Last week the mining industry held the African Mining Indaba, its annual sector meeting in Cape Town. Concurrently, civil society organizations from across the region met for the ninth annual Alternative Mining Indaba (AMI). As in prior years, activists from AMI marched to the convention center where the Indaba is held, gathering outside to deliver a communique detailing challenges which they believe industry and government must address.
But Indaba attendees had already received a more palpable message from inside the convention center itself on the challenges ahead for the sector, and in the most unlikely of locations: the lavatories. Not a drop of water was available in the sinks at this year’s Indaba as a result of the drought that has put Cape Town within three months of a total water shutdown. In this highly tangible way, environmental impacts became the elephant in the room amidst the handshaking and deal-making that characterizes the Indaba. (And to allay concerns about handshaking in the absence of handwashing, sanitizer gel was provided in abundance.)
The importance of environmental protection and community development were key themes in the Guinea country session, which I had the opportunity to moderate. Other objectives raised during the panel included improving diversification, transparency and local content.
But not all of the country news coming out of Indaba was optimistic. Significant concerns were raised about changes to royalties and tax policy in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s mining bill. And a frequent industry refrain at the gathering was on the need for greater regulatory stability. The new DRC bill also explicitly permits government officials to own mining companies, in addition to requiring 10 percent capital ownership by Congolese nationals. This combination produces major self-dealing risks and stands in stark comparison to findings from NRGI’s review of nearly 50 African mining laws, which revealed that about half prohibited government officials from holding interests in companies applying for extractives licenses.
NRGI co-hosted a side event on extractives transparency and good governance with the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank and the International Council on Mining and Metals, which brought together AMI and Indaba attendees for a discussion on harnessing the power of data to advance sustainable development.
Other major themes at last week’s gatherings included the implications of new mining technologies for women’s employment in the sector, and the future of metals and minerals in solar, wind, and electric vehicle technologies.
Over the course of this year and beyond, we at NRGI will be exploring many of these themes through our growing work on corruption, gender and sustainability.
Erica Westenberg is the director of governance programs at the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI).