Natural Resources, Sustainable Development, and Peace in Africa

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On June 30, 2020, the Wilson Center Africa Program, under the banner of the Southern Voices Network for Peacebuilding (SVNP), and the Social Science Research Council’s African Peacebuilding Network (APN) hosted a virtual event on “Natural Resources, Sustainable Development, and Peace in Africa.” Dr. Monde Muyangwa, Director, Wilson Center Africa Program, Washington, D.C., gave the welcome remarks; while Dr. Cyril Obi, Program Director, African Peacebuilding Network, Social Science Research Council, New York City, set the stage for and moderated the discussion. Dr. Dauda Garuba, Technical Adviser, Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Abuja, Nigeria; Dr. Resty Naiga, Lecturer and Researcher, Department of Development Studies, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda; and Dr. Seydina Ousmane Sene, Senior Economist, Initiative Prospective Agricole et Rurale (IPAR), Dakar, Senegal joined as speakers. Dr. Cosmas Milton Obote Ochieng, Director, African Natural Resources Centre, African Development Bank (AfDB), Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire had planned to speak, but was prevented by last-minute technical difficulties. This event examined the intersection of civil society and peacebuilding in natural resource-rich African counties. It interrogated the role of civil society in community engagement, the promotion of accountability, and development based on inclusive, transparent, and sustainable resource management. It also addressed the challenges African civil society groups have faced, lessons learned in empowering them, and how governments, private businesses, local communities, and civil society can better work together. Speakers offered policy options for boosting the meaningful inclusion of civil society groups and local communities in transforming natural resource development and management.

Dr. Garuba observed that there is a significant link between natural resources governance, development, conflict, and peace in Africa. He noted the importance of each of these links—observing that without adequate governance, peace is much more difficult to attain. Garuba asserted that a common denominator in conflicts in Africa since the Cold War has been a shift away from inter-state conflicts toward low-intensity intra-state conflicts, partly driven by competition over access to, or fueled by natural resources. He stressed that while natural resources are not the basis for all conflicts in Africa, they often play an important role in mobilizing resources to prolong violence. In assessing the roles of different actors in natural resources management, Garuba noted that governments are often seen as being aligned with private companies against the interests of the local population—leading to a lack of trust in government and a reliance on civil society to mitigate the adverse environmental impact of natural resources extraction on communities. He observed that some of the challenges faced by African institutions in addressing natural resources management and conflict include the absence of effective governance frameworks, absence of domestic resource mobilization, lack of valued-added industries, and lack of access to capital and technology. He also identified corruption and illicit financial flows, and the disconnect between national policies and regional/continental frameworks. Garuba offered several suggestions for improving natural resource governance, including the expansion of the role of civil society to build resilience in local communities, looking at domestic compliance with international instruments such as the Natural Resource Charter, and approaches such as the Africa Mining Vision, getting better deals with resource extractors, ensuring revenue transparency, and managing volatility. He underlined the importance of sustainable development—as most natural resources are non-renewable—and the need to put in place safeguard mechanisms such as voluntary principles (including those in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and the Open Government Partnership) for business, human security, human rights and the pursuit of the public good. Garuba underscored the need for civil society to continue their resilience building strategies to promote these voluntary principals; assist regional and continental organizations in pushing the African Mining Vision agenda, the Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) mineral development policy, and The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). He also noted the importance of creating opportunities for mediating encounters between national and local governments and local communities, strengthening the role of communities, and developing mechanisms to add value to natural resources, rather than just exporting them in their raw form and losing the opportunity to add value locally. He made a case for the sustainable extraction and use of resources for the present and future generations of Africans. Garuba closed by recommending increased collaboration between international and African civil society organizations.

Dr. Naiga provided an in-depth overview of Uganda’s resource abundance, including the recent discovery of oil. She reiterated the importance of Africa’s natural resources not just for livelihoods but also in terms of spiritual, cultural, and historical significance—in addition to their enormous potential for sustainable development and day to day peacebuilding. However, she expressed the view that “resource curse” phenomenon has prevented the translation of these potential benefits into tangible outcomes. She dissected the various ways in which Uganda could be described as suffering from a resource curse: over 30,000 people there have been displaced since the discovery of oil with questionable resettlement arrangements, and despite abundant water supplies over 50 percent of local people lack access to clean water, in a context where competing livelihoods were driving conflicts over access to resources. She therefore made a case for stakeholder analysis aimed at informing conflict resolution, food security, inclusive and responsive policies directed towards ensuring that natural resource endowment benefited the people. Still looking at strategies for addressing these challenges, Naiga underlined the critical importance of governance. The role of governance is to ensure that natural resource development is inclusive and responsive to the needs of the people—without which it is not worth the risk and effort. She identified the key principles for governance as including legitimacy, accountability, transparency, and inclusiveness. Naiga asserted that achieving good governance requires engaging stakeholders, including academics and researchers to conduct studies and generate data and findings to inform evidence-based policy. She also underlined the role of civil society in advocating for inclusive governance and acting as a bridge between governments and communities, and the business sector. Engaging these stakeholders requires an enabling environment for all actors, including the recognition of the correlation between natural resource governance and sustainable development. She also interrogated approaches to natural resource management in different African countries, Naiga also observed that a key challenge behind the resource curse is the failure to ensure transparency and accountability, and make peacebuilding an integral part of natural resource management. To overcome the resource curse, she recommended integrating peacebuilding and conflict resolution into natural resource management and developing robust governance systems that are legitimate, transparent, and willing to overcome corruption. Naiga also called on decision makers on the continent to develop home-grown strategies and capacities that would collectively reduce external dependence and pool the continent’s energies in developing the capacity to utilize resources for the benefit of Africans. She also recommended embracing the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), and ensuring that stakeholder analysis and engagement takes place to address conflict preemptively. Naiga also observed that most natural resource management policies are not gender-responsive, and made a strong case for integrating such considerations into efforts towards improving the quality of lives of women, and children. She also reiterated the centrality of governance to the efficient use and fair distribution of the benefits of resource endowment in African countries. While men often make decisions regarding land and water governance, women are the ones who shoulder the burden of the consequences of such decisions. It is important to develop responsive and inclusive regulatory frameworks. She closed her remarks by underlining the need for more data to inform policies, including additional funding support to reinforce research efforts. 

