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Natural Resource Governance, Rule of Law, and Instability in Africa


Dr Obasesam Okoi, PhD, Department of Justice and Society Studies, University of St Thomas, Minnesota, USA,

Dr Ifesinachi Okafor-Yarwood, PhD, Department of Sustainable Development, University of St Andrews, Scotland,

Context and Background

The African continent is endowed with vast deposits of terrestrial and marine resources. However, the exploitation of these resources, particularly oil, gas, minerals, fisheries, and timber, among others, has often been cited as a critical factor in triggering, escalating and/or sustaining violent conflicts on the continent. Studies of interstate territorial conflict have shown that territorial claims have long been associated with natural resources (Okumu, 2010; Macaulay & Hensel, 2014). A recent study of the Nigeria-Cameroon conflict over the sovereignty of the Bakassi peninsula gives causal explanation to the connection between power, space, and aggression, what Okoi (2016) describes as the territorial logic of aggression. Underlying this logic is the argument that aggression occurs when natural resources intersect with a contentious territory. Because of the strategic importance of natural resources in providing a base for interstate conflicts, competition over territorial claims are based primarily on the tangible contents of a territory (Hensel, 2000; Hensel & McLaughlin, 2005; Okumu, 2010; Baye, 2010). Conflicts over natural resources, therefore, arise over disagreements about ownership, management, allocation, use, distribution and conservation. These disagreements escalate and become violent when governance institutions at the domestic or regional levels are dysfunctional and, in most cases, ineffective.

Existing case studies of conflicts over industrial mining show that tensions often arise from loss of settlement and land use for cultivation and grazing, the health effects of mining activities, and lack of compensation or community participation in the process of awarding mining concessions. Other factors include human rights problems linked to forced displacement, the distribution of mining rents, and demand for employment opportunities for the population living in the mining region (Arellano-Yanguas, 2012; Wilson, 2013; Woertz, 2014). In post-conflict societies such as Liberia and Sierra Leone, conflict developed not only from the lucrative enterprise around diamond trade, but also from the undertakings of corrupt government elite and mining companies (Alao, 2007; Beevers, 2019). 

While these repertoires of contention highlight complex institutional challenges in Africa, concerns about the importance of the rule of law in natural resource governance and in ensuring long term stability within African countries have received limited attention in the vast literature on natural resource conflict and conflict resolution processes. Effective natural resource governance requires institutional structures that are capable of developing, implementing and enforcing policy. Where these structures are undermined by corruption, their capacity to forestall instability is weakened. The rule of law stimulates economic growth and socio-economic justice; prevents and deters violent conflict and crime; and strengthens accountability and checks on power, allowing for more equitable distribution of resources and better environmental protection. While some states possess the necessary institutions to ensure the sustainable use of their natural resource, these institutions remain ineffective due to legal limitations. Besides, corruption of local officials is corrosive, which undermines efforts to improve governance and prevent growing distrust of, and hatred for, the government (Okafor-Yarwood et al., 2020). The rule of law remains crucial for translating natural resource governance standards into realistic conflict resolution measures in Africa. 

Moreover, the growing scarcity of renewable resources, such as land and water, the depletion of marine resources, such as fisheries, and the increasing competition over control and production of onshore and offshore hydrocarbon and other minerals, reinforce existing stress factors and motivate actors to resort to violence. These tensions are compounded by proximate factors such as population growth, lack of social wellbeing, environmental degradation, and climate change which threatens to increase the risk of conflicts over natural resources. The human security dimension of these problems has inspired innovation in sustainable development. Addressing these multivariate problems has been a critical challenge facing Africa today, and will be vital in propelling the continent to achieve its vision of sustainable development by 2063. 

This book will compile research by academics and practitioners to show the new drivers of natural resource conflicts in Africa. It will highlight the role that institutions play in natural resource governance or lack thereof. It will demonstrate empirically how actors at the local, subnational, national, and regional sites of power, including women and youths, formulate mechanisms for resolving natural resource conflicts. The book will also address the importance of the rule of law in ensuring long term stability within African countries whose economies are resource-dependent. An interdisciplinary volume that aggregates the research of scholars and practitioners from across the African continent and beyond to examine the complexities and interlinkages between natural resource governance, rule of law, and instability on the continent would be a valuable contribution to the literature on natural resource conflict and conflict resolution.

