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The International Law Principle of Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources as an Instrument for Development: The Case of Zimbabwean Diamonds

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Abstract Extensive research has shown that revenue from the exploitation of natural resources can sustain development. Conversely, development research literature has shown that many developing countries have failed to use the natural resources to improve and sustain good living for their citizens. In most cases, those in political offices have squandered the resources and benefits that have accrued from the country’s natural endowments. This article explores how the international law principle of permanent sovereignty over natural resources (PSNR) could be used as a vehicle for development, particularly looking at the case of Zimbabwean diamonds. While the principle could be an instrument for development, this article argues that legislation governing mining in Zimbabwe is not facilitative of a people-centred interpretation of the principle. Mining legislation vests the custodial right over the country’s mineral resources in the President. This creates an opportunity for abuse, as it limits the extent to which the people, as beneficiaries of the principle, can lay claim to the content of the principle. It also effectively limits any say the people may have on how revenue from the sale of diamonds is utilised, and how they would want to benefit from the resource. The article concludes that there is a need for legislative reform that speaks to development that is people-centred without which the majority of the people will keep sinking into the doldrums of extreme poverty, despite the country’s resource endowment. The hope is that the new Zimbabwean constitution will provide the impetus in this regard.

Affiliations: 1: School of Law, University of the Witwatersrand Johannesburg South Africa


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