The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is continuing its work to develop the region’s mineral development policy. It most recently has set up a 10-member ad-hoc committee to monitor the implementation of the ECOWAS Directive on the Harmonization of Guiding Principles and Policies in the Mining Sector and its accompanying plan of action.
This is an important step in the on-going effort by the ECOWAS member nations to adopt a uniform policy that will standardize the social, environmental, and financial requirements for mines in West Africa. Oxfam America has encouraged this effort because it will require mining companies to obtain the consent of local communities before mines can be established or expanded, and give communities a meaningful role in decisions. After member countries revise their laws, mines will have to comply with more stringent requirements for the environment, and financial transparency.
The committee will also make recommendations on measures to be taken for the effective implementation of the directive and also ensure that it is published in the National Gazette of member-states, a way for the government to show an official commitment to the directive. Senegal has taken the lead by remaining the only member-state to have published it in the National Gazette.
In the same vein, ministers responsible for mineral resources development in the region have recommended the establishment of a permanent forum to deal with matters affecting the mineral sector. This is a major decision at a recent one-day meeting of ministers know as ECOWAS Minerals and Oil Forum (ECOMOF).
Role for civil society
Commenting on these developments, Oxfam America’s Coordinator for Extractive Industries Program at its West Africa Regional Office in Dakar, Senegal, Ibrahima Aidara commends ECOWAS for the laudable initiative but decried the lack of adequate representation of civil society organizations.
“ECOWAS should widen the scope of consultation to all stakeholders including civil society organizations and representatives of mineral-bearing communities to make public policy formulation more participatory, inclusive, and democratic,” he says. “This will guarantee the protection of the rights of the communities and individuals directly affected by the activities of the extractive industries in the region.”
West Africa is replete with a rich diversity of mineral resources, but weak governance structures, corruption, injustice, and political instability have conspired to leave the vast majority among the poorest in the world. The president of the commission, James Victor Gbeho, says the ECOWS directive will have significant effects: “It is necessary to introduce norms and standards that would ensure, at once, the protection of the environment, social impact, harmonious labor relations, sustainable community development plans, and equitable land rights regime and transparent management of natural resources.”
Oxfam America through its Extractive Industries Program and working with its partners has been at the forefront of pushing for reforms in the extractive industries sector in the region to ensure the protection of human rights and the reduction of poverty.