We solicit contributions that will deepen, broaden, extend, and critically engage with the interdisciplinary contours and dynamics of natural resource governance, rule of law and instability in Africa. Proposals may consider issues at the international, regional, sub-regional, national, institutional, sub-institutional and community level and are not limited to any of the following themes:

  • Theorizing the linkages between natural resource governance, rule of law, and instability in Africa
  • Natural resource governance and human security in Africa
  • The role of regional institutions such as the AU, ECOWAS, SADC, EAC, in furthering better legal and governance regimes for natural resource conflict resolution
  • The geopolitics of instability in Africa’s extractive economies
  • Indigenous strategy for natural resource management and conflict resolution
  • Conflict between pastoralists and Indigenous communities over grazing
  • Conflict between local communities and mining companies 
  • Integrating gender sensitivity in natural resource governance after armed conflicts
  • Strategies for preventing conflicts over resources 
  • Civil society engagement in natural resource conflict resolution processes
  • Rule of law reform and improvements in natural resource governance
  • Institutions that can be used to improve socioeconomic conditions in resource – rich countries in Africa.
  • The role of extractive corporations in natural resource conflict resolution
  • Africa’s terrestrial and marine resources and Agenda 2063
  • Early warning, risks assessments and scenario analysis of natural resource conflict
  • How natural resource exploitation produces instability in Africa
  • The exploitation of Africa’s marine resources and the potential for conflict
  • Conflict over transboundary marine or terrestrial resource, dynamics and pressures
  • Offshore hydrocarbon and disputed maritime boundaries
  •  The impacts of conflicts on transboundary water resources governance
  • Continental/regional/international efforts to reduce intrastate and interstate conflicts over terrestrial and marine resources
  • Mitigating the struggle over water resources at the local, national and regional levels
  • Conflict prevention through the fair allocation of resources
  • The importance of rule of law in post-conflict stability
  •  Institutions and agreements for managing transboundary natural resource conflicts
  •  Integrating conflict sensitivity in natural resource governance

Target Audience

This book will be useful to scholars in peace and conflict studies, development studies, conflict analysis and resolution, environmental policy and governance, political science, sociology, anthropology, international relations, sustainable development, and African studies. Practitioners and policymakers who are interested in the connection between natural resource governance, rule of law, and instability in Africa will also find this book valuable.

 Submission Guidelines

We invite contributions from scholars of different disciplinary and methodological orientations, including practitioners and policymakers. Interested contributors should send a 300-500 word abstract of their proposed chapters and their short bios before February 28, 2021, to and using the subject line: Abstract for Natural Resources, Rule of Law, and Instability in Africa. Proposals should have a sound analytical and conceptual base and preferably supported by empirical evidence. We encourage submissions from early-career scholars, women, and Africans living in Africa. We will notify contributors of the acceptance or rejection of their proposals by March 31, 2021.

The #EndSARS Protests in Nigeria: Does Communication Matter?


In the wake of the #EndSARS protests in Nigeria, I was reading “Nonviolent Communication,” a powerful book written by Marshall Rosenberg. The book taught me powerful lessons about compassion, particularly how being compassionate can lead us to take nonviolent actions or communicate in nonviolent ways.

I also learned how effective communication can strengthen our ability to remain human even under the most difficult situations. It is therefore a powerful text on conflict transformation.

As I began to immerse myself on the subject of nonviolent communication while thinking critically about ongoing transformations across Nigeria, I realized that the most critical factor that escalated the protests has been poor communication – from the presidency to the states.In moments like this, effective communication can be the most powerful strategy for de-escalating tensions.

Communication can be expressed in the form of an apology, when leaders acknowledge their failures and take responsibility.

President Buhari’s broadcast did not exemplify his potential to lead a nation through turbulence. He failed to acknowledge his failures as the head of state. He failed to address the concerns of young Nigerians. He failed to show compassion for those young Nigerians who have lost their lives fighting for a better country.

In the wake of a crisis, a compassionate leader must take responsibility for his failures or take advantage of the situation to ignite hope in the masses.

The situation in Cross River mirrors the leadership failures at the national level. Instead of engaging with the protesters Governor Ayade’s Aides started mobilizing thugs to streets to disrupt the protests. When tensions began to rise the governor imposed a curfew, threatening to arrest protesters.

I believe the protesting youths are reasonable people. They did not start the protests by looting. They wanted their voices to be heard. And they conducted themselves peacefully. It was not until their leaders started talking over them instead of engaging in dialogue with them, or communicating to them through the use of force instead of accepting responsibility for their failures, that peaceful protests began to turn violent.


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