International Academic Fellowship - Mining Conflict, North and South: Deepening the Governance Debate

Project: UK charity

Project Details


The overarching question that this fellowship seeks to address is: How can governance in the extractive industries be more effectively employed to address conflict and yield more sustainable development outcomes at the community level? The PI, Roy Maconachie, has dedicated his career to understanding the challenges associated with mining industry investment and governance in West Africa, and their associated socio-economic and environmental impacts on local communities. His ethnographic research in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria has shown that positive social and economic outcomes in ‘host’ communities often prove elusive. As mining companies engage in the latest ‘scramble for Africa’, unequal power and limits to communities’ rights over development have triggered conflict among local people, companies and governments.

The Canadian-listed mining companies operating in Africa have come under considerable scrutiny in recent years, singled out as chief instigators of countless conflicts. Many have shown a willingness to take risks and in doing so, have frequently been criticised for exploitation, human rights violations and fuelling grievances. Although Canada is one of the world’s largest and most established mining economies, the controversial practices of the country’s listed mining companies abroad are being supported by the national government in its strategy to pursue commercial ties with fast-growing economies.

While community conflict associated with Canadian mining companies in West Africa is common, less international attention has focused on the practices of Canadian mining companies ‘at home’. In Western Canada in particular, questions around natural resource ownership and governance resonate clearly with the West African context, with fears over land dispossession and economic marginalization fuelling a dramatic increase in conflicts between Aboriginal communities and extractive companies. Although the territorial claims of First Nations demand consideration for benefit sharing on the basis of historical resource ownership, this has been met by different social responses towards economic opportunities, environmental compensation and indigenous rights. Here, new forms of natural resource governance are emerging where companies and government authorities embrace a politics of ‘Aboriginal recognition and reconciliation’, but which commentators maintain represents a withdrawal of the state that reinforces uneven negotiating powers and affects Aboriginal conditions for consent.

Focus of the Fellowship:

To minimize conflicts with ‘host’ populations, Canadian mining companies are increasingly negotiating community agreements that compensate for operational impacts and share project benefits. This new type of governance is now being hailed as a form of ‘partnership’ that will yield more sustainable outcomes at the local level. But critics maintain that these agreements will do little to alter the structures of uneven power found under neoliberal governance. The proposed research is premised on the notion that governance interventions designed to mitigate conflict and yield more sustainable and equitable development outcomes in the extractives sector must be informed by a richer understanding of complex country contexts. In comparing the cases of West Africa and Western Canada, the research will focus on the operations of Canadian mining companies which work in both regions, where conflict and social mobilization have become common. To date, there has been little academic engagement with the practices of Canadian mining companies in Africa, and no North-South comparative research exists on how company strategies are shaped by local governance contexts.

During the fellowship, an innovative programme of overseas collaboration is proposed that would bring together the PI’s research on conflict and resource governance in West Africa with that of leading scholars working on extractive industry conflict in Western Canada. The Fellowship would provide a rare opportunity for the PI to break new ground in an emerging research field, an outcome which would contribute to understandings of how power shapes relationships between stakeholders and how this influences local actors’ participation in extractives-led development.

During the three-month Fellowship, the PI would be based at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, one of Canada’s two ‘corporate mining capitals’, and a global hub for mining services and expertise. Over 800 mining companies are headquartered in Vancouver, and the PI would carry out interviews with corporate officials to increase his knowledge of the operating strategies of Canadian-headquartered mining companies working in both British Columbia (BC) and West Africa. He would work closely with leading global scholars at UBC who are carrying out research on conflicts between First Nations groups and extractive companies in BC.
Effective start/end date1/05/1731/07/17


  • The Leverhulme Trust


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