Preventing and countering violent extremism in Africa: mining and Australia’s interests
23 Nov 2017|

Australian mining companies are at the forefront of exploration, operations and investment on the African continent. As Foreign Minister Julie Bishop noted at the Africa Down Under conference in Perth in September 2017, more than 170 Australian resource companies are operating in 35 countries in Africa.

The nature of mining work means that Australian mining companies are engaged in remote parts of the continent where there have been high levels of violent extremist activity. More than 30% of ASX-listed company projects are in countries in West Africa and the Sahel, a region dominated by severe instability. Violent extremism poses a direct threat not only to local civilian populations, but also to foreign interests across the continent, as demonstrated by attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso and Kenya in recent years.

While it is generally well understood that violent extremism presents a threat to the operations, personnel and investments of mining companies in parts of Africa, there has been little analysis of what potential role the mining sector—as a private-sector actor—can have in preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE). Two newly released ASPI reports examine how the mining sector might contribute to P/CVE efforts in Africa.

In Preventing and countering violent extremism in Africa: the role of the mining sector, my co-authors, Tim Grice and Sara Zeiger, and I use the case study of the mining sector in Africa to show how a private-sector actor can and does engage in P/CVE efforts. The report (produced in partnership with Hedayah) draws on a combination of desktop and field research in four case-study countries—Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya and Mali—to identify the link between the mining sector and potential drivers of violent extremism in sub-Saharan Africa. It finds that the mining sector is already engaged in activities that can mitigate and exacerbate potential drivers of violent extremism. As a consequence, mining companies are in a position to contribute to P/CVE efforts.

The report’s findings highlight a particularly important opportunity for the Australian mining sector and the Australian government, which have shared interests on the continent. In the second report, an ASPI Strategic Insights paper, Preventing and countering violent extremism in Africa: mining and Australia’s interests, I note that the risks posed by violent extremism to Australian nationals, businesses and foreign investment represent a direct threat to Australian national interests.

Australia has a long history of engagement with Africa. Yet Australia’s strategic engagement with countries on the continent is generally not afforded the same high priority given to countries in our immediate region, as demonstrated by the cuts in foreign aid to the continent. Instead, the current government has been focused on ‘leveraging other drivers for development, such as private sector investment’.

In 2015 Julie Bishop noted that ‘Australian investment flows to Africa vastly outweigh any aid flows that could possibly be envisaged’. As I outline in the paper, the Australian mining sector now has an opportunity to strengthen its investments abroad and support efforts to prevent conflict and improve security on the continent. That would allow the Australian government to leverage its approach to economic diplomacy in a more substantive manner on the continent.

Australian mining companies have a direct interest in engaging in P/CVE efforts for several reasons. First, these initiatives provide a tangible way for the sector to reduce security risks. Second, improved security will enhance business operations, potentially providing a ‘win–win’ for the mining company, local communities and host government. And finally, since the potential of the private sector in P/CVE efforts has been underexplored, the Australian mining sector could show leadership in this area. For example, the sector could work with stakeholders—including the Australian federal and state governments and community groups—to develop a set of principles that could guide the work of Australian mining companies on P/CVE.

Our field research showed that Australian mining companies are already engaged in activities related indirectly to P/CVE programs, whether through education programs, youth empowerment or approaches to community engagement. However, there is no guidance or good practice guides for companies to support initiatives that strengthen community resilience to violent extremism. This presents an opportunity for the Australian government and the Australian mining sector.

As Khalid Koser points out in the foreword to the special report that was released today, ‘The global effort to prevent violent extremism can’t succeed without the private sector.’ Governments alone cannot successfully address the threat of violent extremism. The mining sector—and the Australian mining sector in particular—now has an opportunity to show leadership in this area.