Vote on the mining code in Burkina: the power of the people!

Between 2009 and 2012 the exploitation of gold represented, 26% of GDP and 45% of the country's exports: Andy Hall/Oxfam
Between 2009 and 2012 the exploitation of gold represented, 26% of GDP and 45% of the country's exports: Andy Hall/Oxfam

After a long and fierce battle spearheaded by civil society organizations in Burkina for a fairer mining code for the good of the people, the parliament passed a law on June 26 with a 1% provision allocated to local development of mining impacted communities.

MPs fully supported Oxfam and its partners’ advocacy. Of the 79 parliamentarians, 78 voted for the code with only one abstention.

The mining code takes into account many of the concerns expressed by  civil society.

The various events of the campaign that led to this "victory of the people" is the result of teamwork driven by the desire to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the people of Burkina Faso. Their will was outlined during the popular uprising that in October 2014 which led to the fall of President Blaise Compaore’s regime.

Striking paradox

"Gold should shine for Burkina Faso," one of the slogans of the campaign, has had its resonance in this desire of the civil society organizations that neither the strategies of mining companies, nor political upheavals have softened.

The contrast between rich mining companies and the screaming poverty among neighboring populations is simply heart-breaking.

Yet, Burkina Faso is the fourth largest gold producer in Africa just behind South Africa, Ghana and Mali! Between 2009 and 2012 gold mining represented, 26% of GDP and 45% of exports. The country has issued almost nine hundreds permits. Burkina Faso—which means land of honest people - brought in $390 million in 2013 from eight active mining sites. Meanwhile, it is one of the poorest countries in West Africa: 47 percent of its citizens live in poverty; the average income there is about $750 per year.

The revenue derived from gold mining evidently does not benefit the people.

The parliamentarians, it cannot be stressed enough, have shown a high sense of responsibility resisting profit and pressure from different stakeholders. They did not want to "miss out on the appointment with history," as Jonas Hien has put it, coordinator of the civil society in Burkina Faso.

This "giant move" is also an expression of the stirring need of West African peoples to defend their “right to be heard”. The power of the people against poverty and injustice is not a mere slogan! It has been transformed through the successful conclusion of this process, supported by Oxfam.

This new deal in Burkina Faso resonates as the life-giving sap that fuels the determination of African peoples to overcome the shackles which have long crippled their rights.

Maintain vigilance

This achievement in Burkina Faso will spread like wildfire especially as many countries in West Africa and beyond, have not yet introduced legal provisions to adequately supervise the mining sector where omerta remains the rule. The Directives of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) on Mining are however an important instrument that could help if applied, to cleanse discrepancies that mar the mining sector in West Africa.

Digital communication was instrumental in the process that resulted in the voting of the law and it is very refreshing to notice how through the striking force and dissemination capacities of social media, the campaign recruited advocates all over the world. The world is truly a global village!

Vigilance is necessary because the other crucial stage of this campaign, undoubtedly remains, that the royalties generated by this advocacy should be used appropriately and for the right beneficiaries. The people have the right to know which direction the money is taking and they must be able to make authorities accountable for any flaws and breaches.

Accountability must be effective to prevent this "victory of the people" taking on a bitter taste or becoming an unfinished symphony. The toughest stage of the battle is yet to come so that “gold can truly shine for the people of Burkina!”

By Hans K. MASRO, regional campaigns and communications coordinator, Oxfam, West Africa, July 2015