sharing in governance of extractive industries

"Little Shop"​ in Kabwe - photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Store_in_kabwe.jpg

Kabwe is the capital of Zambia’s Central Province, a vast area in a vast country: consisting of eleven districts it shares borders with eight other Zambian provinces and covers nearly 95,000 square kilometres. 

Despite its provincial capital status, Kabwe is no longer the vibrant economic centre that it once was. The cause? One that former-mining communities around the world will instantly recognise: when the pit shut the lifeblood of the town starts to drain away. The east of Scotland, from where I write this piece, once resounded to the sound of a vast network of underground coal mines even extending under the North Sea; in contrast Kabwe was a zinc and lead mining town, minerals that regretfully have leached into the soil and onwards into the town's groundwater, with predictable consequences. In both cases, the pits shut more than twenty years ago.

A New Optimism?

The grounds:

  1. Some mining continues in Kabwe, albeit of a different sort - the recovery of minerals from mining tailings. Unlike the previous operator, this new operation and operator is conducting its work safely for its workers and the environment, and creating jobs in the process;
  2. Thanks to a huge investment by the World Bank the historic water pollution will now be cleaned up, making a huge difference to people's lives and general health;
  3. The Zambian and (as an international development partner) Scots Governments have agreed to prioritise Central Province for sustainable economic development. Scots Government funding will focus on that province alone. Moreover, the Zambian Government is taking the lead in setting the priorities, in particular further enhancement of the Jubilee Women’s Integrated Highway Markets Programme(JWIHMP), which aims to to transform current highway markets into modern integrated economic hubs for wealth creation and empowerment of women and their communities. The Programme was launched in 2015 and one year later Central Province has its first in place, located in Chibombo district, which neighbours Kabwe to the south-west;
  4. It is not just me talking of "Hope" for Central Province, nor just (us) Scots focussing our work on that Province; the Americans are at it too. For example, the US-based Information Technology & Healthcare Charities organisation ran highly successful fundraising "Advance Education Night of Hope for Zambia" last May to pay for school toilets in the province;
  5. Even prior to this 2016 fundraising, 2015 new JWIHMP launch, 2014 saw the preparation of a Central Province pilot Integrated’ Development Plan (IDP) for Kapiri Mposhi, a district also neighbouring Kabwe but on the other side of the town, pathfinding the implementation of Zambia's new Spatial Planning Bill, and with the aim of better, more joined-up, development outcomes across the nation. This work is eloquently described by volunteer Urban Planner, Mike Fox, whose "Letter from Kabwe; the in-province experience of an urban planning advisor in Zambia", ispublished online by the Royal Town Planning Institute; and
  6. In a process that reminds me personally of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative approach to governance, development projects across Zambia's provinces are overseen and coordinated by multi-stakeholder groups, facilitated rather than run by government, a model that ensures far greater civil society involvement, oversight and leverage. For sustainable inclusive economic development to work, this has got to be a strong foundation to build upon, and august well for the future.

Of course the challenges facing Kabwe and Central Province more widely remain daunting, not least with regards to the capacity development of the new administrations in each of the province's five new districts. However, grounds today's optimism is now real, a welcome light at the end of a long tunnel.

Natural Resources Context 

Haut-Katanga, one of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s 26 provinces, forms a promontory into Zambia, and thus forms a border with its Central Province. Katanga, as a whole, is famous for its mining sector and the same is true for Zambia’s Copperbelt Province (as it’s name would suggest), a Province that borders both the aforementioned provinces Central and Haut-Katanga on either side of the international border."

With neighbours like these it is unsurprising that Central Province, too, has an active mining sector. But lead and zinc mining has been a cause of huge health problems for Kabwe, as can be seen by the need for the following remedial, large scale, investment, which is - thankfully - now coming:

The World Bank has approved a $65.6 million project to fund activities contributing to a reduction of environmental health risks from mining in Chingola, Kabwe, Kitwe and Mufulira, with emphasis on the historic lead pollution in Kabwe”; note: the other three locations being in the Copperbelt….In addition, the project will seek to enhance the institutional capacity of the Mines Safety Department, the Radiation Protection Authority and the Zambia Environmental Agency.”

