By Abubakar Jimoh
Effort to strengthen protections for the local communities most directly impacted by the mining activities resulted in the adoption of a new directive guiding the principles and policies of the region’s mining sector in 2009 by mining ministers representing the member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a sub-regional body of 15 countries.
Without doubt, adopting a regional mining policy directive remains an important step toward strengthening regional protections for the basic rights and livelihoods of mining-affected communities in West Africa and ensuring that mineral resources contribute to their sustainable development. The draft of the directive, which aims at addressing financial, social and environmental challenges facing mining host communities across West African region, was developed by the ECOWAS Commission with input from government officials, civil society organizations, and communities affected by mining.
Although, revenues from the mining industry form an important part of the economies of many West African countries, however, these revenues do not always translate into benefits for citizens. For example, Ghana is the second-largest gold producer in Africa—producing 2.5 million ounces of gold in 2007—but nearly 80 percent of Ghanaians are living on less than $2 per day. Also, Nigeria is one of the major exporters of crude oil in the world, the 6th largest producer of crude oil and the 5th largest supplier of crude oil to America and Western Europe, however, 61 per cent of Nigerians are reportedly living below the poverty line.
Apart from ineffective utilization or mismanagement of revenue from extractive sector across West African region, mining extraction comes at a cost to environment, community health, and with social consequences most of which are borne by mining host communities. At the core of planning and implementation in the mining sector adequate attention has not been given to the protection of the rights of mining host communities; and failure to ensure their protection often results in disasters, a classic example was the Zamfara lead poisoning disaster in Nigeria.
There are reported little or no knowledge by most mining communities in West Africa about the mining and its impact on their environment, health or social construction. Also, most have no knowledge that mining activities – both by company companies and artisanal miners are regulated by government. While they knew most companies obtain licenses from the government, they have very vague knowledge of the regulatory institutions or legal framework governing mining or protecting their rights within this framework.
It is noteworthy that illegal underground mines constructed by unregulated artisanal miners in some communities covered by the report have created environmental hazards and weakened social infrastructural like communal access roads. It has been observed that large expanses of farmlands have given way to unsustainable mining activities, giving accounts that de-vegetation promotes erosions and directly contributing to rapid desertification across the region.
The common health impacts of mining activities reported in host communities assessed were air effluents and dust pollution resulting in respiratory infections and condition including asthma, chronic bronchitis, and pneumoconiosis; noise pollution resulting in varying degree of deafness and stress related disorders; and water pollution resulting outbreaks of cholera and other water borne ailments. These sources of pollution potentially for long term health impacts such as cancer, skin disorder, birth defects, miscarriages and infertility.
As one of the major steps to address the aforementioned challenges, on 17th April, 2009, ECOWAS Ministers of mines and Industries met in Abuja to adopt the Draft ECOWAS mining directive after a two-day meeting of experts from Member states. The West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF), ECOWAS Commission and OXFAM America, West Africa Regional Office, worked for the vision and the exemplary win-win partnership that led to the adoption of a mining directive. They also developed an action plan to support its actual implementation process before 2014.
The directive aims at improving transparency in mineral policy formulation and implementation process in mining in West Africa and through participation of the State, mining companies, concerned communities, and civil society actors in their diversity; providing a mining environment that will boost growth in West African economies and lessen competition among member states; providing a legal framework for various civil society actors and communities to engage States and Companies for accountability, respect of human rights, and preservation of the environment; providing for compliance and contentious issues to be addressed by the ECOWAS Commission and the ECOWAS Court of Justice.
It is worrisome that despite the adoption of the directives six years back, there are persistent reports on failure by member states to diligently implement the directives to safeguard their citizens from environmental impacts of mining activities. In some communities for instance, abandoned mines have been improvised into water wells and contaminated them for community use.
In order to facilitate the attainment of an efficient mineral sector that is beneficial to the West African populations through the effective implementation of the EMDP and the Directive on the Harmonization of Guiding Principles and Policies in the Mining Sector (henceforth referred to as the Regional Mining Directive or The Directive) in the ECOWAS Member States, as well as the development of a Regional Mining Code, a regional meeting was organized by WACSOF with the support from Oxfam in Accra, Ghana from 22-23 February 2013.
The forum revealed that in terms of publication of the Directive in the Official Gazette, seven countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Senegal and Togo) had published the Directive in their Official Journal; three countries (Mali, Niger and Nigeria) were in the process of publishing the Directive; Cote d’Ivoire had not begun the process to publish the Directive in its Official Journal; Liberia and Sierra Leone had an unclear status regarding the publication of the Directive; and Cape Verde has not demonstrated interest in publishing the Directive in its Official Journal.
Going forward, in March 19-20, 2015, an Annual Impact Reflection (AIR) meeting organized by Oxfam West Africa Regional Office in Darkar, Senegal, revealed that through the inclusive process of regional civil society led by Oxfam, comparative study on mining and oil codes and the ECOWAS Directive has been drafted in Senegal; Mali has shown commitment to promoting the Domestication of the Directive; while seven African countries (Mali, Guinea, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Cote ‘Ivoire and Ghana)were reported to revised or in process of revising their mineral code to harmonise with the ECOWAS Mining Directive, six others (Benin, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Togo and Ghana) have applied the ECOWAS Mining Directive.
The meeting noted several challenges militating against effective implementation of the Directive by member states were observed and these include: weak collaboration between civil society and some state authorities on issues affecting extractives; existing misconception about the relevance of civil society by state authorities; inadequate awareness; inadequate intervention by civil society; diverse interests by civil society and state authorities; member states’ institutional capacity challenges; inadequate capacity by civil society organization to engage mining issues.
More importantly, in Accra 2013, WACSOF had proffered some useful recommendations to the aforementioned challenges. These are: more specialized civil society on extractive issues; constructive collaboration between civil society member states; enhanced civil society’s participation in regional mining processes; adequate funding for civil society to engage mining process and demand accountability; states’ institutional capacity development on issues affecting mining.
Furthermore, persistent advocacy to by civil society to key policy and decision makers, communities, media as well as regional experience sharing on domestication and implementation of the ECOWAS Mining Directive were other vital strategies recommended by participants at Annual Impact Reflection (AIR) meeting in Dakar, Senegal.