Many corporations, especially in farming or mining, have a tremendous impact on local African populations but deal with oppressive governments in the states’ capitals.
It is an unfortunate reality that often those governments ignore development in peripheral areas where the local population takes the brunt of environmental and social effects, in favor of further enriching favored urban areas or outright corruption. This has historically led to civil upheaval and strife.
While much of this AFKInsider ongoing series on corporate social responsibility in Africa has focused on areas to improve individual lives and move authoritarian states towards democracy, multinational corporations should also look to remedy the causes of civil strife that can so greatly affect their operations.
One area where firms can vastly improve is a focus on local development projects at a country’s peripheral areas, where companies often operate but are largely ignored by central governments. In addition to remedying immediate problems and working towards better security, this can go a long way in aiding democracy movements in authoritarian states.
Nigeria has one of the world’s foremost ongoing insurrections based on a forgotten geographical periphery.
The Niger Delta in Southern Nigeria has for years been the subject of significant violence and terrorism based on lack of attention from the central government.
Nigeria’s Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, a large umbrella group of organizations perpetrating terrorist attacks on the pipelines of the Delta, has as its stated aim a receipt of a large percentage of oil revenues.
The group also broadly aims to gain general control of resources. While both of these goals seem fundamentally unlikely, they stem from “…the lack of benefits the community has received from its extensive oil resources…” according to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Stephanie Hanson.
In addition to the horrific human and environmental costs associated with the civil strife, the theft of crude and output disruptions in the region led oil revenues this year to be as much as $12 billion lower than projected. Such budgetary shortfalls demand attention.
In contrast to the densely populated Niger Delta area, a much more traditional example was found in Gaddafi-era Libya, where the regime lavished oil wealth on its favored city, Tripoli, and neglected development in the Cyrenaica region that contains two thirds of the country’s proven oil reserves.
This geographic group structure, when combined with the unequal revenue distribution, is an often-cited reason for the revolution. During the war, Benghazi, Cyrenaica’s historic capital, was the base of rebel operations.
Oil production during the revolution was cut to nearly 40 percent of pre-war levels, even though miraculously none of the country’s major oilfields suffered extraordinary damage. Even now, two years on, the new government has not provided security in the oil-producing areas, resulting in tremendous lapses in oil production. In September, oil production was at less than 10 percent of pre-war norms. While the civil insurrection and war that led to the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi has undoubtedly been good for the country, region and world, it left a security gap that has proven difficult to navigate for multinational corporations exploiting the country’s vast oil reserves.
There are two major lessons that can be drawn from the above situations.
First, when communities that are most affected by the activities of multinationals are not given a share in the advantages of economic development there can be significant strife.
Second, fully alienated communities that reach a boiling point and move to overthrow a despotic government do not have the capacity to provide security after that government’s ouster.
Local development and capacity-building projects stave off both these issues. They allow for peace in local communities and, when authoritarian governments are ousted, they provide greater capacity for governance that will stave off security issues such as those being experienced in Libya.
At first glance, the Libyan example seems particularly troubling for those using corporate social responsibility to advocate for democracy.
While it happened on the back of tremendous human suffering, the ultimate result of the alienation and geographic disdain for Cyrenaica’s citizens was the end of a tyrant’s rule. Rather circularly, Gaddafi ignoring the needs of the oil area communities was an important element in a level of anger that was ultimately necessary to inspire a movement that would bring him down. One may think that in order for a movement to reach a critical mass, it is preferable for it to be ignored.
This line of thinking ignores the slow and robust advancement necessary for sustainable democratization. While the transition from Gaddafi has proven immensely difficult, had there been a historical emphasis on local development projects there would be much greater capacity for governance around the extraction sites. The greater capacity for governance makes it easier for government to maintain security rather than the present situation where it is impossible for multinationals to operate.
In this way, local development, in addition to placating local communities and providing for immediately improved security, serves as a proven road to democratization, allows democracy a softer landing and creates much less of a governance drop-off during a transition period. This can allow the country to prevent dangerous security situations and allow corporations to operate during periods they otherwise would not have been able to.
Andrew Friedman is a human rights attorney and consultant who works and writes on legal reform and constitutional law with an emphasis on Africa. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via twitter @AndrewBFriedman