Since 2015, Burkina Faso has been faced with ongoing conflict and attacks that have displaced around 800 000 Burkinabe in the last year, and now the country is facing another major threat – COVID-19.
The country’s vulnerable citizens who were displaced during the conflict, are most at risk as the virus tightens its grip, with over 500 confirmed cases as at 15 April 2020, including four of the country’s ministers. Written by CHANTELLE KOTZE.
The country’s mining industry has also been impacted – first by the ongoing conflict and now by the outbreak of COVID-19.
Despite the conflict, which has been concentrated in the north and the east of the country, the mining sector remained resilient until the succession of high-profile attacks, which occurred in late 2019.
Most notable was the armed attack on a convoy of busses carrying mineworkers to SEMAFO’s Boungou mine in the east of the country in November 2019 in which 37 people were killed and more than 60 people wounded.
These attacks highlighted to mining firms the potential dangers and led to a sector-wide call for greater security provisions by the government in key mining regions, says Tristan Puri, consultant at Pan-African consulting firm Africa Practice.
Despite the call for increased security provision, the domestic and regional response to the violence remains weak. While France is seeking to foster closer collaboration among regional and international powers, these efforts are being undermined by a lack of international commitment.
Most notably, the United States is threatening to withdraw from the region entirely, which would deprive regional powers of key equipment and intelligence gathering capabilities, says Puri.
While the conflict and lack of resolution has forced some mines to temporarily close their operations, there are some producers that have been able to continue relatively unaffected. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 has the potential to change all this, says Puri.
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Aside from the severe global impact of the pandemic on commodity prices and supply chains, as well as the broader economic impact within the country, the impact of the virus on the mining sector in Burkina Faso has thus far not been too dramatic, according to Puri.
“While there have been several confirmed cases of Coronavirus in the western and south-western regions of the country, where many mining companies operate, only a handful of cases have been reported at mining operations.
While the government has for the time being only introduced a night-time curfew, restricted all large gatherings and suspended international travel to deal with the pandemic, the expected uptick in cases in the coming months will likely see the government introduce more stringent distancing measures.
These measures could hamper supply chains and slow mining production, with a further risk of potential lockdown in the regions where cases have been reported.
Also of concern in the country is whether the presidential election, scheduled for November, will go ahead as a result of the pandemic.
Moreover, the country’s weak health system, large numbers of vulnerable citizens and volatile security context, could lead to a catastrophic mortality rate and make it difficult to hold the election, says Puri.
Puri believes that Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, who took office in December 2015, is keen to see the election go ahead as it will shore up his legitimacy at home and abroad.
Having secured only a marginal majority in 2015, an election victory in November will allow Kaboré renewed momentum to tackle the rising militant threat, and will facilitate further donor support for his economic development plan.
Assuming the 2020 election goes ahead, Puri says President Kaboré is in a relatively strong position, owing to the weakness of the opposition and the population’s desire for political continuity at these uncertain times.
This will likely see continuity in government policy – specifically regarding the mining sector, which is viewed as strategically vital by the government as it is a key contributor to GDP.
This has been reflected in the 2015 Mining Code, which was enacted by the interim government in July 2015, before Kaboré became president and was upheld by his administration till now.
This revised mining code introduced various investor-friendly measures. It reduced regulatory uncertainty in the sector, respected existing mining agreements to foster continuity and created a community development fund, which provides a favourable framework for investors.
While Puri says there are currently no high-level political discussions around changing the regulatory landscape in the mining sector, parts of the mining code are yet to be fully implemented – mainly around social responsibility and compensation to local communities.
“This has caused some frustration in the mining sector, and also among local populations who are affected by mining operations. With the upcoming election, it is possible that President Kaboré will therefore seek to implement these social aspects of the code more comprehensively, in an effort to win over these communities,” says Puri.