Politics of Poverty

People, Power, and Mining: Burkina Faso’s “1 Percent” Campaign Victory

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Citizens of Kalambaogo, a town north of Burkina Faso's capital of Ouagadougou, gather for a group photo in 2012. Nearly a thousand villagers there had participated in an Oxfam "cash for work" program to help them survive the food crisis. Photo: Andy Hall / Oxfam

How can mining revenues make a difference in Burkina Faso?

Hans K. Masro is the Regional Campaigns and Communications Coordinator in Oxfam’s West Africa Regional Office.

The people of Burkina Faso recently achieved an important victory in their fight against poverty. After a long and fierce battle spearheaded by civil society organizations in Burkina Faso—the fourth largest gold producer in sub-Saharan Africa—the transitional parliament recently passed a mining code requiring companies to pay 1 percent of their gross revenues into a local development fund.

Passage of the law is significant for four reasons:

First, the law’s text takes into account many of the concerns expressed by civil society. That means the voices of Burkina Faso’s citizenry are being heard—no small feat, especially in the face of powerful mining companies.

Second, the vote was decisive. Parliamentarians fully supported Oxfam and its partners’ advocacy for the 1 percent campaign. Of the 79 parliamentarians, 78 voted for the code with only one abstention. They did not want to “miss the appointment with history,” says Jonas Hien, chair of the civil society in Burkina Faso.

Third, revenue may finally reach the people who most need it. Burkina Faso—which means “land of honest people”—brought in $390 million in government revenue in 2013 from only eight active mining sites. Gold mining between 2009 and 2012 represented 26 percent of GDP and 45 percent of exports. The country has issued almost 900 mining exploration permits, so many more projects may be in the country’s future. Meanwhile, Burkina is one of the world’s poorest countries:: 47 percent of its citizens live in poverty and the average per capita income is about $750 per year. The revenue derived from gold mining has not yet benefited the people.

Fourth, Burkina Faso’s achievement may spread like wildfire. Many countries in the West African sub-region and beyond have not introduced legal provisions to adequately supervise the mining sector. The Directive of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) on Mining is, however, an important instrument that could help if applied help address issues that mar the mining sector in West Africa.

Next steps

Implementing this provision and fighting corruption will be the biggest challenge for the next government, but Oxfam and our partners think practically. “This first step is to get the 1 percent mining law reform done and implemented, then turn to the tax revenues and social programs. The 1 percent will also need monitoring and follow-up to ensure good allocations of the revenues,” said Justin Yamwemba, Oxfam Burkina’s good governance program officer.

Those who believe that “gold should shine for Burkina Faso,” as one of the slogans of civil society organizations put it, should take advantage of this momentum to continue to push for change not only in the mining sector but also at the political level, especially with the forthcoming election to take place in October.

Active citizenship—strengthened through the use of social media—is key to ensure accountability on how royalties are spent. Accountability must be encouraged to prevent this “victory of the people” from turning into a failure.

Oxfam support helped to energize the effort in Burkina Faso and empower the local team and the civil society organizations led by Publish What You Pay Burkina. Oxfam staff and partners believe in investing in Burkina Faso as a country in transition where change is possible.

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