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No war necessary, just minerals

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Anquan Boldin met with local farmers affected by an industrial gold mine in eastern Senegal. Photo by Audra Melton/Oxfam America.
Anquan Boldin met with local farmers affected by an industrial gold mine in eastern Senegal. Photo by Audra Melton/Oxfam America.

If you have not already, please read Patrick Radden Keefe’s article in the New Yorker, “Buried Secrets.” The third paragraph is a good encapsulation of the problems related to the resource curse in West Africa:

“The level of development is equivalent to Liberia or Sierra Leone,” a government adviser in Conakry, Guinea’s ramshackle seaside capital, told me recently. “But in Guinea we haven’t had a civil war.”

Apparently Guinea did not need a war to fall in to a dire state of underdevelopment. It is rich in minerals. They can be just as destructive.

Keefe’s article works through the evidence of corruption related to an as-yet unexploited multi-billion-dollar  iron ore deposit, a good case study of the kinds of problems that can come up in countries with unclear processes for establishing mining concessions, poor oversight of mineral resources, and generally low standards for public service.

The author talks with the government representative who is trying to sort out new and better standards for mining regulations, but this is a tall order in a place like Guinea and many other countries in West Africa and other parts of the world.

“Countries in West Africa all have individual mining policies, but when they compete for foreign investment they sometimes offer tax reductions and other incentives that can create a ‘race to the bottom’,” says Keith Slack, Oxfam’s extractive industry global program manager in Washington.

Oxfam’s partners in West Africa are proposing ways to reduce the pressure on individual West African governments to give away their mineral resources to companies threatening to take their business to other countries in the region willing to accept lower royalties, charge lower taxes, or impose fewer environmental regulations. To do this, civil society organizations are supporting a regional mining code for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It would establish common standards for transparency of revenues, tax rates, royalties, and perhaps most importantly, community consent. It would be yet another milestone in our mission to establish progressive standards for the principle of free, prior, and informed consent, allowing communities meaningful opportunities to determine if, and therefore how, an oil, gas, or mining project would be established.

New player on team

Oxfam America recently enlisted a new player in our mission to help promote and respect the rights of people affected by oil, gas, and mining: Anquan Boldin is a leading player in the National Football League. Americans will know Boldin as the wide receiver who scored the first touchdown in the 2013 Super Bowl for his team the Baltimore Ravens (he was recently traded to the San Francisco 49ers). This spring Boldin, along with fellow NFL players Larry Fitzgerald and Roddy White, visited one of Oxfam’s partners in eastern Senegal, La Lumière, and went to several farming communities affected by the Sabodala gold mine near Kedougou.

When President Obama went to Senegal last month, Boldin had policy recommendations he delivered in an interview with Andrea Mitchel on MSNBC.

This week, he is testifying in a hearing in the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, and delivering recommendations to the US government, urging our leaders to support the ECOWAS mining standards.

“West Africa needs a common set of mining policies that will respect the rights of citizens living near mining projects, and ensure mining contributes to sustainable development,” Slack said yesterday. “For this reason we are calling on members of the House and Senate to express their support for the adoption of the ECOWAS Regional Mining Code.”

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