African governments urged to harness natural resources

Yao Graham. (Photo: TWN-A)

Participation of relevant stakeholders, including communities at grassroots levels, will help ensure good management of natural resources in African nations, for economic growth and benefit of citizens, according to participants at the Coalition for Dialogue on Africa (CoDA), among them the coordinator of Third World Network-Africa (TWN-A), Yao Graham. The conference was held this week in Addis Ababa, ahead of the 8th African Development Forum (ADF VII).

Graham noted that small operators in natural resources sector are losing out to large and commercial investors who are the government's focus on foreign direct investment. He stressed on the need to strengthen weak regulatory frameworks and create new ones to safeguard interests of Africa and its people.

"If we move toward multi-stakeholder dialogues, we will be able to craft a path that will benefit the bulk of African people," Graham explained during the roundtable on “Mineral Resources for Africa’s Development: Anchoring the Vision” held as part of the ADF VII, in the presence of ministers and other officers, experts and civil society representatives.

Graham referred to the Africa Mining Vision (AMV), a strategic plan signed in 2009 by the heads of State, as “a paradigm shift away from the mining and development regime which has dominated African mining since the colonial times save for the brief period in the 1970s and 80s when African governments nationalized mines and tried but failed to restructure the mining sector’s role in Africa’s economies.”

“The analyses underlying the AMV and its objectives strongly resonate with the criticisms within African society and the expectations of citizens,” Graham explained. “The substantial convergence it offers between citizens and governments on the future of mining and development is a major achievement. However the AMV is still not widely known and its implications appreciated and debated by African citizens as well most African state institutions and officials. The success of the AMV requires long term multisectoral policies, institution building, as well as the transformation of existing power relations.”

The AMV aims at ensuring transparency, equitable and optimal exploitation of mineral resources to underpin broad based sustainable growth and socio-economic growth through downstream, upstream and side stream linkages. It further seeks to shift mineral policy beyond the focus on regimes devoted to the extraction of minerals and sharing of revenues. This strategic plan puts the continent's long term and broad development objectives at the heart of all policy making concerned with mineral extraction.

Graham considered an “urgent” need that African governments and institutions, including the Africa Union, “work with African civil society (including the trade unions), researchers and private sector to build of the broadest possible stakeholder base [...]. This will not only firmly root the legitimacy of the AMV but also provide the political base for a collective engagement with the challenges of implementing and coordinating policies for the AMV’s success,” he said.

“It is important for Africa’s institutions and governments to ensure policy coherence and coordination across sectors and among themselves and in international fora. For example what are the implications of the bilateral investment treaties that African countries are signing, in their search for foreign investment, for industrial policy, local enterprise development and possibilities for mineral beneficiation? How will the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) with the EU affect future policy space needed for the realisation of aspects of the AMV? How will the planned Africa Continental Free Trade Area (CAFTA) take account of the Africa Mining Vision?” he asked.

At the same conference, the former President of Botswana and CoDA Chairman, Festus Mogae, said that many African countries endowed with abundant resources are yet to maximize the potential of the sector for economic growth, reported journalist Rose Athumani, of the Tanzania Daily News.

"Successful harnessing of resources is a key driver in economies around the world, Africa included, but many African nations are yet to effectively realize the great potential of their natural resources," Mogae explained.

He noted that if all stakeholders work together, successful harnessing of natural resources and equitable sharing of the benefits down to those at community levels can be achieved.

"The experience of my country, Botswana, over the past 45 years is testimony to that. I am not saying it is an easy task, but it can be done, if all stakeholders in a nation put their will together, behind a common national vision and pledge to lift their own weight and agree in an equitable sharing of national resources revenues," he remarked.

In his presentation at the CoDA conference on "Leveraging State-Society dialogue for improving natural resources governance in Africa," the Chairman of the Kenya Legal Resources Foundation Trust, Kimani Njogu, emphasized the importance of involving the society in all levels of natural resources management.

Prof Njogu noted that despite global recognition of the role of natural resources in improving lives of people, accelerating economic growth and transforming societies, the bulk of Africans are languishing in poverty and hunger.

"The potential available on the continent has led to the scramble for land and other natural resources in Africa, but the custodian, the African people bear the cost of the land acquisition and participate minimally in determining the process and direction of the global rush," Prof Njogu noted.

He noted that among ways to ensure natural resources benefit African people, governments should deliberately include relevant stakeholders including local communities, grassroots organizations and civil societies in decision making process.