'The Boom of the Mining Sector in Africa. Foreign Investments, Political Changes and Social Conflicts', October 2013 Issue, Journal POLITIQUE AFRICAINE
Call for Papers Date:
The Journal "Politique Africaine" is calling for papers for its October 2013 issue, which will be aimed at offering a bottom-up analysis of the changes brought by foreign investors in the mining sector in Africa and the strategies of African actors towards these foreign companies.
From the 1980s onwards, in order to improve the profitability of public mining companies in Africa, the World Bank advocated for a strategy based on the privatization of their assets, the setting up of attractive conditions for foreign investors, and the promotion of public-private joint ventures. Since the implementation of this policy was concomitant with the growing transnationalisation of mining activities at the global level and the emergence of new actors in this sector, it succeeded in attracting not only well-known multinational companies, but also capitalist adventurers, small businesses, exploration companies, and corporations from post-socialist countries.
But the liberalization of the mining sector only began to bear fruits after the beginning of the new millennium, thanks to the strong rise of prices in minerals. Since 2000, the African mining sector seems to have entered in a new era characterized by a rush of foreign investors, most notably Chinese. This rush, in turn, led to a multiplication of conflicts about mining concessions, working conditions in foreign enterprises, and the distribution of mining benefits in general.
At several occasions, as the recent ‘massacre of Marikana’ in South Africa bears witness, demonstrations by workers or artisanal miners were violently repressed by mining companies and the police – social conflicts that met a large echo in the media. More generally, the reform of the African mining sector has drawn the attention of many commentators (both national and foreign), who have given, for most of them, a negative assessment of its development outcomes.
This issue of Politique africaine aims at offering a bottom-up analysis of the changes brought by foreign investors in the mining sector. To do so, it will take as a point of departure the strategies of African actors towards foreign companies and the historical contexts in which these relationships take place. By ‘African actors’, we mean all those who get in touch with foreign investors: Workers, artisanal miners, civil society organizations, chiefs, businessmen, public officials, and so on. As for the category of ‘foreign investors’, far from being limited to multinational companies only, it includes all companies, large or small, who developed mining activities in Africa during the last decade or so.
Four lines of inquiry deserve special attention within the framework of this issue:
1) Once central in the literature about capitalism, social classes, and urbanization in Africa, workers of the mining industry have been largely ignored in recent works about this sector. How different categories of actors (local authorities, ethnic associations, unions, workers, etc) shape foreign companies’ management strategies, and how workers experience working for these companies remain largely, therefore, open questions. The situation of these workers is certainly different in multinational companies, in Chinese corporations, or in small Indian enterprises. But working for these companies has probably brought changes in their strategies on the job market, in their relationships with expatriates, and in their living conditions (confinement in compounds, separation from the family, etc.). To study work relationships and labour policies is necessary for understanding the advent of social conflicts like those that took place in Marikana. It is also liable to bring new light on the political environment (security, public services, the power of unions, etc.).
2) Since the 1980s, in a context characterized by economic decline and the implementation of structural adjustment policies, a growing number of artisanal miners entered underexploited mines to dig for gold and diamond as well as for less precious minerals such as copper or coltan. Since then, artisanal mining has considerably developed and been subjected to various attempts of regulation. But the rush of foreign investors in the last decade has undermined this trend and, in several countries, led to the growing marginalization of artisanal miners. It is important, in these circumstances, to study how these miners face the growing influence of foreign investors: How do they resist eviction from mining sites? How is their struggle organized? What are the other activities open to them? Do they accept to work for mining companies? How have their social networks and moral economies changed? Similarly, where artisanal exploitation persists or continues to grow, one could ask how its relationships with industrial exploitation have evolved, and how the two fields of activity are connected within the same region. In all countries, the future of artisanal miners – a predominantly young and poor population – is certainly a crucial political challenge.
3) Several works show how multinational companies face critiques and defend their reputation. But we do not know how the critiques themselves are worked out, from the complaints heard in the field to the reports published on the web and the setting up of parliamentary commissions: How do journalists, unions, or human rights activists translate workers’, artisanal miners’, or local communities’ grievances? What divisions cross these politically committed circles? What are their positions in the political arena? What is their relationship with foreign organizations? How do governments respond to their claims and critiques? To answer such questions would allow us to know how critiques are worked out, who is supporting them, and under what circumstances they show results or not (a rise in wages, a review of mining contracts, etc.).
4) With few exceptions, these changes have been analyzed from a topdown perspective centered on the World Bank’s neoliberal policies, Chinese new imperialism and the governance of large mining corporations: Primarily based on secondary sources, these studies have in common to strongly emphasize the power of foreign actors. Yet a long research tradition – associated, in part, with Politique africaine – stresses the ability of African elites to intrumentalize their own dependent situation. Following this approach, one could ask how African rulers (chiefs, public companies executives, the army, etc.) negotiated the mining reforms imposed by the World Bank: What is their relationship with foreign investors? How far have power networks been reorganized? Does the presence of foreign investors fuel autochthony discourses? How are mining taxes distributed between different power levels? Can we study changes in the mining sector in terms of neoliberalism? As a large field of forces at the interface between the local and the global, the mining sector offers an excellent starting point for studying African political economies.
The above list of subjects and questions is not exhaustive. The aim of this issue is to bring new light on the boom of the mining sector by focusing on local actors’ strategies and the endogenous dynamics of African societies. All article proposals dealing with this subject are welcome. Of maximum one page, the proposals should be sent to Benjamin Rubbers (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com) by the 15th of December.
Abstracts (1 page maximum) should be sent to Benjamin Rubbers by December 15th 2012.
By December the 31st 2012, authors are informed whether their article proposal is selected or not.
Selected articles (8000 words or 50 000 signs with space) are expected on 31st March 2013.
After the peer review conducted by Politique africaine, accepted articles will be published in the October 2013 issue.
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