On February 26 and 27, two events were held in Edinburgh to discuss resource extraction and fair trade in Africa. Having had the chance to reflect on them both, both excellent stimulating events, I wanted to share some preliminary thoughts — and to also draw your attention to an upcoming event – the CAS Annual Conference – this year on ‘Mining and Political Transformations in Africa’ (coming up soon – April 24-25, 2014)!
The first event in February was a panel discussion event at the University of Edinburgh, with a group of panellists including Claude Kabemba (from Southern Africa Resource Watch), Chantal Daniels (from Christian Aid), Wolfgang Zeller (U of E) and Jana Hönke (U of E), with introductions by Sara Dorman (U of E). The discussion here was lively, and a great part of the debate explored why ‘resource conflicts’ in Africa need to be critically understood through a critical global political-economic lens.
The discussion highlighted the need to resist excessively narrow understandings of regional ‘resource conflict’ that reduce the matter of social conflict in African mining sectors to the matter of resource extraction, abundance, scarcity or dependence, without looking critically at wider political and institutional dimensions. While there are currently many global initiatives being promoted to halt the trade of ‘conflict resources’ – particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the panel brought a great deal of nuance to contemporary policy debates, looking at ways of challenging some of the simplistic narratives of causality and regional conflict in the ‘resource curse’ literatures.
Among other themes, Chantal Daniels spoke about some of the global ‘conflict resource’ initiatives to date and the struggle of NGOs to hold large companies to account to transparency standards and corporate social responsibility standards. Claude Kabemba then spoke about the global economic context for mining investment in Africa and the roles for regulating companies listed on the British stock exchange. Wolfgang Zeller spoke about the differences between prescriptive policy recommendation-oriented development reports and critically analytical policy analysis, and Jana Hönke spoke about the questionable distinctions that are often made between some of the so-called ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ forms of mining (which have a tendency to bias in favour of large-scale mining enterprises, rather than small-scale/artisanal mining), and debate with students followed.
Claude Kabemba is the executive director of Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW), an NGO that I have found particularly interesting as it has been quite prominent and also quite nuanced in its critiques of recent global policy developments on ‘conflict diamond’ issues. SARW reports have offered timely analysis that rethinks the roles of policymakers and civil society organisations vis-à-vis the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme. For those of you who might not be familiar with SARW’s publications, I recommend taking a moment to read them (or some of them!); SARW publications cover a range of mining issues and related conflict challenges in Africa. Claude Kabemba is from the DRC and has a wealth of experience in various countries and he has been serving as the Executive Director of SARW based in Johannesburg, where he lives. His visit to Edinburgh attracted a great deal of interest among students and faculty. Shortly before his visit, I had just read his report “Kimberley Process – Through an African Lens: Reimagining Responsibilities and Definitions in a Changing Mining Sector” (available on the SARW website), which provides a multi-layered critical analysis of recent global mining reform efforts. His work provides both policy analysis and geopolitical analysis of policymaking processes that strike at the heart of major mining sector reform disputes. Some of the messages that emerged from his talk in Edinburgh: the need to conceptualise the expansion of poorly regulated mining in Africa in the context of disputed global practices of investment and regulation; the need to historically contextualise current political developments in the mining sector, understanding colonial legacies and post-colonial injustices; the need for carefully understanding how mining developments can lead to experiences of local community dispossession; and the need for understanding the weak capacity of states to effectively and equitably manage mining. Notably, SARW is also involved directly in training some government bodies in Africa on mining sector management and has been at the forefront of efforts to form Africa-wide partnerships to try to tackle mining sector inequities.
Some of these themes were further explored in the second event held this past week – an event at the Scottish Parliament on February 27, which was well attended by parliamentarians and members of the public, sponsored in part by the University of Edinburgh and led by Jana Hönke and Sara Dorman. Here Claude Kabemba delivered a lively presentation following Martin Plaut (former BBC Africa editor), who also delivered a fascinating presentation addressing social dimensions of resource extraction in Africa and the urgent need for reforms. Among other key messages in his speech: more attention needs to be given to efforts to radically reform resource extraction sectors in Africa, and he cited, for example, the work of Leigh Day, a legal firm that has recently been seeking to hold multinational mining companies accountable under international laws for human rights issues. Humza Yousaf, Scottish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Development, gave a presentation highlighting the importance of efforts to promote fair trade and strengthen Africa-Scottish relations, and Sarah Boyack, MSP for Lothian and Convenor of the International Development Cross Party Group, spoke further on the importance of fair trade and the work of development partnerships in Africa. In response to audience questions, the speakers urged for more attention on tackling secrecy and non-transparent practices in mining sector financing, investment and regulation.
These are all pressing issues and mining reform is now a hugely topical issue in Africa. It is great to see that many students were keenly engaged in both events. There is a great deal of interest in pursuing these issues more and notably: in April, the University of Edinburgh’s Centre of African Studies will be hosting its annual conference on the topic of “Mining and Political Transformations in Africa” (April 24-25, 2014). I warmly invite you to register for the conference and come and discuss some of these themes in further depth with a great group of speakers from various countries! Some of the presenters include Zitto Kabwe (Member of Parliament from Tanzania), Roy Maconachie (University of Bath), Deborah Bryceson (University of Oxford), Miles Larmer (University of Oxford), to name just a few… We have speakers from seven countries coming, a representative of ICMM (International Council on Mining and Metals) will be joining, among others, and it should provide lots of great opportunity for exploring recent research on mining in Africa and implications arising, for research and for policy-making. Registration form can be found here: