MAC: Mines and Communities

Mineral Resource Capture and Conflicts in Africa

Published by MAC on 2005-02-15

Mineral Resource Capture and Conflicts in Africa

By Abdulai Darimani, TWN-Africa

February 2005

All across Africa citizens are confronted with various conflicts of different levels of intensities. Available statistics indicate that a total of 26 armed conflicts erupted in Africa between 1963 and 1998, affecting 474 million people in Africa, or 61 per cent of the population. Some 79 per cent of people were affected in Eastern Africa; 73 per cent in Central Africa; 64 per cent in Western Africa; 51 per cent in Northern Africa; and 29 per cent in Southern Africa (ECA 2001).

Environmental resource capture in particular mineral resources has been a fundamental cause of these conflicts and insecurity in many parts of the continent. Countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Angola are slowly emerging out of conflicts that were fuelled by years of contest over mineral resources. Some other conflicts appear to be simmering in petroleum endowed countries such as Sao Tome and Principe and Guinea Bissau. Also, incidences of community dissent against and conflicts over mining, oil, gas, fisheries, timber projects, and general environmental resources are widespread and growing in Africa. Sometimes the conflict is between ethnic groups; and another time it is between local communities, informal small-scale resource producers, transnational corporations, and the state.

In many cases these conflicts have turned violent and resulted in human rights violation. There are instances where communities have suffered militaristic attacks from government and mining companies. Some have had their water sources polluted, their land taken without fair and adequate compensation; and others have had their sources of livelihood completely destroyed.

The conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo started around 1996 as a political conflict involving four factions-government forces, the Mouvement de Liberation du Congo, Rassemblement Congolais Pour la Democratic (RCD/GOMA), and Rassemblement Congolais Pour la Democratic (RCD/KMC). The contest for political power was directly linked to the mineral resources as each faction tried to take control of the diamond fields.

Communities such as Ubundu, Bafwasende, and Banalia in the Kisangani province became battle fields due to diamond deposits in these areas. Even as the country slowly emerges from the violent conflict situation the contest over resources particularly mineral resources is far from over. For example, before the war there was only one Custom Chief in charge of customs and duties in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Today, there are four Custom Chiefs each responsible for a particular geographical area. Also, in Kasai one of the diamond rich communities, the people are locked up with Sengamines over the control of diamond rich land. Sengamines is a diamond mining company with 80% Zimbabwean and Oman owned shares and 20% government owned. This company has taken over large tracts of farmland for mining without adequate compensation and employment for the youth.

The cycle of conflicts between communities and transnational oil corporations operating in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria is a well known phenomenon. There is no each year that passes without conflict in this part of the country many of them violently and state monitored, resulting in the death of scores of innocent rural people. The frequent clashes are a result of neglect and denial of the communities their right to clean environment and development, failed promises by the companies, and abuse of power by government. On or around November 25 it was reported that about 21 persons were shot and wounded by armed security personnel at Ojobo, Burutu local government area of Delta State, Nigeria. This sad incident occurred when the youth of Ojobo occupied an oil flow station belonging to Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in protest to the company's community relation policies and practices. This protest was met by armed security personnel who were rapidly deployed to dislodge the protestors in protection for the company. SPDC is an Anglo-Dutch oil transnational corporation operating in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. The company produces about 75,000 barrels of crude oil a day from 45 oil wells in the Burutu local government area alone. The community is contesting for a fair and equitable share of the enormous wealth that the company extracts from their community. Ironically the government has often acted to suppress the concerns of the community.

The contest between Nigeria and Cameroun on ownership of the Bakassi peninsula is not so much about control of the population but rather over ownership and control of the potential oil reserves in the area. The Bakassi area has received relatively little economic and social infrastructural development from both Nigeria and Cameroun.

In 1977/78, deforestation and soil degradation, in conjunction with rapid population growth, forced Somali pastoralists to migrate to Ethiopia, resulting in conflict between the two countries. The migrations brought the Somali pastoralists face to face with local Ethiopians who were dependent on the same resources. The bitter competition between these groups fuelled cross-border tensions which eventually found an outlet in armed conflict between the two nations.

Conflicts in Rwanda and between it and Congo DR, the Sudanese Darfur conflict, the long fought conflict between forces of Jonas Savimbi and government forces in Angola, the diamond conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and other cycle of civil strives and wars experienced across the continent of Africa are attributed, in part, to contest over mineral and more generally natural resources. In fact the relative instability between Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea is partly attributed to contest over the resources of the Manor River basin. The Manor River basin is a rich biodiversity zone that divides the three West African countries-the Republic of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Environmental and mineral resource capture conflicts are many and varied but can conveniently be categorized into three namely: scarcity, group identity, and right determination conflicts. The fear and or reality of scarcity of sources of livelihood have been a major source of extractive activity conflicts. At the community level, scarcity conflicts arise over three major types of resources: water, productive agricultural lands, and forestry/non-forest products. These renewable resources spark conflict between local communities and transnational corporations because although they are the bedrock for livelihood and survival they rapidly become scarce in mining affected areas. The scarcity of these resources interferes with the social, economic and political arrangement of the population and thus sparks off agitations leading to conflicts sometimes violently. Group identity conflicts arise from the large-scale movements of populations brought about by resettlement and relocation schemes, the introduction of new or alternative economic activities, and or environmental change. Right based conflicts arise from the denial of people their fundamental and basic human rights such as the right to information, development and clean environment, fair and adequate share of the benefits of the resources and compensation, and self-determination.

