Can Mining Provide Answers for Africa in 2023?

As 2023 kicks off, Africa’s greatest challenge remains providing for the basic needs of its citizens. Water, electricity, education and healthcare all remain far too scarce for Africans. Even as it reaches for technological growth, modernizes its agriculture and creates jobs in the service sector, the mineral-rich continent cannot ignore its mining sector.

Minerals have historically been a blessing and a curse for the continent. In addition to the thousands who work in industrial mining, there are an estimated 10 million artisanal African miners[1]. Between 130 – 270 million Africans are dependent on the sector for their livelihoods[2]. Mining represents on average 30% of exports for over 60% of African countries and over 80% of exports for countries like Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa. Studies show that mining can have a positive impact on wealth for communities, providing local jobs that are accessible to both young people and women.

Unfortunately, mining is also one of the worst sectors of rights violations, environmental degradation, corruption and exploitation in Africa.

Fig.1: Rights Violations in mining sector in Africa

Source: STRATEGIES!, 2022

With this history can the mining sector truly contribute to Africa’s pressing need for green growth, decent local jobs and community well-being?

As Africa contemplates this question, three key factors have increased the complexity of the task within the last few years.

  1. Climate change – As Africa increasingly suffers the effect of changing climate, it cannot afford to continue to do mining business as usual.  Mining activity that seriously deteriorates land, waterways or air, will contribute to untenable environmental disasters in Africa. Governments that are already struggling to cope with floods, drought and pests cannot afford the environmental hazards occasioned by mining activity as it is carried out today.
  2. Youth Bulge – with the largest workforce in the world, Africa is putting 10-11 million job seekers onto its market annually, yet the continent only creates 3 million decent jobs every year.  The informal sector employs up to 80% of the population in many African countries.  Some of the most precarious and dangerous informal jobs are in the mining sector.  Africa desperately needs to revolutionize its mining sector to produce decent jobs for its growing youth population.
  3. Geopolitics – As the United States, Russia and China struggle to reposition themselves in a new global power configuration, Africa’s minerals are at the very center.  For decades the West exploited Africa’s minerals and the continent saw little to no benefit. As African countries shift their allegiances and make new friends and partners in the current geopolitical context, they must carefully avoid a remake of the mistakes of the past. Unfortunately, so far, few countries seem to be learning from the past and negotiating more equitable partnerships for the benefit of their citizens.

From diamonds to platinum, copper to cobalt, Africa holds a major portion of the world’s mineral reserves. As Africa rebuilds after the multiple years of crises such as Covid-19 and food insecurity, it will take a true revolution for Africans to finally benefit from their immeasurable mineral wealth.

What must be done and who must do it?  

The Foundation 

Fig.2: The logic for a mining revolution in Africa

Source: STRATEGIES!, 2023

No one can fight the battle of Africans but themselves.  To renegotiate the benefits Africa and Africans receive on the international market, African governments must make their citizens’ interests their foremost concern and objective.  Foreign governments and companies often operate in violation of rights and benefits of the communities where they extract minerals.  They can however only do this in connivance with corrupt and negligent governments.  Governance that puts the rights of communities where minerals are extracted foremost is a foundational to revolutionizing the African mining sector for good.

Citizens who know their rights and are empowered to act on these rights and defend them are also fundamental to ensuring communities reap fair benefits from the minerals on their land. In many countries, activists and civil society organizations work to train and empower communities.  Community leaders often take courageous stands to defend collective rights.  However, all too often, activists and leaders are working with far too few resources and find themselves ill equipped to take on some of the most powerful governments and companies in the world. Strengthening citizen action is foundational to revolutionizing the African mining sector for good.

The Catalyst.

Fig.3: Conditions for a mining revolution in Africa

Source: STRATEGIES!, 2022

Past initiatives to eliminate conflict minerals such as the Kimberley Process, the OECD Business Guidelines, the Regional Initiative for Natural Resources, etc. have been put in place in response to citizens outcry in consumer countries on the rights violations within the supply chains of the minerals they eventually buy. Nothing makes companies improve their behavior more than the power of the buyers.  Increasing consumers’ awareness of the sever violations in the mining sector, will instigate changes in the regulatory framework and in the behavior of big business. Citizens in consumer countries exercising their power is a major catalyst to revolutionizing the African mining sector for good.

At International level
Develop and enforce regulatory frameworks that reduce violations in trade at all levelsIt is necessary to improve and harmonize regulatory frameworks from the mine site to the market. These frameworks should also be included in negotiations between companies and governments to ensure enforcement at all levels. Tracing and fingerprinting of minerals need to be increased and improved.  The expertise for tracing and fingerprinting must be greatly increased in producer countries to ensure implementation at mine sites.
Integrate that mining is a local activityInternational regulations should include mining contracts being negotiated with all the key stakeholders at the table. Including local government officials and community leaders with a fair representation of gender and age groups, in mining contract negotiations will greatly improve the protection of rights and the benefits to communities. All stakeholders must be provided with adequate training and information prior to negotiations.
Link mining to other financial flows Governments that are using corrupt practices in the mining sector and violating the rights of communities, turn around and obtain loans and grants from the global financial institutions.  It is necessary to integrate good stewardship in the mining sector as a factor in determining access to global financial institutions and even bilateral funding. 
Develop and enforce regulatory frameworks that reduce violations in trade at all levelsThe African Mining Initiative has laudable objectives.  However, there is little to no enforcement of regulatory frameworks within and between African countries. African countries must exercise good financial governance at the subnational, national and regional levels, if their communities are to benefit from the continent’s minerals.  Reporting on advancement in reducing rights violations and increasing benefits to communities should be part of standard reporting at African Union meetings both at the ministerial and presidential levels. This requires reforming the AMV (Africa Mining Vision).
Support countries with technical and financial assistanceSome African countries such as Botswana, have succeeded in transforming their mining sectors.  While every country has its unique solutions to challenges, the African Union should set up platforms for countries to exchange experiences and learning. Countries in transition which rely heavily on mining and will be renegotiating their mining partnerships should receive assistance from the African Union in this phase in their development.
Building continental capacityDespite its mineral reserves, Africa has few schools to producing mining engineers and even fewer to produce experts with the high level skills required for certain specialties such as fingerprinting and tracing minerals. Given the importance of mining for the continent, the African Union should help coordinate a strategy to develop mining engineering schools and centers for specialization that can be located regionally and shared across countries.
Tripartite Platforms The tripartite partnerships between national governments, mining companies and civil society that are already being experimented, to define strategy for the mining sector and hold stakeholders accountable, in some countries should be reinforced and generalized. These platforms should be enlarged to include representatives of the communities in which minerals are mined.  They should also ensure capacity building for all stakeholders such that they provide meaningful participation. These tripartite platforms must weigh preponderantly on decisions regarding national mining policy and regulatory frameworks.
It’s local businessNational governments must see mining as an integral part of local economic development (LED). Including local governments in contract negotiations and empowering them to ensure regulatory frameworks are enforced, decent jobs are created and communities receive benefits is key. Strong local governments that can be true partners in mining ventures is fundamental to succeeding in revolutionizing African mining for good.
at the subnational level
Building capacity for actionAll actors at local level: municipalities, community associations, women miners, mining-adjacent activities and mining companies must build their capacity to carry out mining activity in a manner that respects fundamental rights and shares benefits with communities. Local actors must take initiative and champion their own rights. Change often comes from the bottom up.

Fig 4: Actions to at various scales for the African mining revolution

Source: STRATEGIES!, 2023

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