Mobilising and empowering local miners in Africa

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    How the African Mining Vision can serve as a catalyst for mobilising and empowering local actors engaged in the artisanal and small scale mining sector in contributing to sustainable development of Africa’s natural resources. The African Mining Vision (AMV) adopted by the African Union in 2009 marks a clear departure from the traditional approaches to the governance of the artisanal and small scale mining (ASM) sector in Africa. Using the AMV as an organising framework, this article elucidates how the AMV provides opportunities for overcoming the challenges and obstacles to improving the policy environment in which local actors evolve in the ASM in terms of the sector’s relations with government and public institutions, large-scale private sector and mining communities in general. It concludes with a number of policy recommendations that could harness the potential of ASM for sustainable development outcomes.

    The strategic value of the AMV

    Although ASM makes a productive contribution to African economies and rural livelihoods in a large number of African countries, its fullest potential in terms of contribution to the broader socio-economic development is not fully harnessed. In most countries, the ASM sector faces a number of challenges. Under-capitalisation; informal or semi-formal business operations and inadequate or lack of technological capacity are some of the most visible characteristics of the sector. Over the years, however, policy responses have failed to address these challenges in a sustainable manner. The Africa Mining Vision, however, seeks to empower the sector, including local actors, by providing a systematic governance framework which recognises the strategic value of ASM as a legitimate actor. Indeed, the AMV proposes that in order to achieve a “transparent, equitable and optimal exploitation of mineral resources to underpin broad-based sustainable growth and socio-economic development,” all actors must press for a knowledge-driven African mining sector that is inclusive, environmentally friendly, socially responsible, and effective at harnessing the advantages of all engaged actors, from artisanal to multinational.

    The AMV seeks to harness the potential the ASM sector has in employment creation, fighting household poverty, enhancing women and youth participation in the economy and society, generating forward and backward linkages in the local economies and overcoming rural underdevelopment through integration with the formal economy. The potential for achieving these goals can be realised through an open, equitable and a participatory governance framework espoused by the AMV. Long held back by an unfavourable policy and regulatory environment, ASM could well be positioned to play a transformative role in Africa’s socio-economic development.

    Key AMV governance dimensions for the ASM sector

    The AMV responds to the absence of specific legal framework facilitating the support and growth of the ASM sector by providing policy, legal and regulatory environment including laws, regulations, standards and codes to advance the sub-sector’s interests vis-à-vis government and private actors. A major area of concern addressed by the AMV framework is the procedures for obtaining licences and rights for their operations, a key ingredient towards formalisation. To address this, the AMV advocates for the formalisation of the ASM sector as a process starting with simplifying the entry requirements of the sector.

    Another key dimension of formalisation of artisanal small scale miners is access to financing, information and support services needed to run a successful business operation. Access to finance is a major constraint due to the capital intensive and the equity-based financial requirements that most ASM companies in Africa are unable to meet. This places the ASM operators outside the realm of formal financing institutions; with little internal resources and limited support from government, ASM bodies are left vulnerable to all forms of informal financiers who often exploit the operators by offering them below market prices for their production. The AMV foresees providing accessible institutional, technical and financial support to operators in the ASM sector to alleviate this challenging policy environment. The AMV champions the provision of technical, training and skills inputs into the ASM sector as a fundamental pre-requisite for success. Technical challenges facing the sector include low education levels of mine planning, lack of adaptation of mineral processing technologies to small scale operations, occupational health and safety standards, as well as lack of knowledge of environmental damage of their operations. Addressing these challenges would require a sustainable framework to produce appropriate technology for ASM and small-scale mining sectors. The AMV takes a holistic approach in addressing these challenges. Providing the policy environment for productive partnerships between large-scale mining corporations and small-scale mining operations for improving the technological and skill-base capacity of ASM operators is a major agenda for the African Mining Vision. Cooperation between small and large-scale miners is another route for ASM operators to access finance and technical support. Often, ASM operators would require the backing of a competent technical partner to access finance. Models for such partnerships exist within African countries such as South Africa and Zambia, however, these are limited examples which should be adapted in other African countries. Due to the high labour intensity and low skill entry requirements, the ASM sector is noted for its high incidence of human rights abuses, including lack of occupational health, safety and environmental standards. In this regard, the AMV calls for an improved regulatory framework for the health and safety of the labour as well as the environmental well-being of the surrounding communities. A poorly remunerated labour force who have gone into mining to avoid poverty as well as working in poor environmental conditions find themselves trapped in a poverty cycle. To arrest this trend, the AMV advocates for the mainstreaming of the ASM sector into poverty reduction strategies and other socio-economic activities for long-term sustainable management of the ASM.

    Support to women in ASM

    The ASM sector in Africa is characterised by an entrenched status of women playing only a secondary role assigned by society in the production value chain. There are several structural factors accounting for the low status assigned to women including the limited access to exploration data or information and limited access to financial resources, land ownership, mineral rights and equipment. Although women are impacted negatively by mining in the communities, their gain from the benefits in the sector is very limited.

    The AMV seeks to reverse the role assigned to women in ASM by providing a platform for promoting gender responsive mining policies, laws, regulations, standards and codes; enhancing the clarity of opportunities for accessing financing mechanisms for women owned mining operations; and further advancing the call for policy and structural changes required to support access to capital, skills and technology to women in the ASM sector. The ultimate goal is to support the promotion and the integration of women into the national and regional values chains of artisanal and small-scale mining.

    AMV opportunities and challenges for the ASM sector

    In sum, the AMV offers several opportunities for transforming the ASM sector in Africa. This is because arguably, the ASM is the sector which African policy makers have more control and influence over than the large scale, multi-national mining sector with complex global value and supply chains. The challenge, however, is to ensure that policies and regulatory regimes that have been agreed upon at the national, regional and continental levels are strictly adhered to, respected and implemented.

    The key is to provide the proper incentives for their formalisation and full integration into the rural and local economy and development strategies.  Among the key AMV policy recommendations necessary for creating such incentives for transformation are:
    • Regularising informal ASM;
    • Simplifying and decentralising procedures for acquiring ASM rights;
    • Providing a realistic capacity development implementation plan;
    • Providing accessible institutional, technical and financial support;
    • Encouraging support for ASM from the more established private sector;
    • Expanding exploration work that leads to designation and allocation of areas for ASM;
    • Enforcing international norms prohibiting child labour and defending women, environmental and labor rights;
    • Exploration and launching measures to redress discrimination against women, whether due to the law or operation against women.
    Kojo Busia is Acting Coordinator and Senior Mineral Sector Governance Advisor at the African Minerals Development Centre (AMDC)/AUNECA.
    This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 4, Issue 3 (April/May 2015).
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