sharing in governance of extractive industries
It's not uncommon for staff of mining or exploration companies operating in Eastern DRC to get asked: what does your NGO do?
Reasons for this odd question are both ignorance and a generalization based on similarities people have noted. For some NGO is a new phrase for company/Société because NGO's were the first formal job providers outside government they started seeing in their areas following the collapse of DRC's economy in the early 1990's. Many NGO's came during the war (1997 to 2004) and their number increased after the war as the country unfortunately slid deeper into poverty mainly to poor governance; rural populations became so used to seeing NGO's everywhere, attending to emergencies, building hospitals, providing shelter and food to IDP's, fixing roads, providing (UN) air transport to government officials..... Goma, one of the main Eastern DRC cities, had at one time the dubious title of NGO capital of the world despite its huge economic potential.
15 years ago a new more investor-friendly mining law was passed and exploration, and mining companies began to return 3 decades after they had left...a whole generation of those who had seen the last operating mining companies in the 70's and 80's had also passed on. In the eyes of locals the new mostly English/Canadian/Australian investors and their exploration managers were no different from NGO's staff who had preceded them in the region. Rural people struggled to relate their presence to French speaking mine bosses of a generation ago they had heard about from their parents. Just like NGO staff: 1-They were English speaking expatriates. 2-They worked on a roster system and stayed permanently in rented properties (even after building a mine). 3-They drove white LandCruiser Troop carriers. 4-They did social projects (CSR for companies ): reopening and even resurfacing roads, fixing schools, providing water...In short (superficially at least!) they did exactly what NGO's did but the only ostensible difference (thus, the question: what does your NGO's do?) they wasted money, collecting tonnes of samples of no commercial value! Anyway it didn't bother anyone because workers got decently paid for it...Even Government employees queued for those jobs.
The perception hasn't changed 15 years after the first exploration and mining projects started. In my view it could have negative long term impacts on the image of the EI as a body and this should be regarded as a risk (i.e. Project-affected begin to have unrealistic expectations) that needs addressing now. It's therefore important for companies to stop focusing on NGO's type community initiatives (notwithstanding being the most popular choices of project affected people) but start thinking long term more, engaging communities on alternative ways of understanding notions such as sharing benefits, assistance or development. The objective would be to implement projects that can truly lift people out of poverty and put them on the path of self-sustaining development. It's crucial that in these Eastern DRC towns struggling with huge governance challenges stakeholders and Community Relations teams agree on a common approach...and the rationale behind it be internalized by all players. They can then strike a good balance between emergency initiatives that undeniably impact positively SLO and establishing the basis for economic development that will outlive the life cycle of the mine. To be more effective 2 or 3 mining companies operating in the same region could consider working together on major shared-value type projects such as constructing a hydro-power station that would have a significant multiplier effect in the regional economy and mitigate deforestation.
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