As a researcher, what interests me in particular about this story is the interplay of Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM), both current and historic Large Scale Mining (LSM). As can be seen, I hope, this is a picture of nuances that challenges simplistic (mis)understandings of what activities are “good” or “bad”.

First, LSM. It was LSM that lead to the problem in the first place. Kabwe was Zambia’s oldest mine, operating for close on 100 years. Over time, and due to very poor mining practices historically, the problem has become very serious indeed: lead blood concentrations amongst Kabwe residents do not just reach levels normally associated with fatality, but in some cases are up to 60% above such levels. The river runs through the environs of the old mine and its smelter and through the city, a river that kids bathe in unaware of the dangers; dust clouds in the dry season also spread the pollution, meaning that come rain or shine the lead continues to reach resident’s bodies. The source of the pollution closed in 1994 but, without proper mine clean-up, the pollutants continue to be spread.

However, LSM is not the bad guy anymore. BMR Group PLC is a London-based company working on the recovery of lead and zinc tailings from Kabwe’s old mine; to be clear, BMR are in no way linked to the original pollution. Indeed, the firm is going about its task with a zeal for the environment that is in stark contrast to the original Kabwe mine management:

BMR will make be making a major contribution to the clean-up of Kabwe’s environment by removing almost 300,000 tonnes of lead and a similar amount of zinc from the different waste dumps during the life of the tailings re-treatment project. By re-processing the dumps in an environmentally responsible manner BMR will play a key role in contributing to public health and welfare and through employment, help to regenerate an economically depressed region” (source).

One form of mining that continues to spread the pollutants is illegal Artisanal & Small-scale Mining (ASM). In the context of Kabwe, this is basically local people going through the tailings themselves looking to extract the valued mineral resources, but also – through a frequent lack of regard for their own health and safety – polluting their own selves, in particular, through their unauthorized entrepreneurship.

The issues around ASM are complicated. It is, after all, both a very important form of livelihood support for so many people in both developing and developed nations (the latter contrary to popular assumption. In 2002 the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) made an estimate (see page 11) of 30,000 for the number of Zambians directly working in ASM, a figure that is likely to be far higher now in 2017. Moreover, with regards to the policy prize of “local content”, i.e. the proportion of services and labour sourced from domestic markets rather than internationally, ASM has an obvious head-start on LSM, albeit that international incidents relating to illegal immigration undertaken to conduct ASM are well known in other parts of Africa, not least Ghana (e.g. see this International Growth Centre report of 2015). Even so, and regrettably, any objective assessment of the ASM “re-treatement” of tailings at Kabwe is likely to conclude that it has taken place on an illegal, unsafe and harmful footing.

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Comment by Mulya Jules on March 28, 2017 at 12:28

Thanks, Daniel Gilbert, for that encouraging info on what the Zambian Government has in mind. I just hope all stakeholders involved understand that it will take commitment and determination that transcend electoral cycles and individuals to achieve those development goals. It is sad that we've often seen sound development plans abandoned because national leadership has changed! 

Comment by daniel gilbert on March 28, 2017 at 9:59

Hi, Mulya Jules thanks for your comments.  Mining is an opportunity for Central Province - in all its different forms, including reclaiming minerals from mine tailings - but repeated efforts to achieve large scale employment in mining there have not borne much fruit, at least so far.  The agricultural potential of the region is vast, as you correctly state, and the government is keen to see inclusive economic growth develop around agricultural linkages/ supply chains/ markets, and not just the primary business of growing crops etc. 

btw- it was great reading your DRC blog re. mining companies there being referred to as "NGOs" locally, and the reason why that happens!  What is your take on Randgold's Kibali mine in Kivu?  There are big claims made in its favour, see link below, what is your take on those claims?


Many thanks,


Comment by Mulya Jules on March 28, 2017 at 9:46

This is good news indeed! Hope this time the realisation that natural resources are finite will cause this time Government leaders to start planning more creatively and responsibly for future generations. If the current economic opportunity provided by reprocessing the old dumps in an environmentally responsible manner is not used to invest in alternative livelihoods, the future of Kabwe remains bleak. The Central Province and its capital Kabwe have a huge agricultural potential. 


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