Context Matters - Rethinking the Resource Curse in Sub-Saharan Africa

GIGA Working Paper No 1

46 Pages Posted: 8 Jun 2006 Last revised: 16 Aug 2012

Date Written: May 1, 2005


Natural resources in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from a bad reputation. Oil and diamonds, particularly, have been blamed for a number of Africa's illnesses such as poverty, corruption, dictatorship and war. This paper outlines the different areas and transmission channels of how this so-called "resource curse" is said to materialize. By assessing empirical evidence on sub-Saharan Africa it concludes that the resource curse theory fails to sufficiently explain why and how several countries have not or only partly been affected by the "curse". Theoretically, the paper argues that whether or not natural resources are detrimental to a country's socio-economic and political development depends on a number of contextual variables, divided into country-specific conditions and resource-specific conditions (type, degree/level of abundance and dependence, resource revenue management, involved companies etc.). Methodologically, a future research agenda needs to examine the complex interplay of these contextual variables by adding sophisticated comparative research designs, especially "small and medium N" comparisons, to the tool box which has been widely confined to the juxtaposition of "large N" and country case studies.

Keywords: Sub-Saharan Africa, Natural Resources, Political Economy, Institutions, Violent Conflict, Socio-Economic Development, Democracy

JEL Classification: B25, N5, N57, O13

Suggested Citation

Basedau, Matthias, Context Matters - Rethinking the Resource Curse in Sub-Saharan Africa (May 1, 2005). GIGA Working Paper No 1. Available at SSRN: or

Matthias Basedau (Contact Author)

German Overseas Institute (DUI) ( email )

Neuer Jungfernstieg 21
Hamburg, D-20354

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