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We the undersigned organisations are writing to strongly urge you, for reasons elaborated in subsequent paragraphs, to reconsider the Memorandum of Understanding that ECOWAS signed with Oxfam America for the preparation of a mining code for the ECOWAS region. We are united in our belief in the importance of strong organisation and expression of citizens in relation to policies affecting their interests. We are also united in our opposition to any form of policy capture by international organisations which compromise local ownership. In this regard we see policy advocacy as an important facet of building a strong citizenship culture in the context of an all round deepening of democracy.  We are of the view that the implications of the ECOWAS-Oxfam America relationship undermine rather than advance these principles.


The first public notice we had of this relationship was provided by an Oxfam America press release of April 14 2008 titled ‘Oxfam America and ECOWAS to create new mining code’. According to the press release, Oxfam America and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed on April 4, 2008 to collaborate on creating a common mining code for all of West Africa. It also said that ‘Oxfam America will oversee the participation of civil society representatives in the drafting of the new mining code’.

Considering the importance of the extractive sector in the economies of a significant number of West African countries we believe that a regional approach to elements of extractive sector policy would be beneficial for ECOWAS member countries. There are many issues on which a regional approach could help improve standards and developmental benefits from non-renewal natural resources. We therefore welcome the extension of ECOWAS’ concerns to mining and the establishment of a Department of Industry and Mines in the ECOWAS Commission.

Our concerns about the agreement with Oxfam America are based on three main elements:

a)      The role that the agreement ascribes to Oxfam America in ECOWAS-West African CSOs relations undermines the building of a strong citizenship culture and its expression in relations between ECOWAS and citizens and their organisations in the region. The role is colonial and patronizing and it violates the Southern Campaigning and Advocacy principles that the global Oxfam family adopted some years ago.

b)     Oxfam America’s overall role in the project strongly manifests some of the very forms of donor capture of policy making that African governments supported by their citizens as well as many solidarity voice and actors from the global North have been campaigning against.

c)      Considering that ECOWAS’ foray into mining policy is relatively new the design and time table of the project places ECOWAS at the risk of missing out on a historic opportunity to contribute and benefit from the continental review of the experience of mining codes across Africa which has been initiated by the ECA and AU. 

a.   No to Oxfam America’s vast superintendent powers over ECOWAS CSOs

According to the Oxfam America-ECOWAS MoU ‘The overall Goal of this project is “To facilitate WA civil society contribution to the formulation of a harmonized regional mining policy that is pro-poor, respectful of environment and human rights, and that keeps governments and mining companies accountable through improved governance practice”. All over the African continent the practice of African governments and inter-governmental bodies in respect of involving citizens and CSOs in policy leaves much to be desired. Sadly how the ECOWAS-Oxfam Agreement seeks to deal with the problem raises its own set of profound problems.

The MoU effectively installs Oxfam America as kind of godfather/shepherd of CSOs for the purposes of drawing up an ECOWAS mining code. Even the most casual reading of the role the MoU assigns them shows that they are installed as gate keepers and determinants of who among West African CSOs get to participate in the exercise. It is through Oxfam America partners and affiliates that the rest of ECOWAS get connected to the project and ‘ownership by West African CSOs’ is ensured. When it comes to a regional seminar for CSOs and CBOs it is Oxfam that will be responsible for gathering these actors, identify and decide the venue for the gathering. It is Oxfam America that is responsible for gathering CBOs and CSOs.  In addition to undermining local ownership the terms on which this superintendent role will be exercised are not transparent.

An important component of the past two or so decades of democratic expansion and consolidation across West Africa has been the considerable growth in the knowledge and capacity of local CSOs and CBOs and their collective organisation around a variety of issues. ECOWAS itself has recognised this as expressed in relations with the CSOs gathered in WASCOF.  Mining is one such area where civil society organisations have emerged at community and national levels, with growing regional cooperation among groups. In Ghana National Coalition on Mining, which brings together community based groups from mining areas and NGOs is recognised by all the relevant policy makers as key actor for mining policy dialogue. In Ghana as in other places these efforts have been supported, in the spirit of solidarity by Northern NGOs as opposed to being superintended by them. 

We are keen to understand from the ECOWAS Commission the basis on which Oxfam America came to be installed as the mediator/ organizer of the engagement of ECOWAS CSOs with the code drafting process.  It is however clear that by installing Oxfam America as the conductor of its relations with mining CSOs and CBOs ECOWAS has thrown away an important opportunity for contributing to the deepening of its democratic engagement with West African civil society organisations in an important policy area. 

ECOWAS and the wider African context

The ECOWAS-Oxfam America MoU correctly highlights how the current global boom in the  price of minerals and metals have underlined what West African and other African countries  have not earned from the export of their minerals, even as mining affected communities and the environment have paid a huge price for the exploitation of these resources by TNCs. This recognition has generated a continent wide movement calling for the revision of not only existing contracts but a radical re-think of how African countries conceive of the place of minerals in their national development strategies and therefore what their mining codes should embody. This call has been taken up from the level of continental bodies such as the UN-ECA, AU and AfDB as well as in the engagements of community and national level CBOs and NGOs across the continent.

We believe that this rare unanimity provides a unique chance for African governments, regional bodies and institutions, working with citizens to seek some convergence as well as coherence on key principles in relation to mining sector policy even as we remain pragmatic about which policy making levels offer the best site for creating enforceable norms for different clusters of issues in mining. In this regard we think the conception and pace of ECOWAS’ regional efforts should pay attention to the continental level processes centred around the International Study Group (ISG) convened by the UN-ECA to make real the implications of the conclusions of the February 2007 Big Table policy discussions of the AU, ECA and AfDB.   The work of the ISG link to the AU will be taken a step forward at a meeting of African Ministers of Mining/Natural Resources scheduled at the AU in September. At their meeting in March 2008 Africa’s Finance Ministers commended the work of the ISG and declared their support for it.

ECOWAS’ foray into mining policy is relatively new and its institutional set up and processes for this area of policy are still evolving. We believe that the interests of the ECOWAS region will be very well served by an active involvement in the ECA’s reform initiative, considering the range of expertise and experience that it brings together. Two regions with more advanced regional mining harmonisation efforts, UEMOA and SADC, are active participants in the work of the ECA’s ISG. There is no incompatibility between a radically rethought ECOWAS regional process and ECOWAS being part of a continental process. Such an engagement will be consistent with the oft expressed concerns of regional and continental leaders for greater coherence in major policy areas among the RECs. It will allow ECOWAS officials to share what is going on in ECOWAS, learn what thinking is going on in other regions and how together the regions influence the continental perspective on this important area of policy and development.

In our view this approach will be much more productive than the unfolding course of action which we see as a rush into what could very well turn out to be an ultimately frustrating exercise at drawing up a regional mining code, based on the flawed relationship with Oxfam America.  Experience from everywhere shows that the process of creating supra-national legal instruments, especially where national norms and derivative contractual relations already exist as is the case with mining in West Africa, are invariably long drawn and arduous. In our view, in addition to the reservations already expressed about the current code drafting exercise the timeline for its completion is very optimistic.


Mr. President, these are the reasons for our urging you to seriously reconsider the agreement with Oxfam America. The business of drawing up a thoughtfully prepared ECOWAS mining code, the wider processes taking place on the continent in relation to the future of mining which we strongly believe ECOWAS should part of, as well as using the code drafting process to build a constituency in support of a new policy direction in mining across ECOWAS are all compromised by the terms of the relationship established by the ECOWAS-Oxfam America MoU.


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