By Professor Roman Grynberg*
I now live in Botswana. It is the great mainstream counter-example to the argument that mining is inherently destructive. Botswana exports one third of the world’s diamonds. It is hardly what I would call a great example of good government despite what the World Bank says, but it is a good deal better (or at least was in the first 30 years of mining) than what I have seen in PNG or other resource rich countries in the islands region.
The reason is political- the elite here has reinvested the massive diamond reserves in the infrastructure and education of the country. You can see the diamonds in the roads, the schools, the dams, and the hospitals.
In defense of PNG, it does not nor never had anything like the huge Jwaneng diamond mine here in Botswana. To dig out one dollar of diamonds costs roughly 10 cents. It is the richest piece real estate on earth. The government cut an OK deal with De Beers and makes billions every year.
The elite in the mineral rich Pacific countries may have had many friends to spend and abuse the mineral and forestry resources on but they had a choice to use those resources with some wisdom or to squander them. They chose the latter and in Botswana, while they were very imperfect and made many mistakes but they did not steal, misappropriate, mismanage the mineral wealth on a massive scale.
In the end of course it will make little difference because once the diamonds are gone the wealth that was generated will not likely be sustainable and now there is evidence that the new generation of the Botswana elite is not behaving like the older generation. Corruption is growing and becoming more prevalent.
The difference between countries that have succeeded and failed ultimately rests with the quality of their ruling elite and the decisions they make. Generally speaking mining has had an awful track record in the developing world because governments have abused this wealth. Those countries with a genuinely developmental elite have prospered (eg Malaysia) and those with a parasitic elite (eg Philippines) that does not do anything but steal from its people see the non-renewable wealth of the nation in the bank accounts of the rulers. This cannot be blamed on mining or logging per se but the decisions of those who rule.
*Senior Research Fellow, Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis