African legislators, academics and civil society organisations want a common law that addresses issues of transparency and accountability by the governments and mining companies in Africa.
Meeting in a continental four-day conference recently in Yaounde, Cameroon, the legislators noted that the continent is well-endowed with minerals yet this is not leading to the desired levels of prosperity, development and industrialization.
Themed ‘The issue of political and socioeconomic integration of the African continent: The role of the Pan African Parliament,’ the lawmakers in the meeting sought to adopt and ratify a model law on a new development approach to natural resource governance on the continent.
One of the panelists, Dr Paul Jourdan, in a statement, said: “The model mining law would give pointers that would, for example, strengthen the negotiating capacity of parliaments; ensure meaningful collaboration between key players and provide support for the required social dialogue.”
Jourdan elaborated that the African Mining Vision (AMV), adopted by African heads of state during their July meeting in 2009 in Kigali, is seen as a solution to the poor governance, lack of strong institutions and weak policies in African states.
He explained that the AMV framework is currently being used in several countries such as Mozambique, Ethiopia, Lesotho and Tanzania and it provides for a transparent, equitable and optimal exploitation of mineral resources.
To Jourdan, AMV is also supporting countries to develop world-class geological survey systems so that they can negotiate with investors from an informed point of view. He said they hope to work with the Pan African Parliament to train parliamentarians on contract negotiations.
However, whereas legislators appreciated the move to have a common mining law to regulate mining, some noted that there are hurdles that need to be overcome first.
For example, Geoffrey Lungwangwa from Zambia was particularly concerned about the continued existence of some colonial land laws in Africa.
“If you have a title to land, you are only confined to the surface and anything under the surface belongs to the state. That land law still prevails in our countries today and it is a contributing factor to poverty,” Lugwangwa said.
He added: “Many of our people are being removed from land once minerals are discovered. They are not even given shares in the mining companies. Is this really socio-economic transformation?”
Lugwangwa, however, concurred that there is need to have a model law that will eventually empower local communities to have shares in the mining companies so that they are economically empowered. But to Anifa Kawooya, the Sembabule Woman MP, the diversity in Africa may not favour a uniform law.
“We have different land laws and policies. Having one unified model will be complicated. There is also the issue of who owns the land where the minerals are found. The land tenure [system] in African countries is different. Some land is owned by the government, individuals, and others owned customarily. We also don’t know [the amount] of our natural resources we have,” Kawooya said.
For Bernadette Lahai, who comes from a diamond-rich area in Sierra Leone, exploitation and child labour are rampant in mining areas and legislators often have no information on agreements between the mining companies and the state.
“Children as young as six years work in the mines. We don’t want mining to affect education,” she said, adding that “Mining agreements are conducted between government and the mining companies, leaving MPs and the local population in the dark.”
According to the African Development Bank, minerals account for an average of 70 per cent of total African exports and about 28 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The bank notes that earnings from the recent oil, gas and mineral discoveries in Uganda, Mozambique and Tanzania could lead to an increase in government revenues of between nine per cent and 31 per cent in the first 10 years of production.
Legislators noted that because of the structure of Africa’s extractive industries, most countries remain exporters of unprocessed commodities. They proposed that Africa needs to add value to her exports so as to unlock the full economic potential of its natural resources.
In an attempt to reverse the curse of resources, the East African Legislative Assembly is in the process of adopting a mining law for the East African region.
The East African Mining Bill, 2017, will provide for a legal framework to harmonize and regulate mining operations in the region and ensure environmentally-friendly and sound mining practices.