Session 5 - What new certification and governance mechanisms have helped to advance more responsible extraction of African minerals?


Claude Kabemba's picture

Director of the Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW)

October 30th, 2013


Once again the Kimberley Process’ definition of conflict diamonds was seen as being inadequate since rebel movements are not the only things capable of destabilising legitimate governments – so it should be expanded to include all possible factors that have the potential to destabilise, or cause chaos within, a country. It was argued that the violation of economic, social and political rights destabilises societies and should be included within the KP’s official definition of conflict diamonds. It was argued that in most parts of Africa rebel movements arose following human rights violations by legitimate governments, especially natural resource rich governments. Angry and dissatisfied communities, which are not able to publicly and politically highlight their concerns over violations of their rights, see no attempt by the government to address them and do not benefit from their natural resources, will resort to violence.

It is clear that issues of development cannot be separated from human rights. The African Union Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which was passed by the then OAU in 1981, recognises the link between natural resources and human rights – so the issue is far from being a new phenomenon in Africa and the KP should not treat it as such. It was suggested that the recognition of human rights by the KP would benefit the African continent in various ways, including encouraging higher natural resource revenues, greater transparency within the natural resource sector and better social livelihoods.

The panellists observed that Africa does not suffer from a shortage of governance mechanisms. Instead, the real problem rests with implementation. Mechanisms include the EITI, the OECD Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights and the US Dodd Frank Act but most of these suffer from one key weakness – they are voluntary and cannot legally compel member states to implement their requirements or non-member states to join. In relation to the KP, a panellist stated that the voluntary nature of the scheme also compromises its effectiveness. He cited Venezuela, which voluntarily suspended itself from the KP and today the destination of her diamonds remains unknown. The Venezuelan case demonstrates the limited options open to the KP when it comes to influencing both member states and non-member states. He stated that most African countries simply accede to governance mechanisms to ‘clear their conscience’ and appear as though they are trying to improve the governance of their resource sector or to seek legitimacy at international level and appease the donor community in the hope of receiving additional funding. 

It was further argued that the role of businesses in the mining sector is worrying since they are driven purely by profit – usually at the expense of sustainable development. It was explained how US companies involved in diamonds and gold initially rejected the Dodd Frank Act and came up with various arguments to try and convince the US Congress not to sign the act into law. Their actions make it abundantly clear that they are not genuinely interested in helping Africa to promote a more sustainable development agenda.

It was argued that the competition for Africa’s natural resources by global powers – such as China and Russia, which are not interested in issues of corruption, good governance and human rights – has not helped African countries to improve their governance. Indeed, these countries usually complicate the political, economic, social and environmental situations in resource rich African countries.

Although some panellists were critical of the effectiveness of governance mechanisms in Africa and around the world, there was a general recognition that these mechanisms did provide an important platform – and helped to promote debates around transparency and accountability at national, continental and global levels.

It was suggested that in order for governance mechanisms such as the KP to produce positive results, they had to identify exactly what the core problem was and how best to address it. The long-term solution for the KP should be to focus on building the capacities of local communities in Africa, so that they develop the ability to make it more difficult for foreign industries to acquire extractive contracts that disadvantage them. African governments, especially ministers and members of parliament, should also be trained and technically assisted so that they do not sign disadvantageous extractive contacts. They need to know how to ensure that their people receive maximum benefit from their resources – rather than merely advancing their own personal interests.

A powerful point was made about the disparity between the KP’s view of Africa’s diamonds and the reality on the ground – since most African states lack the institutional capacity to effectively police the extraction and trade of their diamonds – and this could prevent the KP from achieving its objectives. In addition, the KP might support or denounce actions by certain participants but without adequate resources nothing will come to fruition.

The importance of political will was emphasised – since only with political will from all parties in the diamond industry will it become more transparent and accountable. Until African governments alter the way they operate and strive to work effectively with various actors within their countries, it will not be possible to build truly sustainable diamond industries. It was argued that diamond companies benefit the most from the diamond trade – and since they are motivated solely by profits, they are likely to absorb all types of diamonds, whether conflict free or not.

Another panellist stated that governance mechanisms such as the KP, which aim to improve revenue transparency, often seem to have a direct effect at the micro-economic level but not very much influence at the macro-economic level. However, these mechanisms also do not address the issue of revenue transparency in a clear way since there are no set benchmarks regarding how a state ought to channel its diamond revenues to the Treasury. 

About the author(s)

Claude Kabemba is the Director of the Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW). In 2006, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) asked him to spearhead the formation of SARW. He holds a PhD in International Relations (Political economy) at the University of the Witwatersrand (Thesis: Democratisation and the Political Economy of a Dysfunctional State: The Case of the Democratic Republic of Congo). Before joining SARW, he worked at the Human Sciences Research Council and the Electoral institute of Southern Africa as a Chief Research Manager and Research Manager respectively. He has also worked at the Development Bank of Southern Africa and the Centre for Policy Studies as Policy Analyst. Dr. Kabemba’s main areas of research interest include: Political economy of Sub Saharan Africa with focus on Southern and Central Africa looking specifically on issues of democratization and governance, natural resources governance, election politics, citizen participation, conflicts, media, political parties, civil society and social policies. He has consulted for international organizations such Oxfam, UNHCR, The Norwegian People’s Aid, Electoral Commissions and the African Union. He has undertaken various evaluations related to the work of Electoral Commissions and civil society groups interventions in the electoral process in many African countries. He is regularly approached by both local and international media for comments on political and social issues on the continent. His publication record spans from books (as editor), book chapters, journal articles, monographs, research reports, and newspaper articles.


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