artisanal mining

The world is undoubtedly in a period where precision and speed are of utmost importance to governance. The prevailing problems remind us that time and resources are finite and that solutions are only as effective as they are instituted timely.

The efficient use of mineral resources should be a priority in Africa. The continent is still faced with significant challenges in the provision of basic infrastructure, energy, managing poverty and limited institutional capacity.

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AUTHOR: Selina Zhuwarara

The current COVID-19 pandemic only exposes these weaknesses and the continents strained health care infrastructure. One of the lessons in this time of difficulty is that the continent needs to improve on how it accounts and utilizes the revenues of its natural resources. 

One such area is the utilization of opportunities created by the mining sector. Opportunities, minerals and time are finite therefore the policies that guide the mining sector should be structured with mindfulness and deliberate effort in channelling back revenues to critical national projects.

To date, the artisanal sector in Africa is one such area that remains insufficiently regulated to the detriment of the efficient mobilisation of mineral resources.

Despite various efforts the sector largely remains outside the formal value chain. Africa continues to bleed through the smuggling of various minerals.

The artisanal mining sector has a legitimate role to play in the economic development of Africa and specifically in addressing poverty and economic inclusivity.

However, current efforts of formalization mainly fall short because they do not take a holistic approach to bringing the sector under effective control.

Most efforts revolve around finding an appropriate licensing regime instead of adopting a broader approach which seeks to find a solution that can absorb and contain the entire value chain.

A holistic approach also looks at solving broader socio-economic shortcomings in urban rural economies. Therefore, solving the formalization of the sector requires more a significantly broader effort and commitment which goes beyond solving the licensing riddle for the miner.

In order to fully appreciate the scope, nature and possible options available for the formalization of the sector, mineral countries need to possess accurate information regarding how the sector is constituted and its systems of operation.

This includes intimately understanding the participant profiles, statistical data, process variants and consumables, supply and demand facets, value chain participants, cycles, revenues, capitalization, labour and gender dynamics, consumables, supporting industry, linkages, social capital etc. 

It is important to invest in acquiring such data because one things that had proved indispensable to problem solving in the 21st century is the power of data and its value to society and enterprise. Data has become an integral part of business and policy intelligence.

Continued advancements in technology are also delivering vast improvements in the tools that can be used to optimize the collection and interpretation of data for strategic purposes.  

These various tools are at the disposal of governments and can be employed to fully map and define the sector. It is a considered view that commissioning and investing in extensive mapping and data collection in the artisanal sector can vastly improve the process of deciphering a holistic solution. 

It is impossible to regulate the industry without a full picture of the issues and interactions within the sector. Solutions need to be viable, targeted and sustainable and this can only be achieved when governments know exactly what they are dealing with.

The step and process of unbundling and dissecting the sector elements is indispensable to the process of sustainable formalization and every country besieged with the negative effects of artisanal mining cannot deliver a viable solution blueprint without undertaking such a study.

At present non-governmental institutions have taken the lead in enumerating, mapping and organising information derived from various data points within the sector.

Unfortunately, these institutions cannot undertake such exercises at the scale or scope that is required to create a comprehensive nationwide analysis or cover all the vital data points.

This is only possible through government structures which possess unlimited access and institutional capacity to undertake such a comprehensive study without limitations.

Ultimately the success of the formalization process will heavily rely on the ability of governments to accumulate accurate information and thereafter singularly take the elements of the sector apart in order to reverse engineer an arrangement that will be agreeable to the participants and suitable for effective government regulation.

It is important to accept that playing catch up and regulating a sector retrospectively diminishes the degree of governments’ ability to influence and develop a generic solution.

Inevitably a working solution will include combining novel measures with sanitised pre-existing elements which can be retrofitted into a working governance structure.

However, it is important to appreciate that for government led mapping to be undertaken and for it to produce accurate information there must be a reasonable level of trust and common purpose existing between artisanal miners and the government.

