Conference on the Role of Poltical Parties in the Governance of Natural Resources



The conference was hosted by SAPES Trust in partnership with SARW. It brought together all ruling parties and main opportion parties from SADC countries to discuss their contribution to resource governance. The conference took place in Harare, Zimbabwe ahead of the Presidential and Parliamantary elections.

Most Southern African countries are resource dependent countries. The resources, both solid and liquid, if properly utilized can significantly contribute to economic growth and economic development. Southern Africa is home to all known strategic minerals such as platinum, gold, coltan, copper, cobalt, uranium, oil, manganese, Zinc and gas to mention just a few. Emerging powers, especially China and India are using resources often obtained from Africa to increase their output.

Resources are fetching record high on the world market but this is not translating into improved conditions of life for the masses of the people in the countries from which the resources are extracted. At the center of most mismanagement of resources is the absence of political parties. Policy is shaped as per the interests of the political party that has control over resources. The most strategic opportunity to influence shift in management of resources is during election time when political parties are seeking reelection.

This year Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Mozambique are preparing for an election. As part of engaging these parties to think of resource management and also what to commit to as they campaign for elections in their respective countries, SARW, Democracy and Governance and Economic Justice Programme propose to host a joint SADC seminar with political parties in the region to discuss management of resources. The seminar will influence the policy of political parties on resources management planned elections in Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

There are clear linkages between exploiting resources, especially minerals, and undermining democracy in Southern Africa. It is also apparent that those who control political power also control the extractive industries, in the process undermining transparency and accountability in the sector. In most countries, extractive industries and politics are linked. Most contracts receive political support before they are signed. Companies always want to maintain close and good relations with the political elite by providing financial support when requested.

During elections these companies contribute to the funding of political parties’ elections campaign. However, most of the funds are given to the ruling party. While private firms funding of political activities is not illegal in most countries, it has a negative impact on the governance of the mining sector and provide space for corrupt business practices to set in. Laws alone are not sufficient to ensure clean management of resources. It is important for key stakeholders such as civil society, parliament, communities and political parties to follow and monitor what is happening in the extractive industries. Political parties must integrate in their social projects how they intent to transform the extractive industries to ensure that it is transparent and accountable and it is not to the service of the ruling party.

Within resource rich countries inequalities have certainly increased as a few politically well placed groups have appropriated to themselves virtually all the profits from resources sector without distributing these broadly in the community. The problem of political parties and resource management deserves serious attention for several reasons. First, political parties are given the mandate to run the affairs of the state by the people. The people have the right to know how each political party intends to manage resources if it becomes a ruling party. Second, mismanagement of revenues of the resource sector has pronounced regressive effects on the distribution of wealth. The individuals who engage in corrupt relationship with corporations (mining companies) generally are members of countries economic and political elites who take advantage of their privileged position to acquire funds.

The acquisition of funds often involves legally questionable practices, including fronting for mining companies, the embezzlement of revenues and kickbacks on dubious contracts. The third reason is that political parties through their election manifestos engage in a social contract with citizens. Most of the time political parties do not know where the money to fund their social programmes will come from. The only serious source of foreign exchange for most countries is the extractive industries. In all SADC countries, 70 per cent of internal resource mobilization comes from extractive; unfortunately part of it is misappropriated. Political parties will have to seriously consider how to protect the sector from unscrupulous businesses and their own corrupt members to ensure maximum mobilization of resources necessary to implement their social programme.

Political parties will have to explain how they intend to manage resources once in power. What is their position on issues of resource ownership, resource transformation, taxation, local empowerment, domestic entrepreneurship and procurement, compensation for displaced communities, environmental protection and mining closure? They will also have to provide answers on the question of the uneven playing field created by extractive industries funding of political parties. Should mining companies be funding political parties’ elections campaign or activities? They equally have to deal with conflict of interests with key politicians having interests in the mining companies. In general, the project will stimulate political parties to seriously consider including a discussion on resource management in their manifestos and encourage opposition political parties to start to get involved in issues related to resources management.

It has been establish that a number of political figures in most countries have interests in mining activities. They use their political position to protect their business interests. The policy dialogue will provide space for political parties to articulate their policies and strategies on how they intend to transform the sector to make it transparent and accountable. In doing so, the intention is for each country to set up a resource compact via an extractive sector forum that includes all stakeholders. The project will raise awareness on the negative impact that extractive industries is having on democratization and development in the region.