Do I need to understand conflict in order to do mining?

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Conflict Diamonds
A National Geographic Special on conflict diamonds.

I am a mining specialist, not a conflict specialist. But on my recent trip to Sierra Leone, I was struck by the ever-present need to look at extractive industries through the lens of conflict prevention.  The devastating 11-year civil war in Sierra Leone, in large part fueled by local alluvial diamond mining, is impossible to separate from future mining development.  With over 50,000 deaths due to the civil war, we cannot ignore the link between conflict and mining. 

TThat’s why it is crucial to work in partnership with others who have expertise working in fragile and conflict-affected settings.   And this is precisely what we are trying to do more and more, particularly on the nexus between extractive industries and conflict/fragility in low-income countries that are nonetheless rich in oil, gas and mineral resources.

We are here for a mid-term review of the Sierra Leone Extractive Industries Technical Assistance Project (EI-TAP), which aims to assist the country with the whole extractive industries value chain. This stretches from the awarding of contracts and licenses, to tax collection and revenue management, to design of sustainable development policies.   The goal is to ensure that rents coming out of oil, gas, and mining are effectively invested in much-needed physical infrastructure and human capital. 

This trip is an opportunity to make adjustments in our project design and activities and look at them through the lens of fragility and conflict.  That is why we are bringing together experts on mining, on fragility and conflict, justice for the poor, private sector development, poverty reduction and economic management.  We are combining skills so that the plan for mining sector development delivers benefits that flow to the country, and that project design takes account of challenges linked to conflict and fragility. Going beyond our current project (EI-TAP), we are really looking to the future and contributing to the development of an overarching framework that will articulate how extractives will contribute to sustainable development in the Bank Group’s upcoming Country Partnership Framework for Sierra Leone.

As I got back to the hotel that evening and switched on the TV, to my surprise the film Blood Diamonds was being broadcast depicting Sierra Leone being torn apart by the civil war that was in large part fueled by the illicit diamond trade. While that is Hollywood, and the situation in the country is very different today, it is a reminder of why we are here. We don’t want to see conflict again. We want to see mineral revenues benefit the people of Sierra Leone.

The country has made remarkable progress in the past few years with the support of the Bank Group and other donors, such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative -Multi Donor Trust Fund (EITI-MDTF).  For example, new laws have been developed to attract investors, new institutions created to better manage the mining sector and new systems put in place so that benefits reach national, district and local levels. Sierra Leone is now implementing the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which aims to improve governance and transparency through the full publication and verification of company payments and government revenues from oil, gas, and mining activities.
But are we doing enough to help prevent future conflict? Are the people getting an equitable share of the benefits and is the money getting where it should? Do people feel engaged in the process or disenfranchised? Do the youth have job opportunities?

We know that failure to deliver on these expectations helped sow the seeds of discontent that provoked the former conflict.

All these questions are still valid.  In that context, the Bank Group seeks a holistic approach to help countries ensure that the riches from their natural resources do contribute to the twin goals of reducing extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity.

One of the best ways to achieve these goals and prevent conflict is through effective and inclusive development.   This is an effort that requires the contributions of many, not just oil, gas and mining specialists. It requires a joint responsibility of governments, industry, international organizations, civil society, media, and other relevant stakeholders.

I am optimistic about what we can deliver for countries when we bring various areas of expertise together, with a shared purpose, and when we reach out and collaborate with other development partners and the private sector.

I hope this will be a model for future work in resource-rich, fragile and conflict affected states, both in Africa and beyond.



Christopher Sheldon

Christopher Sheldon, Sector Manager, Oil, Gas, Mining Unit, The World Bank

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