Africa: Mineral resources, environment, and governance

January 25, 2011
Albanie Leduc
"Poor," "destitute": two terms often used to describe African countries. However, in reality,"…they abound in incredible wealth," says Bonnie Campbell, Director of the Groupe de recherche sur les activités minières en Afrique (GRAMA) and C.-A. Poissant, Chair for research on governance and development aid, in referring to African countries' mineral and petroleum resources.

The problem is that these countries are unable to exercise sufficient control over the development of their resources: "There are some aberrations in mining activity: few economic benefits, toxic spills, mineral resources used to fuel armed conflict... and these findings are now known throughout the world," she said.

In view of these facts, in 2000 the World Bank Group (WBG) commissioned a major study of the role it should play in promoting activities in the extractive industries sector internationally.

The Extractive Industries Review (EIR), submitted in 2003, concluded with a series of recommendations, divided into three main issues: public and industrial governance that benefits the poor, more effective social and environmental policies, and respect for human rights.

With financial support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), GRAMA began research in 2004 that would delve deeper into these three issues.

The objective was to determine the legal, economic, social, and environmental conditions required for mining activities to contribute to the sustainable development of African communities and regions. 
The team of researchers, made up of experts from various origins, studied cases in five countries: Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Madagascar, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Each case study focused on a problem targeted by the EIR. 
Several points emerged from the results, notably the fact that governments lack institutional capacity and means, as well as human and financial resources, to ensure the compliance and monitoring of regulations, when these exist.
The problems generated by the activities of mining companies in Africa were already evident, but their causes were poorly documented. Today, the results are very well received, according to Ms Campbell.
Even before results were published, GRAMA was invited to present the results of its research by the Economic Commission for Africa, which held a round table with large funding agencies and decision-makers in the mining sector; the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development; and the advisory panel in Washington created by major financial institutions (including the WBG and the International Monetary Fund).
Several methodology documents that were produced during the project, such as guides for understanding the effects of mining activities or for how to analyze a mining code, are being used to carry out research in Africa.
"Our results have been used in decision-making arenas,” said Ms Campbell.  “The findings directly fuel national and international debates, open discussion, and strengthen knowledge and research capacity in the countries involved."
Therefore, by disseminating the knowledge acquired through its research, GRAMA contributes to putting resources into the service of African development.
Albanie Leduc is a Montreal writer.

This article was first published in the April-May 2008 issue of Découvrir magazine (volume 29, issue 2).