Providing Community-Based Security for Africa's Extractive Sector

The extractive sector is a key economic actor in many developing countries but security arrangements around extractive sites can be a source of tension. How can we ensure that the rights of local communities are protected?

4 minute READ

To better understand the effects of the extractive sector’s hybrid security arrangements Nathan Andrews, Charis Enns and J. Andrew Grant examined case studies from Ghana, Kenya and Uganda. They write about their conclusions in the July 2020 issue of International Affairs. Ben Horton spoke to the authors to find out more. 

What are the major security threats facing the extractive sector in the countries you researched?

Nathan Andrews: Questions around security governance are prevalent in the extractive sector because of the value of the resources we are talking about. Materials like gold, diamonds, oil and gas are huge investment opportunities and contribute considerably to the GDP of countries like Ghana, Kenya and Uganda. One angle to security governance is securing the installations of oil and gas infrastructures and making sure that stakeholder investments are protected. This is sustained because most of these contracts last for 20 to 30 years. What happens in most places is that any land that has gold or other minerals is held in the hands of the government on behalf of the people. So, the government is responsible for securing these properties once they have contracted them to investors.

What actors are involved in delivering security?

Charis Enns: At the sites that we visited there are at least 5 to 10 actors involved in ensuring security, including local civil society organizations, private sector companies, state actors and local politicians. Despite this diversity of actors, there are still voices being left out of these conversations and that is what our research draws attention to.

Who decides which actors are involved in delivering security to extractive sites?

J. Andrew Grant: It varies across countries, but there are two themes or norms that have coalesced in recent years and influence such decisions.  One is a new form of resource nationalism and the other is a push for greater local involvement via procurement of goods and services. When it comes to hiring security, governments often support local providers. Sometimes, a mining company or an oil and gas company might hire a large transnational security firm that in turn works with or sub-contracts services to local companies. One thing that gets overlooked is that there is a growing number of African security companies involved in this space. The challenge for extractive sector companies is how best to interact with these different security providers, and there are a lot of political, personal and bureaucratic dynamics at play that influence these decisions. Increasingly, NGOs are also involved in some capacity as advisors or promoters of security to encourage good governance and best practices; this is a new trend designed to increase involvement of local communities as security stakeholders.

Can you elaborate on the role NGOs play in this space?

Charis Enns: Search for Common Ground is a good example of an NGO that takes a really active role in trying to hold security providers to account in different contexts for how they interact with communities around extraction sites. They have become specialists in negotiating between different security actors and communities around extractive sites about how the security of investments can be achieved in a way that does not disadvantage people living on the land. NGOs can act as a bridge between the official security actors and the rest of the security assemblage. 

What are the common trends you found between the three case studies in terms of how security governance affected the communities involved?

Charis Enns: As a result of so many actors being drawn into this space, there is confusion and a lack of transparency over who is doing what and who is responsible to whom. This can leave communities around extractive sites confused about who to turn to if there are incidents that they need to report. For example, there are cases where public security providers are being contracted by private sector companies. This draws public sector security actors away from protecting the general public and leaves communities in the nearby area with their right to be protected from violence unfulfilled while natural resources are secured instead. 

Nathan Andrews: Another interesting example of this can be found in Ghana, where even the clothes worn by some security officials have caused confusion. Here, we see public and private security officials often wearing the same type of clothing, which makes it difficult for local community members to differentiate between the two groups. For instance, if a problem arises like a human rights violation, it is hard to go back and identify which security provider the perpetrator represents. That’s just one illustration of the problems we are trying to unravel with this hybridity. More broadly, when you look at security as it currently operates in the hybrid sense, it tends to focus a lot more on physical security and not so much on the communities that live around sites of extraction. Human security dimensions such as access to food and sustainable livelihoods tend to be missed. The assumption is that once these investments are secured it will trickle down to benefit the local communities, but this is not often the reality. 

J. Andrew Grant: There are high expectations on the development outcomes of resource extraction, and one can understand why local residents look forward to resources being extracted. It could lead to improved infrastructure (roads, powerlines, etc), jobs and all sorts of spin-offs such as the building of hotels, shops and restaurants near the extraction sites. Obviously, governments want to take credit for this economic activity. They want to be able to show citizens and investors that they have facilitated these trickle-down benefits and they are responsible for these large development projects. Local residents are also vigilant in their assessments of whether or not the government delivered on these promises, which incentivises a less careful and more urgent approach to resource extraction.  

It seems that the private sector and the corporations requiring the security have different understandings or expectations of what that means, and the level of support that they can expect from governments and other actors. What international norms exist to inform this? 

Charis Enns: There are very clear international norms and expectations laid out in various documents. The one that we are most interested in is the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights. These principles are one example of where companies, communities and states have come together and agreed on how security should respect human rights. However, there is a trend where exploration and smaller extractive sector companies are not necessarily being called out for failing to uphold these norms.

J. Andrew Grant: Even the small or medium sized oil and gas firms are aware of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights. There are also the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and there are regular meetings, workshops and seminars designed to engage companies and help them incorporate these principles and norms in their operations. But for some smaller companies – who presumably have fewer human resources or more limited budgets – attendance might be challenging. Many small exploration firms only operate until they are bought out by larger mining firms. So the calculation for such firms is: why spend all this time on participating in these initiatives when you may not actually extract that resource come production time? Smaller companies can also fly under the radar more because the media and NGOs tend to focus on larger mining companies given their more visible public profile. Smaller companies are aware of this tendency and therefore some see little value in actively committing to promoting the principles and norms of human security and good governance in their operations. 

Nathan Andrews: These norms are considered ‘soft’ norms, especially by the companies. There are no clear governance mechanisms tracking whether companies have adhered to those norms. If you depend on the companies to report on their behaviour, it will not always resonate with what the communities experience because they are reporting from their perspective and to suit their needs and interests.

The picture you have painted is one where there are a lot of mixed messages and a huge proliferation of actors getting involved, with different motivations and concerns. How can this picture be made simpler and serve the local communities better?

Charis Enns: Over the past several years there have been some positive developments around holding companies to account for their security arrangements. This includes the efforts of civil society advocates and NGOs that are physically present to monitor how security arrangements play out on a day-to-day basis and who understand the local context and pre-existing security challenges. The Kenya Civil Society Platform for Oil & Gas (KCSPOG) is a brilliant example of how things can be done differently. Organisations like KCSPOG understand the context around extractive sites and how security arrangements play out, but also have influence in cities where decisions are made and deals are negotiated. These types of organisations can help address issues around self-reporting and poor transparency and accountability, where companies might say they are doing great when, in reality, their security arrangements are not working as well as they should be. 

Nathan Andrews: I think a bottom-up approach to security governance is one of the recommendations that comes out of our work. What this means is ensuring that community-based organizations are actively involved in the security assemblage. Too rarely does involvement really mean being part of the decision-making processes that inform security governance, and I think it is important that community-based organizations have a voice. Only these organizations really know how security is impacting the lives of people or the sustainability of communities around extractive sites. With a more inclusive approach to security, the benefits of extraction would not just be economic but could also contribute to the communities’ broader development and better meet their needs.

This interview draws upon the article ‘Security for whom? Analysing hybrid security governance in Africa’s extractive sectors, which was published in the July 2020 issue of International Affairs. Read the article.