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Inclusion is key in unlocking natural resource wealth.

December 2021

By Kudakwashe Makanda

This story starts with a few months back around June 2021, when the Mutoko people were in panic mode, terrified by the tragic news of a possible mining-induced displacement arrangement that was said to be coming their way. A whole community, close to about 4 villages with more than 2000 households was being threatened. There was a lot of debate on whether or not this displacement would go through but the sad thing was that all this talk was going on amongst people who had no information. No one knew who the new company was, no one knew whether or not they had a license or contract and if so what was in the contract. This made it very difficult for the community members to prepare for this possibility because you can not fight what you do not know. All because Access to information was non existent !

Such a scenario, which is a reality for most mining communities across the country, was made possible because of the lack of Incusion of citizens in decision making. A people with no access to information becomes ineffective in fighting for equity in Natural Resources Governance. This is why it then is imperative for our government to join the Open Government Partnerships. A government is considered open when it follows the principles of Transparency, Accountability, Participation and Inclusion.

In simpler terms, Inclusion simply refers to the policy and practice of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for excluded or marginalized groups, such as women, youth, disable people and members of other minority groups. Examples include but not limited to: Reforms encouraging equality and closing critical gaps in access to information for marginalized and minority groups. It also speaks to the creation of genuine equal participation spaces and platforms for all groups to share their opinions and voices. If this is practiced, it affords the citizens with an opportunity to access information that makes them negotiate, demand, advocate and decide from an informed position on issues concerning their minerals and its management.

Moreover, it honestly is sad that the resource curse theory is a reality that is still going on in most mining communities across the globe due to the strong ties that exist between the mining companies and the politicians who make decisions, all at the expense of the general citizenry . What has reinforced the flourishing of this reality is the opacity of the sector where there is very little information available to the ordinary (wo)man about the mining activities in his or her area. Access to information, though a constitutional right to a zimbabwean citizen, is a reality still yet to be realised and this will only be realised when there is meaningful inclusion of the citizens in all decision making processes. In Mutoko District there still are cases of granite mining companies that start operations without involving the local community in the Environmental Impact Assessment process. Not just that, even the local council is not even involved in the awarding of a licence to a mining company, leaving all the key decisions to be centralized on the central government. This is what needs to be reformed if our country is to realise better economic gains and more environmentally sustainable achievements from the extractive sector.

When the EITI frenzy hit our country, we were all optimistic. How could we miss such a great opportunity for our nation, we said, where all could be laid bare for everyone to see. But sadly the reality of a people with access to information is still a nightmare to those in power and thus the frenzy died a quick death, and the opacity of the sector goes unabated. The tragedy of the Arda Transau people, or the loss of livelihood of the Mutare and Mutoko people, or the threat to the Chilonga people all could have been avoided if there was meaningful inclusion of the locals in all decisions and processes concerning their natural resources. Increasing transparency lowers the risk of corruption, especially where there is proactive disclosure of information before or during the process rather than afterwards.

It is against this background that, now more than ever, our country is in dire need of a more transparent, inclusive and accountable approach to the management of its resources. If the Zimbabwean government is to join OGP and meeting the required minimum standards, that will not be an end in itself, rather it presents an opportunity for CSOs and citizens to be included and then be able to press on the commitments made by their govts and push for the implementation and realisation of these commitments. Inclusion will also play a critical role in building the trust between citizens and their government. Providing transparency of who makes decisions at each stage of a contracting process and who stands to benefit from those decisions is important for public trust. This transparency and trust depend on inputs such as consultation and dialogue, which primarily are anchored on inclusion, as well as on outputs such as disclosures.

Lastly, exclusion of citizens has created a conducive environment for the proliferation of corruption which in turn gravely affects the people’s access to quality health, infrastructure, education as the funds meant for these public goods are diverted to quench the needs of a few powerful individuals. It is very critical to identify potential corruption risks surrounding the allocation, award and implementation of contracts and it is quite heartbreaking that less attention has been paid to the transparency of the processes by which contracts are awarded, the content of the contracts themselves and their implementation. It becomes undeniably clear that Open government in the extractive industry is crucial to mitigating the effects of the “resource curse” in countries endowed with natural resources. Thus, the inclusion of community voices in natural resource governance and procurement can help detect corruption, safeguard community interests, and support environmental sustainability. Through an Open government approach, governments can improve natural resource governance in the area of extractive industries through the following but not limited to: Implementing beneficial ownership transparency, Improving transparency in activities of state-owned enterprises (SOEs); Improving contract transparency in the extractives sector.

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