Malawian CSOs and faith groups reflect on extractive industry advocacy impact
…develop action points to enhance mining governance and effective management
…move to consolidate activities and strengthen engagement with government
…to join Karonga-Mwaulambo community probable litigation against investor
By Chiku Jere
The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) has urged stakeholders to consolidate advocacy efforts for good governance in Malawi’s blossoming extractive industry in order to ensure that citizens adequately benefit from the country’s natural resources.
The call was made in Lilongwe when CCJP, a member of a consortium of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) advocating for good governance in the minerals sector, organised a one day stakeholders’ workshop to reflect on the impact of their activities in the sector with funding from Tilitonse Fund.
Speaking during the function, CCJP’s Project Officer for Extractives, Success Sikwese, said reflection helps clarify purpose and assesses whether the intended objective is being achieved.
Let me begin by quoting one of the scholars who said ‘unexamined life is not worthy living’. We need to reflect on what we have done so far in as far as our advocacy for good mining governance is concerned, assess the effectiveness of our efforts, and come up with area of focus and points of action to be pursued as way forward.
Among the points was for the CSOs to initiate engagement with top government officials in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining to create a podium for candid dialogue as well as formulate a working relationship that will provide a forum from where information will be exchanged in so doing reducing unnecessary misunderstanding.
The gathering also agreed on the need to develop a model Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that mining investors will have to sign with communities to fulfill corporate social responsibility and sustainable mining practices.
As a case study was the Mwabulambo Mine case in Karonga whereby it is alleged that the investor, Eland Coal Mine, failed to fulfill mine closure obligations which demand that the investor rehabilitates the environment at the mining site.
The CSOs said they are pondering over possibilities of joining the community to commence litigation process against the investor and government for causing environmental damage in the area.
The bone of contention lies in the company’s failure to fill up gullies and clean-up coal spillage that are said to have caused immerse environmental damage and are also posing danger to members of the community in the area.
Government is being held liable because of its failure to convince the company to fill up the trenches thereby exposing the citizens to imminent danger.
The CSO leaders also banged heads on how they can push for the quick enacting of a new Mines and Minerals Law as it is a common belief that the revised legislation will provide a regulatory framework that will address most burning issues affecting the mining sector.
Sikwese stressed that when moving to tackle these challenges, the plight of the affected communities needs to top the list of priorities, and should be considered in line with the principle of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC).
He described FPIC as a licence that the community grants to an investor who intends to operate in their area, using their land and natural resources.
Indigenous people have special connection to their land and resources hence we need to grant them a say when introducing matters such as mining activities which cause disturbances to traditional livelihood. For many project-affected communities, FPIC represents a critical tool for ensuring that they have a say in whether and how extractive industry projects move forward,
The FPIC principle requires that indigenous peoples and local communities must be adequately informed about projects that affect their land in a timely manner, free of coercion and manipulation, and should be given the opportunity to approve or reject a project prior to the commencement of all activities.
Free implies that there is no coercion, intimidation or manipulation; Prior implies that consent is to be sought sufficiently in advance of any authorization or commencement of activities and respect is shown to time requirements of indigenous consultation/consensus processes, while Informed implies that information that covers a range of aspects is provided.
FPIC is established as a right under international law and falls under UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), reflecting the standing of indigenous people as distinct, self-determining, with collective rights.
CCJP convened the function on the heels of another Tilitonse Fund backed mining governance workshop in Lilongwe, which was organised by Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) for faith leaders to strengthen their involvement in advocacy efforts for mining sector good governance.
Opening the workshop, NCA Country Director Stein Villumstad stressed the importance of engaging more relevant stakeholders such as traditional leaders, councillors and more importantly faith-based leaders in advocacy issues with the aim of widening reach-out on minerals industry governance issues.
Villumstad, who proposes a dialogue-oriented approach with stakeholders including investors and government, said there is need to utilise the wider-reach that faith-based organisations (FBOs) and local government structures have in society to advance pertinent issues in mining governance and sensitise the populace about mining issues.
The reach of faith-based leaders cuts across these stakeholders. People with authority belong to one faith or the other, which gives faith leaders a huge, ideal and strategic podium to reach across the spectrum,
said the NCA Malawi leader.
Further, he explained that faith leaders have a mandate that is attached to the concerns of people hence they can play a very powerful role in influencing decision making by authorities.
The voice of faith-based leaders is strong, carries much weight and government can listen,
Above all, the NCA director said there is need to give the advocacy the spiritual eye, point of view and leadership.
Villumstad also stressed the need to engage local government structures, urging the CSOs not to ignore or sideline councillors in the process as they are the elected representatives of people who can play a very important role.
If the civil society takes that path of ignoring local councils, it means we are contributing to the weakening of our democratic system because councillors are communities’ elected representatives and should be used as leverage to deliver message to the people as well as government,
In attendance were Father Henry Saindi Secretary General for Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM), SG Osman Karim of Quadria Muslim Association of Malawi (QMAM), Reverend Custom Kapombe represented Livingstonia Synod while Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM) sent its National Coordinator, Rev. Evanse Jeka.
In an exclusive interview with Mining & Trade Review, Fr. Saindi said their involvement in the mining governance activism is a well thought after idea since it is a calling for every Malawian to contribute something good to the nation.
As faith leaders, we remain a beacon of light that provides guidance towards achieving anything good for the nation and incorporating us in this good course that will bring development and make people happy is quite commendable as the light of God will illuminate the path we are taking on this journey and guide us to success,
said Fr. Saindi.
In his remarks, QMAM’s Karim called for the exercise of responsibility and good citizenship amongst all Malawians, especially leaders, so that a better and well developed Malawi should be realised through sound and fair utilisation of natural resources.
He said pursuance of personal interest and greed is what has brought about the negativity that the mining sector is viewed with hence there is a need to work together and bring positive light to the sector.
It is immoral that only one person or a selected few should benefit from these resources that belong to the entire nation. Each one of us needs to take responsibility and work towards making mining a vibrant sector, with which, we can economically transform our country,
The piece “Malawian CSOs and faith groups reflect on extractive industry advocacy impact” featured above was initially published in Malawi’s Mining & Trade Review Issue Number 39 that is circulating this July 2016.
The full edition is available for download here. This monthly publication is edited by Marcel Chimwala.
For those interested, Mining in Partnership provides “Resources for Teaching and Reflection” which “are intended to inform, support and encourage Christian leaders in places where mining is taking place or might be planned”.