World Bank launches "Billion Dollar Map" of resources

Wednesday, 2 April, 2014

"So geographers, in Afric maps,

With savage pictures fill their gaps,
And o'er unhabitable downs
Place elephants for want of towns."

- Jonathan Swift, On Poetry: a Rhapsody (1733)

Here at CSR21 we’re confirmed fans of maps (or, as some of the less techie members of the team tautologously call them, “geo-maps”) and the power that can be inferred by a deep knowledge of your constituency.  Thankfully our understanding of the interior layout of all continents, not just Africa, has moved on considerably since Swift's time (and here, appropriately enough, he's using them as a simile for imcomplete knowledge and imperfect skill). And jolly good too, say we. So our collective eye was caught this piece of analysis by Jacob Kushner on ThinkAfricaPress, re-reported on

The World Bank announced last month that it would create a so-called 'Billion Dollar Map' of Africa’s mineral resources, taking ten years over the job and making the resulting database public. The project will then finance governments to conduct exploration to fill in the gaps.  The aim: “to help African governments earn a better price for their natural resources and accelerate the pace of mining across the continent.”

As the author states, “the need for better research into the continent’s minerals is clear and urgent. When it comes to negotiating contracts, knowledge is power”. He’s also right to point out that the uncertainty of some African governments regarding levels of the resources within their borders has in the past contributed to them signing very poor deals.

This is a good piece of basic analysis and well worth a quick read. Among other things, it covers:

- A look at the size of net resource transfers across the continent
- Some of the profiteering that has gone on - for example, Dan Gertler’s sale of DRC oil assets at 300 times their purchase price
- Examples of the damage wrought by underpricing of mineral assets in the past, and of the corruption and opacity surrounding the resultant markets
- The opportunities provided for transparency in making this project’s data open source - and examples of how the public might have prevented some of the past’s poor deals

The author also points out that “as well as ensuring that governments are well-prepared to negotiate when foreign mining companies come calling, mineral maps can also encourage investment in the first place… one hope is that the Billion Dollar Map will encourage exploration. Mining companies are often reluctant to invest unless they are confident that they are likely to find considerable deposits. And while exploration may be costly for some African governments, the returns are usually worth it.” Kushner quotes Gerhard Graham, a scientist at South Africa's Council for Geoscience, as saying: “typically for every $5 spent from a regional survey − the World Bank type of survey − you can grow about $1,000 of investment into mining in the country… A country that suddenly has access to this data for a large area can use that data to leverage a much higher level of investment.” 

This is an interesting project that could be greatly beneficial to private companies, governments, and the populations of all mapped countries. It’s a hugely optimistic project that appears to lay the groundwork for those win-win scenarios we’re always advocating, and we’re very keen to hear more. We hope it takes off.