Politics of Poverty

In Ghana, civil society is driving mining and oil reforms

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An artisanal mining site in Ghana. (Photo: Keith Slack / Oxfam)

Local organizations have big opportunities and challenges in fight to ensure country’s gold and oil drive development and poverty reduction.

Last month I travelled to Ghana to check-in with Oxfam staff and partner organizations working with our extractive industries global program.  Despite Ghana’s recent oil-fueled growth, the benefits haven’t trickled back down to the impoverished rural and coastal areas where the oil and minerals originate and where most Ghanaians live. How to “sow” the country’s oil and mineral wealth is perhaps the defining question for Ghana’s economic development.  Ghanaian civil society organizations have done great work on this issue.  They are now poised to pursue even deeper opportunities for policy reform.

Until recently Ghana was one of Africa’s rising stars.   Sadly, it hasn’t avoided the problems of other African oil states.  In a classic move from  the How Not to Manage Your Oil Wealth textbook (Obiang, Dos Santos, Chavez, eds.), the Ghanaian government borrowed massively from the Chinese against future oil production. When oil prices collapsed in 2014, the government was saddled with debt it couldn’t pay. This led (in another classic move from the textbook) to a bailout from the IMF.   The bailout became a rallying point for Ghanaian civil society, which pushed the Fund to include key fiscal transparency provisions in the bailout agreement. Last week the IMF extended the loan period until 2019, noting (in IMF-speak) that “policy slippages” by the government had contributed to Ghana’s economic woes.

As a result of Ghanaian CSOs’ “Oil for Agric” campaign, the national government has committed oil revenues to support small-scale agriculture.  Oxfam and partner organizations are working to hold local governments accountable for using these and other public funds appropriately.  Friends of the Nation (FoN)has done particularly strong work in Shama district in Western Region.  I had a chance to meet with FoN’s staff (and reconnect with the indefatigable Solomon Kusi Ampofo).  The success in Shama has prompted the organization to consider replicating this model in Tarkwa, Ghana’s largest mining district, which receives more than a million dollars annually from mining revenues.

While in Ghana I also spent time discussing artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) – or “galamsey” in Ghanaian patois – with the Oxfam country team and FoN.  In rural Ghana more than a million people work in informal mining activities, many of whom are also small-scale farmers. The government of Ghana is currently executing “Operation Vanguard,” a police operation designed to wipe out illegal small-scale mining. This action has been highly controversial given the threat it poses to the livelihoods of small-scale miners and the potential for violence. (See our report “Geographies of Conflict” for more on the conflicting interests of mining and agriculture in Ghana.)

We visited a “formalized” small-scale mining site in Tarkwa where the manager explained how he was trying to instill responsible mining practices. There are no easy answers on how best to deal with ASM from a development perspective. It is environmentally destructive and poses health and safety risks to workers, but it also provides livelihoods for millions of people.  And it represents a huge potential source of government tax revenue. I’m currently working with Oxfam colleagues from around the globe to develop Oxfam’s approach on the issue. We think there may be ways to link formalization of ASM with our work on rural resilience and small-scale agriculture.

Ghana has some truly amazing civil society activists. We’ve supported a number of them, but they drive their own agenda and in many ways have surpassed international NGOs in their ability to influence policy. Organizations like FoN and mining-focused advocacy organizations like WACAM and CEPIL are making real progress in achieving reforms. The African Center for Energy Policy (ACEP), which Oxfam helped get off the ground, is now a leading voice on energy and extractive issues in Ghana and elsewhere. Additionally, Muse Africa led an incredible effort to mobilize youth around last year’s presidential elections. That work had a direct payoff in terms of influencing the governing party’s national development agenda.

Moving forward, a key priority for Ghanaian CSOs working on extractive industries issues will be the introduction of a Minerals Revenue Management Act, which will help increase transparency and citizen oversight over mining revenues.  This was a key part of the new government’s campaign platform and has been endorsed by the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), an association of large mining companies, including Newmont, Goldfields and AngloGold Ashanti who have large operations in Ghana.  Likewise, there is a movement to strengthen the Public Interest Accountability Committee (PIAC), which was set up to monitor Ghana’s oil revenues but has been largely ineffective due to lack of resources. And efforts are underway to strengthen protections for women’s rights across the extractive sectors.

Ghanaian CSOs engaging on these and other extractive sector reform efforts have a dauntingly full plate. This is in some ways a product of their own effectiveness.  At Oxfam, we will be working with them to help drive the extractives reform agenda in Ghana, with the global oil and mining industries, and with the international financial institutions.

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