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A role for mining in protection from extremism

By Lisa Sharland, Tim Grice, Sara Zeiger

The mining sector has a role in preventing and countering violent extremism in Africa.

Violent extremism and terrorism continue to threaten international peace and security.

Across the African continent, groups such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Boko Haram and al-Shabaab contribute to insecurity, from the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin across to the Horn of Africa. Terrorist groups operating on the continent have a history of targeting both local and foreign interests, demonstrated most again with the attack on a Turkish café in Ouagadougou in August 2017 and the attack on the Mogadishu markets in October 2017.

Foreign extractives companies operating on the continent have been the target of direct attacks and kidnapping of their employees by terrorist groups. It is well understood that violent extremism poses a threat to the operations of mining companies in Africa. What is less well understood, however, is that mining companies – as private sector actors and stakeholders – also have a potential role in national and regional efforts on the continent to prevent and counter violent extremism (P/CVE).

This was one of several findings in a new report released last month by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) – Preventing and countering violent extremism in Africa: the role of the mining sector.

This new report draws on a combination of desktop and field research to examine the links between the mining sector and the potential drivers of violent extremism in sub-Saharan Africa. While the report focused on four case study countries – Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya and Mali – the lessons have much broader application.

The report finds that the mining sector has several reasons for stepping up its engagement in efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism.

First is the idea that mining companies have a direct interest in improving the security of their operations, personnel and investments on the ground.

Mining companies do not want to be a target for extremist groups nor do they want to operate in an unstable environment that threatens the safety of their employees or security of their supplies and operations. In this regard, decisions by a mining company about its approach to security may positively or negatively influence perceptions about the company within the local community. An entirely hard security approach may alienate the local community and be perceived as an unnecessary threat. Local communities can often be the best form of defence against potential security risks. If there is poor engagement and interaction with the local community, it may serve to fuel local grievances and potentially exacerbate some of the drivers of violent extremism.

The mining sector also has several structural characteristics that may directly affect some of the drivers of violent extremism. Projects are often located in geographically challenging areas where there is poor governance and insecurity; the scale of operations can disrupt socioeconomic development in an area; and environmental impacts can affect livelihoods and local communities. These characteristics, among others, mean that a mining company can either exacerbate or mitigate some of the potential drivers of violent extremism.

For example, a potential structural driver of violent extremism is marginalisation and discrimination. If a mining company fails to adequately assess local needs and allows disparities in economic benefits to particular ethnic or religious groups, then this may exacerbate perceptions of marginalisation. Alternatively, if a company engages effectively with local leaders to identify targeted training and potential employment programmes for groups that may be disproportionately affected, then they may mitigate some of the drivers.

As the report sets out, the mining sector is already engaged in a range of activities that may exacerbate or mitigate drivers of violent extremism. Our field research found several examples of mining sector engagement to support activities related indirectly to P/CVE programmes, namely in the areas of education and skill development, empowering youth, engaging communities and gender equality and empowering women. However, there is no standard approach, guidance or good practice guides to support companies to ensure they are actually contributing to initiatives that strengthen community resilience to violent extremism, despite their vested interest in reducing these threats.

There is a need for further engagement across the sector with a range of stakeholders – local communities, governments and international organisations – to ensure good practices are being identified, developed and shared.

It’s also important that the mining sector defines the ways it is willing to engage on P/CVE and its own limitations and responsibilities. That requires further discussion and dialogue on the issues. This new ASPI report presents a first step in that effort. It is hoped the report will serve as a catalyst for debate about the potential role of mining companies in P/CVE. Events such as Mining Indaba and Africa Down Under in 2018 will provide a valuable opportunity to progress those discussions in the year ahead.

The mining sector is well placed not only to mitigate the risks of violent extremism in Africa, but also seize the opportunity to contribute to global efforts to address this ongoing threat. As Khalid Koser sets out in the foreword to the report:

The global effort to prevent violent extremism can’t succeed without the private sector.

The mining sector is an important part of that equation.

Originally published by: Paydirt Magazine on 01 Jan 2018