African mining needs responsible rethink for future success

30th June 2021

By: Marleny Arnoldi

Deputy Editor Online


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Amid a changing operating landscape being shaped by the Covid-19 pandemic, technology advancement and climate change, the African mining sector finds itself in unchartered and uncertain territory, necessitating a shift in how the sector will operate going forward.

To this end, stakeholders such as policy think tank South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) senior fellow Deon Cloete says the African Mining Vision (AMV), which was drafted in 2009, already illustrated the need for futures literacy, foresight and anticipatory governance.

Futures literacy is a skill for navigating a global environment characterised by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

Mastering the ability to view uncertainty as a resource, rather than the enemy of planning, is key to transforming the African mining sector. Therefore, adopting the discipline of anticipation in the aftermath of the global Covid-19 pandemic should include the use of foresight methods beyond the conventional limitations of mineral and mining forecasting, he points out.

The AMV was published by the African Union (AU) with the aim of promoting transparent, equitable and optimal exploitation of mineral resources to underpin broad-based sustainable growth and socioeconomic development. However, not much has been implemented in this regard since 2009.

The Covid-19 pandemic accentuates the lack of anticipatory capabilities in African mining to enable early detection of emerging disruptors with significant impacts on mining futures.

“Institutionalising futures literacy at the African Mineral Development Centre (AMDC) and the broader extractive industry would build capabilities to embrace alternative futures of mining and to re-imagine positive visions of African mining.

“Empowering the AMV would enable the envisioning of alternative and contextually appropriate African futures of mining that facilitate anticipatory governance cultures within the mining sector,” Cloete says.

Some issues around the AMV include that only 24 out of the 54 AU member States are in various stages of nationally implementing it, and that civil society has not been engaged much in grassroots mobilisation and policy advocacy, which could increase its impact.

AMDC interim director Frank Mugyenyi said during an SAIIA-hosted webinar on June 30 that Africa is at a crossroads for mineral resources development. The continent needs diversification away from traditional minerals, such as diamonds and platinum, as well as a diversification away from just exporting raw minerals to beneficiation.

He believes the uncertainty around jobs being lost owing to automation, for example, can be alleviated by developing the sidestream and downstream industries of mining.

Consultancy Purple Compass chief strategist Donna Dupont remarked that Africa needs more citizen engagement, particularly as some mines can be remote and could be within environmentally sensitive areas with indigenous populations.

“Miners need to work towards the Sustainable Development Goals by working with communities to be more socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable.”

She said anticipatory governance was all about ensuring local procurement, investment in infrastructure and job creation, while being agile and able to continue learning going forward.

Dupont cited climate change and community-level engagement as the two biggest uncertainties facing the African mining sector in a post-Covid-19 world.

Good Governance Africa research head Ross Harvey noted that the “resource curse” still exists in Africa where countries are inclined to mine and export raw minerals, thereby only benefitting an elite group of people elsewhere.

“As the world deals with the aftermath of Covid-19, there is no better opportunity than now to try and realise the AMV, with environmental, social and governance (ESG) aspects at the forefront of capital allocation decisions.”

He added that because the world was striving for carbon neutrality by 2050, it would require minerals contained in Africa. The key to translating this demand into sustained development was in anticipatory governance.

“Sometimes what looks like profit is not sensible because of environmental and social costs that are not properly accounted for historically, but will change with the increased global focus on ESG.

“We have to attract responsible players and crowd out irresponsible ones. We need to incentivise preservation rather than destruction,” Harvey stated.

The stakeholders all agreed that Africa could lead a new, innovative approach to resource extraction and use.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online


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