‘Harvesters not investors’

The stories continue – investors come in, deplete communities’ natural resources, and the local people receive few (if any) benefits. Yet with such profound challenges, are our efforts enough?

Last week I was in Zambia with Tearfund partner EFZ.  As part of this trip, I attended the ‘Alternative Mining Indaba’ – a meeting where over 80 CSO representatives and individuals from communities affected by extractive company operations gathered.  And their message was VERY clear: local people should benefit from their natural resources.

Even though I was convinced of this argument before now, this meeting was profound.  Real stories, real people and real struggles.

I met Steve Luyakoh.  Steve is a Pastor in a community in the North Western province of Zambia.  He describes,

‘When the mining company arrived, what surprised us was that these ‘visitors’ don’t disclose what they are mining…..You just see 70 -80 trucks, sometimes at night – and nobody asks where they are taking it and what they are paying to the Government. 

As villagers we are worried. We know these minerals were given to us, but now they are coming and leaving nothing except pits and a lot of ditches which are causing danger to the local community.’

Steve Luyakoh joined protesters in demanding benefits for local people from Zambia’s natural resources – at an Alternative Mining conference in Lusaka
Credit: Alternative Mining Indaba organising committee.

And this is just one story of several, and the stories are the same.  Community members talked of Chinese, South African and European investors all encroaching on their land.  Investors come in, sometimes moving communities off their land with little or no compensation, and the communities remain unaware of the contract agreements and the payments the investors are making to the Government.  And the communities complain of receiving very little (or no) benefit.

As one community representative explained, ‘I call them harvesters not investors, because they are just abusing our natural resources’.

No wonder the community groups were protesting outside the official Extractive Industry Indaba in Lusaka, where extractive companies have been meeting with Government officials.  They need their voices to be heard – and now.

Need for global change

These personal stories again demonstrate why Tearfund’s Unearth the Truth campaign is vital – extractive companies must be required to publish the payments they make to foreign governments, both on country-by country and, very importantly, a project-by-project basis.

European legislation would be a great step in the right direction and it was encouraging for me to share with Zambian community groups that Tearfund and other PWYP Coalition members in Europe are calling for this information to be made publicly available.  But we will need to go beyond this – in order for stronger global agreements, so that firms no matter where they are listed and based, are required to be transparent in their dealings.  The G20 surely have a role in this….

Project by project

Meeting community representatives also highlighted the importance of project-level reporting.  Zambia’s recently published 2009 EITI report shows that over 98 % of the total payments by extractive companies go directly to the central Government’s Zambian Revenue Authority.

Yet, the current vacuum of information means that communities cannot determine which projects this relates to, nor the wealth that was generated from their specific community – leaving them unable to hold their leaders accountable for its expenditure and for what should be returned to them.  They need the information on payments to be available at a project-by-project level.

So why shouldn’t we join these communities’ and support their pursuit of justice?  The EU needs to take the first step, and then let’s see if we can work on the next hurdles…

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