Resource Traps and Cycles of Poverty

Principal Investigator

Steven Press
Department of History Stanford School of Humanities & Sciences


Stanford Graduate School of Business
Research Locations N/A
Award Date April 2017
Award Type Faculty I-Award


Many developing economies in Africa possess remarkable mineral resources, from oil to cobalt. Often, though, they fail either to alleviate poverty or to provide for consistent increases in the living standards of most citizens. On the contrary: In many cases, mineral resources figure less as panaceas for economic ills than as contributors. Why and how does this happen? For some time now, academics have been debating theories and scanning case-studies in an effort to solve the riddle. Analyses of corruption, infrastructure, demographics, labor organization, and the like continue to appear. Rare, however, are instances in which academics reach back into history to scrutinize the colonial origins of today’s economic conditions. Rarer still are instances in which academics examine colonial Namibia, where early governmental policies in relation to developing the country’s diamond deposits have witnessed more than a century’s worth of strong continuity despite experiencing several political upheavals. My project – a history of Namibia’s diamond extraction — proposes to address these twin gaps. First, it will examine how the Namibian economy has attempted to convert major diamond holdings into wealth. Second, it will explore the respective ways in which governmental policies have succeeded and failed at distributing that wealth to diverse segments of the population.