#DemocracyMatters — now more than ever

Madi, a prospector uses a sluice box to filter gold in Burkina Faso. How do we make democracy matter for the sound and equitable management of natural resources? Photo by: Ollivier Girard / CIFOR / CC BY-NC

Over the past three weeks, government officials, members of civil society, private sector actors and a broad range of representatives from the global development community have engaged in a conversation exploring the intersection of democracy and development, and how natural resources management can contribute to both.

In partnership with the Stockholm-based intergovernmental organization International IDEA, the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, our #DemocracyMatters campaign has featured articles, video interviews, vox pops and guest commentaries that have showcased how democracy matters now more than ever — and how governments the length and breadth of Africa and beyond can learn from the experience of resource-rich nations like Botswana in benefiting from mining and tourism to provide sustainable development for all.

The campaign kicked off in Gaborone, Botswana at the Annual Democracy Forum 2014, which welcomed speakers and participants from governments, academia, multilateral organizations, think tanks, NGOs and the private sector. The conference, co-organized by the government of Botswana and International IDEA, aimed to discuss how countries can sustain the principles of democracy while pursuing their development objectives, bringing into focus the challenges of balancing and promoting the two priorities.

In Gaborone, International IDEA argued that the link between democracy and development becomes even more pressing in the case of resource-rich democracies. Natural resources have the potential to generate substantial sources of income and opportunities for economic growth. At the same time, however, there are challenges in terms of how to maintain and distribute this growth — and ensure that it is done equitably and in an environmentally sustainable way.

These issues were all front and center at the discussions during the forum, with other sessions highlighting the role of gender and the participation of marginalized groups in sound natural resources management. Another key area of discussions focused on identifying best practices in areas such as public-private partnerships, cooperation between government and civil society, and CSR initiatives that advance democracy and development objectives, as well as how to address threats to democracy across Africa. A further — perhaps unlikely — source of buzz in Gaborone was the role legal frameworks and international standards play to ensure the good governance of natural resources.

So how can we ensure a democracy that delivers? And how do we make democracy matter for the sound and equitable management of natural resources?

Harvard University’s Prof. James Robinson, author of “Why Nations Fail,” noted that building inclusive institutions is a key step to achieving that goal, but noted that there is no “silver bullet” solution that can be applied in any context.

If well managed, however, natural resources can truly become a blessing for development, wrote OECD-DAC Chair Erik Solheim. One of Africa’s success stories in this regard is Botswana. Foreign Minister Dr. Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi explained how the country enjoys free education and public health care through a "consolidated fund" from mining and tourism revenues, while Lameck Nthekela, the country’s ambassador to Sweden and a former senior official with the Botswana Export Development and Investment Authority, noted his country’s experience proves that Africa can avoid the “resource curse.” Accountability, transparency and leadership is what other African countries can learn from Botswana, added another government official. Outside of Africa, top Mongolian diplomat Luvsantseren Orgil shared how Mongolia failed in attaining sustainable development from mining.

The natural resources of any country belong to its people, and define the cultural, environmental and infrastructure attributes of a nation. This makes participation in the decision-making process of what to do with these resources very important. Participation is a fundamental marker for good democratic governance of natural resources, and during our campaign we learned how to involve all stakeholders and how to make the business case for extractives firms to help protect the environment. We were also reminded about the importance of consulting indigenous and marginalized communities, based on experiences from Latin America, as well as learning how Namibia’s protected areas or “conservancies” help boost community autonomy, build institutions and enforce the rule of law.

Without accountability and transparency, we learned that the sound management of natural resources is simply impossible.

International IDEA’s Secretary General Yves Leterme explained how good governance can make the difference between oil-rich countries such as Equatorial Guinea and Botswana, the world’s top producer of diamonds and a case study in transparency. To avoid the natural resource “curse” that has affected so many countries in Africa, Einar Steensnæs, co-founder and executive director of the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights and a former Norwegian oil and energy minister, underscored that revenues must benefit the entire population and governments should ensure that the resources are exploited according to good long-term management principles. And Huguette Labelle, former chair of the board at Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, shared how transparency is a “make or break” issue for the extractives industry.

The campaign may have come to end, but the conversation continues. If you missed it, check out the content on Storify, featuring all the campaign news, views and opinions. Most importantly, take a moment to have your say below on some of the themes raised in this campaign and to tell us why #DemocracyMatters to you.

#DemocracyMatters is a three-week series exploring the intersection of democracy, development and natural resources management in partnership with International IDEA, the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

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About the author

  • Richard jones profile

    Richard Jones

    In his role as Partnerships Editor Richard oversees editorial content for partner and client campaigns, leading a talented team of writers and editors, conducting high-level video interviews and moderating panels at events. Previously an associate editor, he covered the full spectrum of development aid in Europe, the Middle East and Africa for Devex. Currently based in Barcelona, Richard brings to bear 14 years of experience as an editor in institutional communications, public affairs and international development. His development experience includes stints in the Dominican Republic, Argentina and Ecuador, as well as extensive work travel in Africa and Asia.