Dr. Sene spoke to issues of water resources and land management, which are especially pressing in Senegal, but equally have relevance for many African countries. He emphasized that peacebuilding is a long-term process. In this regard, he made a strong case for developing and putting conflict prevention systems in place to prevent crises, as conflict over natural resources is likely to remain a threat to Africa’s economic development. Sene also described the Initiative Prospective Agricole et Rurale’s (IPAR’s) efforts, working in collaboration with the Government of Senegal to track the economic dimension of natural resources management and peacebuilding in Africa, particularly in relation to Senegal. He also noted that this included tracking how violence (from protests and riots to military conflict) affects peacebuilding. To this end, IPAR developed a dashboard that tracks protests, riots, and their impact on community-, municipality-, and state-level discussions and conflict. IPAR has found that over the past 10 years in West Africa, much political violence has come from civilian battles over land-grabbing, access to water, and farming and industrial practices. This research is helping to better clarify how communication of grievances at the local level can rapidly transform into violence. Sene emphasized that while it is important for officials to consider high-level policy solutions, it is also critical for them to monitor the “low intensity crises” that are occurring in communities, which can quickly escalate into full-blown violence and disrupt peacebuilding efforts. He suggested that policymakers in Africa should focus on the key trouble “hot spots” related to land grabs, farmer-herder, and water-related conflicts. In this regard, he proposed that water and land will be more critical natural resource issues in the 21st century than oil. He underscored the importance of addressing violence arising from competing natural resource exploitation and use by various stakeholders. He called for the monitoring of events across the Sahel, to help communities with information needed to build upon resource abundance and engage in appropriate kinds of natural resource-related investments. Sene also observed that conflicts over land and water resources were growing in tandem with the expansion of large-scale agribusiness in Africa. In terms of governance, he was of the view that centralized governments can be susceptible to corruption, as decisions are made by a handful of national officials who may be disconnected from communities and events on the ground—providing an easy access point for a set of corrupt actors. Sene emphasized the need for communities to have a measure of independence with which to manage their natural resources. He also emphasized the importance of addressing emerging challenges to natural resource management, noting that in Senegal there are currently 20-70 incidents of protest or political violence daily—a state of affairs that is reflected across West Africa.

In the subsequent discussion, participants posed questions via Twitter and email regarding foreign exploitation, environmental degradation, cross-sectoral collaboration, the relationship between public-private partnerships and corruption, and how communities can balance benefits from natural resources with more sustainable development.

The SVNP is a continent-wide network of African policy, research and academic organizations that works with the Wilson Center’s Africa Program to bring African knowledge and perspectives to U.S., African, and international policy on peacebuilding in Africa. Established in 2011 and supported by the generous financial support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the project provides avenues for African researchers and practitioners to engage with, inform, and exchange analyses and perspectives with U.S., African, and international policymakers in order to develop the most appropriate, cohesive, and inclusive policy frameworks and approaches to achieving sustainable peace in Africa.

Launched in March 2012, the African Peacebuilding Network (APN) supports independent African research on conflict-affected countries and neighboring regions of the continent, as well as the integration of African knowledge into global policy communities. It is supported by the generous financial support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The APN promotes the visibility of African peacebuilding knowledge among global and regional centers of scholarly analysis and practical action and makes it accessible to key policymakers at the United Nations and other multilateral, regional, and national policymaking institutions. The APN accomplishes this by facilitating the transformation of the quality and scale of African research and consolidating the contributions of African researchers and analysts, thereby connecting them with other African scholars, policy analysts, practitioners, and networks focusing on issues of peacebuilding, as well as with other policymaking communities around the world. 

This event was live tweeted and webcast. Follow the Africa Program Twitter account @AfricaUpClose and the African Peacebuilding Network’s Twitter account @APN_SSRC and catch up on the conversation #NaturalResources