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Opinion

Diamonds Could be a Schoolgirl’s Best Friend

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As the World Economic Forum in Africa kicks off, a new paper released by the EFA Global Monitoring Report reveals the untapped potential of natural resources such as oils and minerals in developing countries for sending children to school. Beneath the surface of many developing countries lies their key to sustainable development for many generations to come: oil and minerals. In total, the new paper calculates that maximizing the income from natural resources in 17 developing countries could raise $5 billion and send 86% of their children to school – the best investment for development.

Some of the world’s poorest countries rely on aid to support education, but need to increase their own funding to ensure all children in their countries are in school and learning. Almost a fifth of Uganda’s education budget comes from aid, for example, rising to almost half in Zambia. Both these countries, however, have vast untapped wealth in their own back-yards which they could be using to speed up progress to put all children into school. The amount Uganda and Zambia could raise from their resources would overshadow the amount they receive in aid per year, doubling current amounts in Uganda’s case. By maximizing the income from their resources, both countries would be able to increase their education budget to the extent that they could put all of their children into school. Uganda would be able to put all of their adolescents into school as well.

Over the years, badly managed deals with extractive industries have left countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo missing out on revenue from their resources which could be transforming the country.  In 2008, the country lost $450 million in revenue through a mix of bad management, corruption and insufficient taxation. This is a sum larger than the country’s entire education budget, and is likely to be enough to send all of its out-of-school children to primary school.

In other countries, corruption or bad spending choices have left governments investing their oil and gas revenue unwisely. In Nigeria, despite vast riches literally flowing beneath their feet, millions of children have still never had the chance of spending a day in the classroom; UNESCO’s statistics show the country accounts for almost one in five of the world’s out of school children. In other countries, natural resource revenue has been used to finance armed conflict, such as the ‘blood diamonds’ that fuelled civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, high-value minerals such as coltan and tin ore, used in mobile phones, were used to provide armed militias responsible for human rights violations with a lucrative source of income, instead of providing children with a desk and a teacher.

The new paper shows the enormous potential of resources such as diamonds, tin, oil, gas and iron to turn children’s fate around. For the 17 countries analysed, of which 13 are in Africa, ten could reach universal primary education, including Ghana, Congo, Cameroon, Angola, Tanzania, Zambia, Guinea, Uganda, Malawi and Lao PDR. It’s a long list.

Botswana is a country that has turned diamonds into children’s best friends. Entering into a 50-50 arrangement with a private mining company and spending 5% of GNP on education, the country is now one of the richest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, and, not only has it reached universal primary education, but its secondary
gross enrolment ratio stands at 82%, double the average for the continent. The more countries that realize this, the better.

The potential gains for education on the back of recent discoveries of natural resources in sub-Saharan Africa are enormous. In just the 13 African countries the EFA Global Monitoring Report has analysed, the resources could fund schooling for 88% of the region’s out-of-school children, or 9.4 million girls and boys, equivalent to a third of the out-of-school children in the region. It is the World Economic Forum in Africa this week. Those gathering in Cape Town for the Forum to look at ways of ‘strengthening the continent’s competitiveness, foster inclusive growth and build resilience in a volatile global environment’, need look no further than at the resources flowing under their feet.

There is also a united push by many development agencies for transparency to be on the agenda at the G8 which will be taking place next month.  Due to the vast sums of money surrounding the natural resources extracting industry, it has been characterized by opacity, with contracts between states and companies often shrouded in secrecy. Putting transparency on the agenda at the G8 would wield considerable

power for turning the resources laying under the surface of Africa into huge transformative change for future generations. Liberia’s willingness to sign up to EITI (extractive Industries Transparency Initiative) once the war had ended in 2003, for example, was key to ensuring that revenue from its iron, ore, diamonds, gold, timber and rubber went to strengthen education and other social sectors and get the country back on course.

However, while transparency of natural resource exports is key, it is not enough on its own to secure a country’s future; it is also vital to ensure countries strike a good deal, and allocate a share to education.  What lies below a country’s top-soil is something that should be shared for the benefit of future generations to promote long-term growth and development. Education is  a life-long investment, not just for the individual, but for a country. Using a diamond to pay for a child’s teacher, oroil to build a school is the best investment governments could make.

Pauline Rose, Director of EFA Global Monitoring Report, published by UNESCO
@Pauline_RoseGMR, @Efareport

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