The US-Africa Leaders’ Summit: the missing link?

by Dr Gilbert Maoundonodji | Publish What You Pay
Thursday, 31 July 2014 17:04 GMT

A man works at an illegal oil refinery site near river Nun in Nigeria's oil state of Bayelsa November 27, 2012. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

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One constituency which is not going to be represented strongly at the Summit is civil society

This week the US - Africa Leaders’ Summit takes place in Washington DC. A three-day summit, with leaders of more than forty African countries expected to attend; this summit is the first of its kind and presents a unique opportunity for dialogue around a wide range of political and economic issues.

Political and business leaders will all be in town to participate in the summit. Yet one constituency which is not going to be represented strongly at the Summit is civil society. The many networks which represent citizens  – a lot of which will also be in town next week, including the coalition Publish What You Pay which I belong to – have not been invited to participate.

This forms the missing link.

One of the biggest issues facing Africa is natural resource governance – many countries across the continent have to decide whether or not to extract their oil, gas or minerals, and to negotiate the deals permitting companies to do so. And civil society plays a central role in this decision-making process, ensuring that communities are in a position to make informed decisions and get the best deal possible.

Yet there is a lot more to be done. Because of trade mispricing, opacity and secrecy jurisdictions our continent has lost out on more than $1 trillion over the last 30 years. Africa is generating revenues, but many of these flow to the pockets of rich corporations and individuals rather than back to citizens. It shouldn’t be this way.

Publish What You Pay Africa sees the US - Africa Leaders’ Summit as a crucial opportunity for all parties to make concrete commitments to enhancing extractive governance. The 25 PWYP coalitions in Africa are calling on our governments to commit to an open and transparent bidding process for the allocation of extractive contracts and licenses, including the publication of contracts. We are calling on our governments to commit to creating open budgeting processes, so that we can ensure extractive revenues are responsibly spent. We also ask them to include beneficial ownership declaration forms in procurement and contracts.

Despite the difficulties there is a growing movement for good governance across our continent. Countries are joining, and successfully implementing, standards such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. They are taking ownership of natural resource management, incorporating the Africa Mining Vision and providing the continent with its own framework. We are building up expectations that the government has a role to manage natural resources in an accountable and transparent manner. But we, as civil society, need a guaranteed space and platform so that we can operate.

We are fighting every day to change our future. Every day, we risk arrest and intimidation to bring the issue of natural resources into the open – earlier this month, a number of Publish What You Pay Niger activists were arrested for comments made about a deal between their Government and the French nuclear giant, Areva. Where once silence reigned, people now debate in the streets how their revenues should be managed. But the extractive sector has many players and there is only so much civil society can do within the current confines of the game. The US and other developed countries, as well as international extractive companies, profit hugely from the sector and the rules play to their advantage. They have their role to play too.

In recent years, certain countries in the global North have realised that they have a part to play in this – by ensuring that their companies publish the payments they make to governments.

In 2010, President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Act into law, section 1504 of which requires all US listed oil, mining and gas companies to annually disclose the payments they make to governments. Four years down the line, the law has not come into effect and we are still waiting for the rules to be published. In the meantime, the European Union has adopted similar laws, the Accounting and Transparency Directives, which will come into force next year.

The US must not keep us waiting. That’s why we have sent this letter to President Obama to urge him to ensure that Dodd-Frank 1504 and other transparency disclosure requirements are implemented in law as soon as possible.

President Obama once said that “Africa’s future is up to Africans”. We agree. That’s why civil society needs a leading role in natural resource governance and not be the missing link next week.

Dr Gilbert Maoundonodji

President of the PWYP Africa Steering Committee