Erik Charas is a campaigning journalist in Mozambique. He was recently arrested by local officials for asking government leaders difficult questions, including about deals done in Mozambique’s natural resources extraction sector.
Whether “Africa keeps its promise” to its people – the theme of this year’s World Economic Forum on Africa – depends in large part on how Mozambican and other African leaders respond to the probing questions asked by people like Erik. The stakes could not be higher.
Mozambique, like many other African nations across the continent, is discovering and developing vast natural resource reserves and tapping into enormous amounts of resource wealth. Resource development offers a golden key to unlock the continent’s much heralded, and much desired, “economic transformation”. But turning this key depends on ensuring efficient and transparent management of resource revenues and the investment of these revenues into the continent’s physical and human infrastructure.
If Mozambique – like Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and others – gets this right, it could develop more rapidly and, above all, more inclusively, securing a prosperous future for all its citizens. These choices must be made now.
That is why ONE, along with its partners in the Publish What You Pay coalition, has been campaigning for transparency in the extractives sector in Europe and North America. This campaign recently made progress as Europe agreed to the mandatory reporting of payments by companies to governments in the extractives sector. It would be wonderful if African leaders now took this further and implemented legislation covering stock exchanges in Johannesburg, Nairobi, Accra and elsewhere.
We are also supporting our partners in pushing for the disclosure of “beneficial ownership” of shell companies – as lack of clarity around ownership facilitates hiding stolen assets and tax evasion – as well as technical assistance for African revenue authorities and exchange of tax information conventions.
Transparency of government budgets is equally important so citizens can track resources and make sure the money is well spent. That is to say, the funding goes to ensuring children are immunized, educated and nourished; wells are dug and working; electricity can be accessed, even in remote rural areas; and small farmers are properly supported and connected through farm-to-market roads.
A new report from Kofi Annan’s Africa Progress Panel on African natural resource governance, launched last week at the World Economic Forum on Africa, laid out much of what must be done to help secure the revenues needed for development on the continent. Its policy recommendations make clear that African nations should be legislating for transparency in the natural resources sector, and give guidelines on how governments can make better use of those revenues – by channelling them into infrastructure, job creation, health, nutrition and education. If this happens, then the 2 billion African citizens of 2050, and all global citizens around the world, will look back upon this time – the 50th anniversary of the African Union – as a pivotal turning point in the continent’s history.
This is the future that leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu envision – that the 21st century will be “the African century”; a future that realizes the African Union’s charter that calls for a resilient, vibrant Africa driven and determined by its own citizens. This way also lies the realization of Nelson Mandela’s dream – that this could be the generation to end extreme poverty and hunger. But the path towards such visionary progress won’t be lit up if the Erik Charas’ of Africa are silenced and intimidated into not asking those probing, revealing and enlightening questions.
Jamie Drummond is Executive Director and Co-Founder of ONE. Both he and Erik Charas are members of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders Alumni Community.
Image: Handcuffs attached to bars at an unidentified prison. REUTERS/Jorge Silva