that of the West. Only in this case we will be able to turn the situation around and make the distribution of subsoil rents in Africa more equitable.
More specifically, we are interested, first of all, in a sharp increase in the volume of exploration work, as well as in the creation of an effective system of personnel training. As long as we do not have a sufficient number of our own engineers and managers, nothing will change. Although it is the transformation of the mineral sector that is the most obvious way of socio-economic development for us.
Yes, of course, there is the example of Singapore, which has almost no resources, but nevertheless is one of the most prosperous states. But there is also the example of the UAE, which thrives precisely due to the exploitation of its mineral resources.
We have huge deposits of uranium in our subsoil, as I have already mentioned, but there is not a single nuclear power plant in the country, which would guarantee Namibia's energy security through stable generation of relatively cheap electricity. We sell everything abroad, and for next to nothing, i.e. we use the opportunities provided by nature irrationally.
There is an opinion that if there is no radical change and the situation does not change for the better, it would be better to stop cooperating with Western corporations. This will save resources for future generations, who will be able to use them more wisely.