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Crucial vote in Burkina Faso could double money from gold for communities

By Chris Hufstader
The #Juste1pourcent campaign, led by the Publish What You Pay coalition in Burkina Faso is using this graphic to urge Parliament to increase the share of gold mining revenue available for community development in mining areas. The message reads: “I support the cause. Ask Parliament to adopt a mining code with 1 percent of gold revenues for the benefit of the people.” Photo: #Just1Pourcent campaign

Citizen groups in Burkina Faso are urging the country’s government to increase payments to mining areas producing gold to help communities get basic services like clean water, better roads, schools, and hospitals.

“In the locations where gold is exploited, paradoxically people in these areas are very poor,” says Pierre Dabire, coordinator of the Publish What You Pay coalition in Burkina Faso that is advocating for more transparent management of gold mining revenues. “We’re fighting to get their dignity back.”

Campaigners in Burkina Faso say gold is now Burkina Faso’s most valuable export, but not enough of the revenue it brings in is being used to fight poverty. Civil society organizations are urging the country’s transitional Parliament to increase payments made to communities for local development projects from 0.5 percent to 1 percent of mining revenues when they vote on a new mining code in the end of May.

Mining companies operating in the country have opposed even this minimal 0.5 percent increase. The civil society campaign, supported by Oxfam in collaboration with the Publish What You Pay Coalition, was urging the Parliament to rewrite the mining code in October of 2014 when protests led to the overthrow of President Blaise Compaore. The parliament vote on the mining code was postponed.

In preparation for the vote, in late April members of a transitional Parliament now governing the country visited mining areas in Seno province and Inata in the Sahel region, as well as Sabce (Center North area) near the Niger and Mali borders.  Communities in these areas are among the poorest in Burkina and most lack basic services. Community members, many of whom are nomadic peoples, struggle to sustain themselves by agriculture and small-scale mining.  Citing “persisting tensions” in mining areas, the Parliament’s Social Affairs and Sustainable Development Chairman Asseghna Somda says communities in these areas have legitimate concerns. “We’ve been receiving complaints from the mining sites…the new mining code could attract new companies but we don’t have the right to overlook the interests of our people.”

“Gold must shine for everyone”

Campaigning under the #Juste1pourcent (“just one percent”) and #MinesAlert Twitter hashtags, the coalition campaign has also been running television, radio, and newspaper advertisements to build support for the increase in revenues for local development in gold producing areas.  Burkina Faso is currently the fourth largest producer of gold in Africa (behind South Africa, Ghana, and Mali) and has issued 668 mining exploration permits. The country brought in $390 million in 2013 from eight active mining sites. Meanwhile, it is one of the poorest countries in West Africa: 47 percent of its citizens live in poverty; average income there is about $750 per year.

Oxfam’s support for the #Juste1pourcent campaign in Burkina is part of its global program to help communities affected by oil, gas, and mining projects to defend their basic rights to benefit from natural resource wealth.

Oxfam is working with organizations across West Africa to urge governments to establish a regional mining code to standardize social and environmental standards that will protect the rights of people affected by gold mining.

The transitional Parliament in Burkina Faso is under pressure to promote investment in the country, and has in the past been criticized by civil society groups for being pushed by business interests into postponing votes on the mining code. After the transitional Parliament visited the mining areas in April, campaigners hope they will be more inclined to be on the side of communities, and comments from members of parliament indicate they are aware of community concerns. “It will be wiser for the mining companies to consider the aspirations and claims from the population,” says Bazyé Jean-Hubert, a member of Parliament. “We want resources retrieved from our soils to benefit our countrymen.”

“Getting this code passed by the transitional Parliament will be a victory of the whole civil society that has come together to defend the rights of our people,” says Jonas Hien, president of the Organization for Community Capacity Building for Development (ORCADE), one of Oxfam’s partners participating in the campaign. “As we say in one of our slogans, ‘gold must shine for everyone.’”

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