Twelve of the most mineral-rich countries and six of the most oil-rich countries in the world are defined by the World Bank as Heavily-Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs). Although these countries are rich in natural resources, their people often continue to live in poverty and conflict. The resource curse is alive and well.
Arriving into a hotel in Lusaka, Zambia, the coffee table magazine was full of articles about mining companies, reflecting the boom in the industry alongside recent rises in copper prices. The magazine highlighted how philanthropy was funding community projects, but many of those who voted for the newly elected President had higher hopes that he would ensure the mining industry contributed through its core business activities to Zambian development . CAFOD partners, such as the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection, have been challenging tax avoidance by extractives companies and calling for a windfall tax on mining companies.
This was my first visit to Africa in 5 years and I was already getting an idea why so many more organisations and individuals are proactively working to ensure that all citizens benefit from the natural resource wealth in their country. I had come to attend a conference organised by CAFOD and our US sister agency Catholic Relief Services which brought together over 135 individuals from faith-based, legal, human rights and environmental organisations. It facilitated a rich exchange of experiences in addressing the social, environmental and economic impacts of extractives industries across 15 countries of southern Africa and beyond. Together we formed new understandings, for example about different options for dialogue, negotiation, collection and presentation of evidence between communities, governments and private sector extractives companies. We refined our ideas and set up new collaborations.
By the end of the conference, participants shared the actions they are planning to take in their countries to promote just, equitable and sustainable development of natural resources. These included working towards:
– Increased transparency and accountability in contracts, tax and revenue management
– Mitigation of environmental damageGreater community voice and participation, including free, prior and continuous informed consent by affected communities
– More effective laws and better access to justice
CAFOD, CRS and our partners at the conference hope that this increased regional co-operation will be a decisive step towards turning the resource curse into a blessing.