Mining has been practiced in West Africa since the earliest times and small-scale mining of gold and iron has been the basis of wealth and/or power of many empires and kingdoms in the region throughout history.
After a period of high volatility in the prices of raw mineral materials, many countries with significant resources, are trying, given a growing demand in rich countries and liberal policies in place, to make the sector more attractive and bring foreign investors; the objective is to increase their export earnings and invest in infrastructure and development projects in order to significantly reduce poverty. The important financial resources required by investments are the reason today for the reforms undertaken in the mining codes and taxation in order to make the countries attractive for investment in the sector#_ftn1" name="_ftnref1" title="">. However, while the discovery of new mineral deposits in countries that are at the bottom of the ladder of human development such as Niger and Guinea, is good news, the resource curse is there to remind us that the exploitation of subsoil resources is often associated with poverty of local populations, poor governance and widespread environmental degradation. This is what Terry Lynn Karl calls the « Paradox of plenty#_ftn2" name="_ftnref2" title=""> ».
Therefore, the development of the mining sector raises many challenges that are related to the preservation of the environment and biodiversity and the issue of respect for economic, social and cultural rights of communities living around mining sites.
Indeed, fate has it that in most countries that have resources, significant quantities of minerals are confined to areas that have the densest forests, the most suitable agricultural soils or the most abundant river systems. Moreover, these lands are largely inhabited by the poorest and most marginalized populations, who depend on these forests, land and water resources.
As a result, the following questions should be asked: i) through what means is the protection of biodiversity#_ftn3" name="_ftnref3" title=""> on which poor populations depend on so strongly assured? ii) How are their economic, social and cultural rights guaranteed in the face of powerful mining companies which have concessions for exploration and/or exploitation that increasingly extend on natural resources (land, forest, fauna, among others) and that form the basis of livelihoods of these communities?
Indeed, it is clear from the numerous studies that the legal instruments set up in many countries to prevent degradation of the environment and improve the living conditions of local communities around the mining sites have not generated anticipated results. International initiatives have then been designed to encourage mining companies to go beyond mere compliance with the legislative and regulatory framework in the country through better consideration of Social and Environmental Responsibility (SER).
The assumption underlying this approach is that, even though it provides income for firms and governments who grant the exploitation of resources, mining represents a real threat to the environment, biodiversity and the population’s means of livelihoods. Concerted efforts are therefore necessary to minimize these risks and promote a responsible mining sector that is able to contribute to the continent’s sustainable development, including by anticipating negative environmental and social impacts. Hence transparency, accountability and inclusive dialogue are essential and part of Social and Environmental Responsibility to be promoted.
SER is a concept registered in voluntary charters and standards. It is generally interpreted as the way in which companies include social, environmental and economic concerns in their values and decision making and, therefore, how they implement best practices in their activities.
Since the publication of the OECD Guiding Principles at the launching of ISO 26000 in 2010, the concept of SER has evolved considerably. This situation is partly due to the changing global economic context characterized by the strong demand for mining and mineral products.
In sub-Saharan Africa, many countries that derive most of their income from mining are increasingly acting in favor of political, legislative and institutional measures that promote SER.
This research conducted in West Africa shows that the study countries (Ghana, Guinea and Niger) have in common a number of factors that could facilitate the promotion of SER in extractive industry.
#_ftnref1" name="_ftn1" title=""> In all three countries, the laws applicable to the mining sector are relatively recent. In Ghana and Niger, they date back to 2006, Niger’s Mining Code of 1993 has been modified. Guinea, has adopted its new code in 2011.
#_ftnref2" name="_ftn2" title=""> Terry Lynn Karl : The Paradox of plenty. Oil booms and Petro States, University of California Press, 1997
#_ftnref3" name="_ftn3" title=""> See the definition of biodiversity above