23 October 2012

Africa: Govts Urged to Harness Natural Resources

Addis Ababa — PARTICIPATION of relevant stakeholders, including communities at grassroots levels, will help ensure good management of natural resources abundant in many African nations, for economic growth and benefit of citizens.

Addressing participants attending the Coalition for Dialogue on Africa (CoDA), a head of the 8th African Development Forum (ADF VII) starting today, the former President of Botswana and CoDA Chairman, Mr Festus Mogae, said many African countries endowed with abundant resources are yet to maximize the potential of the sector for economic growth.

"Successful harnessing of resources is a key driver in economies around the world, Africa included, but many African nations are yet to effectively realize the great potential of their natural resources," Mr Mogae explained.

He said if all stakeholders work together, successful harnessing of natural resources and equitable sharing of the benefits down to those at community levels can be achieved.

"The experience of my country, Botswana, over the past 45 years is testimony to that. Am not saying it is an easy task, but it can be done, if all stakeholders in a nation put their will together, behind a common national vision and pledge to lift their own weight and agree in an equitable sharing of national resources revenues," he explained.

He said with the growing demand for mineral resources, water and land for agriculture by new players such as China; Africa has a window of opportunity to improve natural resources governance.

He explained that many countries with natural resources have encountered significant barriers to progress such as lack of negotiation skills, weak administrative capabilities to organize and monitor relevant sectors such as good governance.

"One factor to consider is trust and stability among all stakeholders to allow for constructive participation, which will help build confidence that the benefits from natural resources will be distributed equitably," he explained.

In his presentation at the CoDA conference which was going by the theme "Leveraging State-Society dialogue for improving natural resources governance in Africa," the Chairman of the Kenya Legal Resources Foundation Trust, Prof Kimani Njogu, emphasized the importance of involving the society in all levels of natural resources management.

Prof Njogu noted that despite global recognition of the role of natural resources in improving lives of people, accelerating economic growth and transforming societies, the bulk of Africans are languishing in poverty and hunger.

"The potential available on the continent has led to the scramble for land and other natural resources in Africa, but the custodian, the African people bear the cost of the land acquisition and participate minimally in determining the process and direction of the global rush," Prof Njogu noted.

He noted that among ways to ensure natural resources benefit African people, governments should deliberately include relevant stakeholders including local communities, grassroots organizations and civil societies in decision making process.

"Citizen participation in determining governance practices is vitally important because it ensures sustainable and efficient service delivery by public officers," he stressed. Commenting on bad contracts already entered by African nations, Prof Njogu noted that governments can still renegotiate the contracts, so that communities living around the mining areas can benefit.

The Coordinator of Third World Network-Africa, Mr Yao Graham, noted that small operators in natural resources sector are losing out to large and commercial investors who are the government's focus on foreign direct investment.

Mr Graham stressed on the need to strengthen weak regulatory frameworks and create new ones to safeguard interests of Africa and its people. "If we move toward multi-stakeholder dialogues, we will be able to craft a path that will benefit the bulk of African people," he explained.

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