At present the atmosphere between governments and artisanal miners in many mineral rich countries is characterized by mistrust, opportunism and hostility. This situation has arisen because of the full or partial criminalization of the sector which is then often paired with the use of force.

Reports of constant running battles between states and artisanal miners are common and the subsequent use of the police and army to contain hot spots has been widely reported in many African countries.

What is clear from this cycle of interaction is that it has become repetitive and that the negative impacts of artisanal mining are not abated nor threatened. Instead the sector continues to grow rapidly.  

Artisanal miners have learnt to respond by retreating, regrouping and relocating if need be. The sheer tenacity and resilience of artisanal miners shows that the fear of penalties or pain dwarfs in the face of their desire to make a living. 

It has also emerged that in some instances where permanent deployment of troops or the police is effected, some of the security forces end up partaking in illegal activities by charging a fee to allow artisanal miners secure passage and access to the mining sites that they are supposed to be protecting.

While the use of security agents in managing the artisanal sector may be appropriate to contain rampant lawlessness it is imperative to note that it is largely limited to providing temporary reprieve. It cannot and should not become the primary response that government relies on for containment of the sector. 

The prevailing antagonistic relationship between governments and the sector is fed by the continued reliance on punitive measures towards artisanal activities.

This approach is neither fruitful nor helpful. Mineral rich countries must reach a position of common purpose and cooperation from the sector in order to be able to solve its predicament. Efforts to effectively map the sector will also be hampered if an atmosphere of mistrust prevails.

Therefore, it is important for Government to engage firmly but positively in order to create an environment that enables cooperation and good will.

In the same breath, criminalizing the sector or maintaining unattainable standards of pre-qualification to licensing is not consistent with the intention of formalizing or supporting the sector. Some countries have attempted to group artisanal miners into small cooperatives and this attempt has led to lukewarm results.

Most artisanal miners complain that the regulations for licensing and maintaining cooperatives are still out of the reach of a significant number of them and does not consider the diverse interests of the miners such as the desire to migrate to other areas.

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For this reason, most artisanal activities remain illegal.  It is important to evaluate how governments are dealing with the artisanal mining sector because it constitutes the true statement of the will and commitment of mineral rich countries to foster economic empowerment for previously disadvantaged racial or social groups.

The artisanal mining sector represents ordinary citizens asking for a legitimate seat at the industry table therefore, successfully aiding this process would result in one of the most effective and direct empowerment interventions currently at play.

The request is no small feat because prevailing economic systems don’t easily make room for those who have not been pre-qualified either by financial capacity, security or education.

It is further complicated by the fact that unlike big investors that bring money immediately into the country, uplifting artisanal mining will require governments to invest and spend money on re-organising and supporting the sector.  

Mineral rich countries must accept that they will need to part with money and make considerable concessions in order to formalize the sector.  The sector cannot be formalized without cost or support therefore, fielding a solution that downplays these elements will not bear the intended fruit.

A complete overhaul and reinvention of perceptions, systems, rules and boundaries is required in order to come up with effective solutions. The artisanal sector presents an opportunity for Africa to structure an organic solution to broadening its economic system and achieve the economic emancipation it desires for the vulnerable constituents of its population.

However, this opportunity is only as useful as mineral rich governments are willing to take up the discomfort of re-imaging boundaries, funding the process and guiding sector partners to full support the cause.  

Fully formalizing artisanal mining is a priority for Africa.  

It is important for all mineral resources to be accounted for within formal structures so that proceeds can be deployed for the betterment of the common good.

Governments and regulators should not look at the formalization strategy from a narrow point of view. The formalization of the sector requires an integrated and interactive approach that will not only provide a viable licensing regime but will also deliver the re-alignment of the entire small-scale value chain within the mining sector.  

It is the duty of prevailing mineral rich governments in Africa to invest more into finding sustainable solutions for the sector and to finally put the predicament of the sector to rest. In order to achieve this renewed focus, speed and decisiveness will be key.

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