Last month, the unique African Initiative on Mining, Environment and Society (AIMES) held its eleventh annual meeting in Nairobi. It has long been a savage paradox that the world’s richest mineral-endowed continent is also home to its most impoverished peoples.
Previous AIMES’ meetings have engendered vital discussion and proposals to resolve this paradox. But the Nairobi meeting confronted some unique new challenges.
Over the past year, mineral sector reforms, proposed by civil society, state and multilateral bodies, have been broadly welcomed, but these are being grossly undermined in practice. As the final declaration from Nairobi puts it:
“In recent times, international investment agreements and contracts with African governments in the extractive sector in particular have significantly increased. By the middle of 2008, more than 2600 bilateral investment treaties have been signed between individual African governments and private corporations and northern governments.
“Despite their intent to clarify and codify rules around expropriation, these treaties tended to reinforce structures of exploitation and Africa’s peripheral status in global political economic order. They have been effective in protecting the interest of foreign direct investment (FDI), constraining public policy space, limiting environmental protection, undermining human rights including labour and community livelihood, and ultimately legalizing capital flight out of the continent.”