Africa Warned of Unrest if Resource Wealth Not Spread

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"With Africa facing 17 elections this year, voters may use the ballot box to demand a decent share of the pie."

Resource-rich African governments risk unrest if they hold back the benefits of soaring global commodity prices from their own people, delegates to a major mining conference were told on Wednesday.

With Africa facing as many as 17 elections this year against the backdrop of seismic political upheaval in Tunisia and Egypt, there is a high chance of voters taking to the streets or using the ballot box to demand a decent share of the pie.

Strong growth in resource-hungry Asian economies has caused a rally in commodity prices in the last year, with copper comfortably surpassing its 2008 highs to notch up a record well above $10,000 a ton this week.

However, as in Egypt and Tunisia, technology is playing its part in keeping Africans informed about world markets and giving them a sense of what they might be owed.

With more than 500 million mobile phones in Africa, compared with around 50 million a decade ago at the start of the last commodities boom, governments and companies no longer have a monopoly on information.

For instance, union officials in northern Zambia's Copper Belt pride check up-to-the-minute world prices on their phones during wage talks with company bosses.

Home to 90% of the world's platinum reserves and a large chunk of its gold, Africa's biggest economy should be attracting mining companies in droves.

Instead, the sector has contracted over the last decade, in part because of demands from disgruntled communities near mines and militant elements in the ruling African National Congress for the state to take over mines.

Yet the fact remains that no matter how great the wealth sitting beneath Africa's soil, it will continue to sit there, to the benefit of no one, without large amounts of capital and stability—things for which the continent is not noted.

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