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sharing in governance of extractive industries

The recent Annual Workshop for the Natural Resource Charter provided a buffet of thought-provoking discussions around how to build good governance up and down the value chain. As befits such a wide-ranging and ambitious document, speakers ranging from Andres Velasco to Clare Short and Minister Shahrani (the Minister for Mines of Afghanistan) challenged attendees to think deeply about the economics, politics and practical realities of everything from sovereign wealth funds to the role of civil society in the governance of NR. Yet this year, the absence of a particular group from Charter discussions made itself felt: sociologists/anthropologists.

 

Some sociologists and anthropologists have thought about and engaged with the sort of work that Paul Collier’s been doing on NR in more or less favourable terms. To date, the interface remains limited. Yet the fact remains that they bring a different sort of knowledge to economists and many practitioners, one focused on the lived experiences of people on the ground. And this knowledge is extremely relevant to some aspects of the Charter. The Charter uses and relies on terms and concepts such as “society”, “citizen” and “public” throughout. These are not easy terms, and can be fickle and slippery, causing us to presume too much or engage too little.

 

This issue raised its head at the Workshop in discussions around “ownership” of resources, and the senses of grievance and entitlement experienced by indigenous communities and communities local to mines, oil wells and the like. The economist’s perspective was to minimize and compensate for environmental damage while ensuring that all communities could have full and credible participation in benefits to the nation (with a different set of rules for indigenous communities). Yet the response, from a private sector actor who had spent time working in Africa, was to suggest that nations in Africa are often heavily fractured, with complex and differing senses of national solidarity or the national good.

 

This was an important reminder that, before throwing terms around, we should understand the perspective of those who we seek to represent. Documents such as the Charter might exhort humility in those who use it before they claim to know what a “society” might want or need; they might also do more to urge private sector or development actors to allocate a higher share of resources to understanding local complexity before going in, to help design an effective project.

 

The very fact that this came up is, I think, a mark of the maturation of discussions around the Charter. It shows a deepening engagement with the ideas that underpin the Charter and how they play out in reality. It can only be a good thing if the Charter’s calling on us to challenge orthodox approaches.

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Comment by Kobina Aidoo on July 18, 2011 at 19:17

Deval - I appreciate your call for us to go deeper into concepts such as "society," "citizen," and "public"--"nation," even.

In a recent conversation, a banker sitting in an African capital was to quick to remind me that he's "indigenous, too!" It is to the credit of companies that several of them hire anthropologists to run their CSR programs. And it is indeed hopeful to see the NRC deepen the conversation in this direction.  

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