Cross-African Exchange Deepens Oil and Mining Expertise

Last December, groups from Cameroon and Ghana travelled with Revenue Watch to find out more about each other’s experiences with the oil and mining industries.

Faced with declining oil reserves, Cameroon is looking to develop its mining sector, with billions of dollars of investment focusing on nickel, cobalt, iron, bauxite and diamond reserves.  Ghana, on the other hand, has seen attention shift from its century-old gold mining sector to the new off-shore oil and gas discoveries.  

The three Cameroonians, representing civil society groups Relufa and Publish What You Pay, were seeking new knowledge about mining from a range of perspectives. The five journalists from Ghana, participants in RWI’s media training program, set out to learn from Cameroon’s petroleum industry and bring lessons back to their own country.

In both countries, citizens and civil society have witnessed years of mining or oil activity, but the positive impacts of this natural wealth have yet to make themselves known, so it is not surprising to see both hope and apprehension over new exploitation. Ghana’s Jubilee oil field is expected to raise an average $1 billion per year for the next 20 years, while Cameroon’s developing mineral sector is not expected to begin operation until 2015.

The Ghanaian journalists, in conversations with civil society, community members, companies, journalists and government officials heard about the range of challenges within the extractive sector, such as relocation compensation, declining fish stocks and environmental concerns over the proximity of industry to residential areas.  The group visited the onshore Logbaba Gas and Condensate Field and the construction for the planned Deep Sea Harbour at Kribi.  As participating journalist Benjamin Tetteh noted upon his return to Ghana, “unlike Cameroon, Ghana has started early with plans for a gas plant” but in Cameroon, which “has been producing oil for the past 30 years, the associated gas has been wasted over all these years” . Ghana is now looking to commercialize its gas from the onset of oil production and recently formed the Ghana National Gas Company.

The Cameroonian group met with communities in the Tarkwa gold mining region in Western Ghana, and with government and civil society representatives in the capital city of Accra.  Local experts told the group that, though Ghana’s mining sector is decades old, the same challenges anticipated in Cameroon remain a reality in Ghana.  Revenue collection has been hurt by transfer pricing, weak fiscal regimes and weak regulatory institutions, while environmental problems continue to plague communities.  Some progress has been made, however, as legal frameworks are revised and communities become better informed, including a 2009 order that mine operators must fill in the open pit left behind in Prestea.

One of the main focuses of Relufa’s advocacy is the use of sub-national mining royalties.  A percentage of Ghana’s royalties are transferred back to the host districts, offering them an opportunity to develop and to mitigate the negative impacts of mining.  But, as Jaff Bamenjo of Relufa said later, the Cameroon delegates were surprise to discover that Ghana's local challenges with royalty management were not very different from Cameroon’s challenges in the logging industry:  Sub-national payments are not always used transparently, nor are they managed with the participation or development of the community in mind. In both countries, organizations are now developing proposals to improve the sub-national payment process, and participants said they were eager to remain in contact in order to share progress and outcomes. “We were inspired by the great job Ghana’s CSOs have done of injecting community and civil society concerns into mainstream political debate about these important issues,” Brendan Schwartz of Relufa added.

Ghana and Cameroon are both participants in EITI, and both countries have seen improvements in sector transparency and in the openness of the public dialogue. In the follow-up to the event, RWI partners Penplusbytes reported that the Relufa team was inspired by the opportunities Ghanaian groups are taking to influence national policy, and the journalists from Ghana gained a new appreciation of the political space available to CSOs in their own country.   

Whether the resource in question in minerals or oil, whether the location is Ghana, Cameroon, or elsewhere, the initial decision to extract must focus on whether the resulting wealth will be used for the greatest public benefit. Participants finished the trip equipped with new ideas for how to prepare for new industry activities back home.

For more from RWI's media trainees, see "Cameroon builds $90m first gas plant for industrial energy in sub-Sahara Africa," by Pascal Kudiabor.