Public Agenda (Accra)

28 August 2006

West Africa: An Ecowas Protocol On Natural Resources, a Sure Way of Eliminating Conflicts

Accra — ECOWAS Parliamentarians, UNDP Officials and civil society groups have agreed on the need to enact an ECOWAS Protocol on the management of transboundary natural resources as a way of eliminating conflicts and civil strife in the sub-region.

A feasible protocol will include the sharing and dissemination of information, adoption of legally binding instruments, and the creation of monitoring mechanisms on cross-border natural resources in West Africa.

The consensus was reached at a two-day workshop for ECOWAS Parliamentarians in Accra, which focused on the Implementation of Regional Protocols for Security and Development in ECOWAS. The subject for discussion was "Mining, Natural Resources and Environment as Security Issues in West Africa", and had Mr. Ben Turtur Donnie, UNDP Programme Manager for Energy and Environment in Liberia as its lead discussant.

Over the last decade, some countries in the West African sub-region have been blighted by wars and violent conflicts fueled by the exploitation of natural resources such as gold, oil, diamond, timber, iron ore, water among others. Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire, countries that have all suffered in this regard are all endowed with gold, oil, diamond and timber.

A recent World Bank research on the causes of conflicts and civil wars concluded that the countries most likely to be plagued by conflict are those depending heavily on natural resources. The research therefore recommended that developing countries must focus on what they can do collectively in order to reduce the likelihood of war.

The report suggests practical approaches and policies such as, financial and resource reporting procedures; commodity tracking systems; and enforcement techniques, including sanctions, certification requirements and aid conditionality to be adopted by the international community to prevent future wars.

In a report of the Global Policy Forum (GPC) of the United Nations Security Council, under the heading "Dark Side of Natural Resources", the GPF also observes that natural resources often belie the wars and civil strife in many developing countries. Huge mining companies and other resource-based companies, do not hesitate to use force in pursuit of their corporate interests.

"There are many players in this bloody nexus of natural resources and conflict, including shadowy resource traders, smugglers, corrupt local officials, arms dealers, transport operators and mercenary companies. Increasing scarcity of resources, driven by rising world population and the spread of unsustainable consumption, further sharpen such conflicts."

Mr. Donnie disclosed that, Liberia is believed to possess about 42 per cent of the entire forest in the Upper portion of the Gulf of Guinea, with the presence of gold, diamond, iron ore but no proven reserve of commercial oil.

The civil war in neighbouring Liberia complicated the Sierra Leone for more than a decade. Sierra Leone has diamonds and gold, with about five per cent of the forest in Upper Guinea Gulf.

The War in Sierra Leone later spilled over to Guinea, but thanks to the vigilance of the authorities, it did not escalate. Guinea possesses 16 per cent of the forest in the Upper Guinea Gulf and has iron ore and bauxite. Cote d'Ivoire has 28 percent share of the Upper Guinea Gulf and is a major producer of coffee.

Mr. Donnie revealed that arguments are now being advanced in favour of the new concept of "Global Commons" which says "natural resources present in any country are not the sole property of that country. They were put there by nature for the common good of the rest of the world, with the particular country as the custodian and steward. Everybody has the right to natural resources no matter where they are, but subject to national, regional and international laws and protocol".

But he rightly pointed out that that it is important for West African leaders to have a say, backed by legal instruments, in the cultivation, management, exploitation and movement of natural resources of a member state.

"If natural resources are not managed sustainably, discontent could brew up among citizens. When people are not satisfied with a situation, they may result to actions that cause chaos and insurrection, and is likely that insecurity will reign."

To address some of these problems, Mr. Donnie proposed that ECOWAS must be involved in the implementation of all Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), and be represented at the conferences of the Parties to the MEAs, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and Land Degradation.

During the discussions session, Dr. Prosper Bani of the Small Arms and Demobilization Unit of the UNDP, disagreed with Mr. Donnie's view that, wherever there is a heavy dependence on natural resources conflicts evolve. He believes that selfish interests motivated many of the actors in the aforementioned civil wars.

Other participants blamed Africans for allowing themselves to be armed by interest groups in the west to fight one another.

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