Africa Culture Ethiopia Mining Natural Resources Opinion

Decolonizing the concept of CSR in African extractive industries

Investments of Trans-National Corporations (TNCs) in extractive industries have increased globally in recent decades. Apart from its potential for the resource, other factors like stable macroeconomic situations, legal and institutional frameworks appeal to a new investment to step-in as a foreign venture in the country. In developing countries, some of them use fresh investment on the ground through exploration projects and others utilize privatization as an engagement technique. Even though the engagement process is something that deserve for discussion, the main point that recently comes to the attention of all stakeholders is the post engagement features in connection with the local community.

Hence, an assessment of contemporary efforts over extractive industry projects indicates that the local community connections are not adequately captured by state’s extractive industries policies in general and in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies of different TNCs in particular. Community related matters usually include but not limited to the environment, human rights, as well as health & safety issues.

Extractive industries shall be competent to tackle the fundamental causes of the growing challenges that emanates from elites of the community towards their projects in the developing world. This can be achieved by engaging in consent processes with communities and groups directly related to the projects with an outlook to obtaining their free prior and informed consent.  This type of engagement shall be enforceable, enduring, and momentous in an effort to take the government, TNCs and communities out of their current suspicious and self-protective positions.

This type of prior informed consent should instead permit the government, TNCs and communities to engage in proactive positions.  With this type of strategies in the African continent that has the informed consent of communities in which TNCs operate, obtaining a competitive advantage from the community is a valid license that equals to the conventional government permit. Furthermore, those communities that has consented agreements with TNCs can obtain control over the natural resource-based development process.

If there are no consented and prior informed engagements, conflict would be the consequence. Conflict with communities, as it is known, increases risks and ruin reputation of the TNC operating the extractive industry. Reputation is an extractive industry attracts reliability and dependability in order to exist in the business. However, as usually happens in developed countries, in Africa too, reputations may be can be open to question by activist campaigns, media reports, civil society  surveys that lead to international attention to the negative effects of TNCs.

Usually, in order to mitigate this collateral damage, TNCs are mounting implementing westernized CSR programs and one-sided media campaigns to restore the destruction, and defending at public through expensive endeavors that consumes considerable corporate time. These westernized and transplanted exercises produce costly settlements and expensive CSR programs to neutralize the relation with the host community. Even, the government will be reluctant and unenthusiastic to manage this type of fragmented situations if once the relation with the host community is cracked. Because, the ultimate stick of the government, which is power, resides in the consent of the people.

In Africa, TNCs shall adopt traditional conflict resolution mechanisms than duplicating westernized CSR policies. The main reason is that African ways of handling issues are based on norms, values, beliefs and cultures of the respective local community. We, therefore, shall study and engage this value system than adopting a CSR policy derived from other areas. So, we have to value the local system and engage horizontally through the “we” sentiment but not vertically through us vs. you approach. Hence, the resolutions and decisions are readily accepted by the entire community without government intervention.

In order to develop Africanized CSR policy to the extractive industry, we shall give attention to the following main points and values;

  • The African mainly culture collaborates with local & traditional resolutions & methods;
  • The African conflict resolution methods are vastly heterogeneous; there is no “one fits all” approach even within the continent
  • There are cross-cutting cultures throughout different jurisdictions. Some values are cross-borders. Or, we can find different values within adjacent communities;
  • the philosophy of conflict resolution is communal and group oriented but not individual based
  • Usually, the practice involves elders and reputable persons

So, the homogeneous style of colonial legacy shall be decolonized first in an effort to have a viable CSR policy for TNCs engaged in extractive industries in Africa.

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