In the last few decades environmental and mineral resource capture triggered by external policy prescription and reinforced by the character of the state, its policies, and its relationship to the society at large has heightened the three typologies of conflict particularly at the community level across Africa.

The promises of globalization have been fundamental stimulant for accelerated reforms and resource capture in Africa. For instance, under the global structural adjustment programme a part of the process of globalization prescribed by the World Bank Group, mineral rich African countries were made to believe that they would obtain a fair share of economic rent from mineral resources by liberalizing and privatizing the sector. In response to this paradigm many African countries conceded to restructure their mineral sectors, radically deregulating the sector; divesting the state off its control and direct investment while providing generous incentive packages to investors in the sector. These changes provided a slide for foreign transnational corporations to descend on Africa's mineral resources resulting in an increased mineral resource capture. Increased mineral resource capture on the continent as a whole has brought on its trail conflicts between communities sitting on mineral wealth, mining companies and government.

While African governments promote and facilitate accelerated mineral resource capture they have not been able to regulate transnational corporations to offer protection for their citizens, the environment and the national economy. This is precisely so, because globalization as a process, policy and law stimulates reforms that deepen the power and density of transnational corporations while promoting a systematic weakening of the states and their regulatory institutions. Many African countries are part of this process only as proxies. Although participating as sovereign countries they lack the capacity and economic instruments to effectively accrue any perceived benefits of globalization and to protect their citizens against its hash realities. The failure of the state to offer this protection becomes a recipe for resource conflicts.

Closely related to the weakness of African states is the character of governance which is also a major source of resource conflict. There is now a trend towards democratization in Africa. There has been a routine of some key elements of a democratic system, including more frequent general elections, somewhat more robust political parties, and a relatively freer press. Despite this promising future, the influence of non-elected institutions continues to have greater impact than that of the state and its institutions. In fact, these non-elected institutions hold sway over their elected counterparts. One can say with a fair degree of confidence that it is easier for a transnational mining corporation to lobby for its operation in a protected area of land than members of parliament in opposition can do for their communities for the same parcel of land. The state itself continues to be dominated by a ruling political party largely to the exclusion of citizens at large. So that when it comes to making decisions such as on extractive sector activity the interest of the ruling elite which is often coterminous to that of transnational corporations is given priority over the concerns of public interest. It is thus not surprising that there is an increased exercise of repression by governments in democratic regimes in Africa.

Therefore, the strategy to addressing the resource capture conflicts in Africa is for African governments to resist pressures and reposition themselves in the global order. Also, national institutions and the various pillars of governments must live up to their responsibility in order to prevent the abuse of power.

There are three levels of pressures that compel African governments to succumb to investment policies that are not sensitive to the developmental priorities of their people. The first is policy lobby mostly carried out by international financial corporations (IFIs) in particular the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund in collaboration with some northern Governments. The second is pressure and arm-twisting by home governments of transnational corporations, which often take place at diplomatic levels and international forums in the form of threat of economic measures or promise of economic benefits in order to create space for corporations, and also to protect them from accountability to the people and their economies. The third level is corporate corrupt and token behaviour often in the form of promises, petty donations, and "fool's sympathy" for the national situation. Leadership must wake up and resist all these pressures.

Second, African governments should reflect, unite and reposition the continent in the global economic order which would allow them to reap the benefits of their environmental and mineral resources. The repositioning requires that governments should adopt and implement policies and programmes which address the developmental needs and priorities of the people while ensuring environmental diversity for inter and intra-generation. Any plans to increase mineral resource exploitation whether through foreign or domestic investment must be guided by a national vision to maximising net benefits, minimising environmental cost, and ensuring a right-based approach to mineral extraction. Perhaps, a unified mining policy under sub-regional frameworks that avoids the current race to the bottom is one of the options.

Regulatory and democratic structures must live up to their responsibility. For instance, national democratic institutions such as parliaments should be able to assert their autonomy within the democratic dispensation and vet mineral sector bilateral investment agreements to ensure that such agreements comply with the aspirations of the people and the national vision as a whole. A combination of these would provide confidence among the population and help minimise resource capture conflicts on the continent.

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