Big mining firms in the Democratic Republic of Congo are worried. For the past decade they’ve made good money from the country’s huge reserves of cobalt, diamonds, gold and copper, and now the government wants to grab more of the action: a document leaked to Bloomberg reveals plans to raise royalties and profit taxes, and increase the state’s share in any new ventures.
This is so-called “resource nationalism” in action, and the DRC is far from alone in seeking greater economic control of its natural resources. The state is back, the theory goes, and it’s taking on the multinational. From Scotland to Namibia, Zambia to Ecuador, resource rich nations throughout the world are rhetorically reclaiming gas, oil and minerals as their own.
The trend is widely reported as the enemy of trade, investment and energy security alike. In the UK, for example, the Telegraph called it a “spectre” and government economists have labelled it as both a “threat” and “anti-competitive”.
On the other side of the coin, governments argue they are simply ensuring foreign businesses don’t unfairly benefit from resource extraction. Take Zambia, for instance. The landlocked African nation is a major copper exporter yet most of the population still lives below the poverty line. After the government looked to crack down on tax avoidance by multinational mining firms, one senior politician defended the move: “The situation is win on one side – only the shareholders are winning; the people of Zambia are still in abject poverty”.