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West African Nations Seek More Mining Revenue

A dozen West and Central African countries are pressing mining companies for a bigger share of growing revenues, discussing the issue with industry leaders during a two-day meeting this week in Guinea's capital, Conakry. Phuong Tran reports from VOA's West and Central African Bureau in Dakar that donors and government opponents say managing mining revenues will not be easy.

A coke can, a diamond ring, and nuclear energy are just some of the products that mines in West and Central Africa help produce. This region leads the world in exports of bauxite, uranium and diamonds.

As market prices increase for Africa's minerals, government leaders are demanding more.

The World Bank and other donors sponsored a two-day meeting to help Africa's mineral-rich countries manage mining revenues. Government officials discussed the industry with mining company representatives in Guinea's capital, Conakry.

A World Bank manager, Paolo Desea, says most African governments do not know the value of, or how to protect their countries' natural resources.

"We are in somewhat of an asymmetric situation where one of the sides of the negotiation has control of key information and the other side does not and does not even know what is essential or crucial," he said.

Desea says complicated tax laws are one problem. The African Union estimates the continent loses about $150 billion each year through foreign companies avoiding taxes.

Guinea Minister of Mines and Energy Ahmed Kante says countries lose money when foreign firms do not buy locally.

Kante says it is not acceptable that foreign mining companies continue to import materials for their operations that can be purchased in Guinea.

Guinea leads the world in exports of bauxite, a key ingredient in aluminum. The country is emerging from a violent nationwide strike that included mining activity, last year. Protesters were demanding the ouster of long-time President Lansana Conte, complaining of widespread poverty.

The World Bank's Desea says another problem is getting the mining revenue to local communities.

He adds widespread poverty in mineral-rich countries is not the fault of foreign companies, but rather the lack of clear laws for national governments to distribute the money.

"We work with the governments to try to [change] finance laws to make transfers to local communities easier and transparent," he added. "In many countries, the bridge that links the two is not built yet, but it is under construction."

In the Saharan country Niger, rebels have fought for almost two decades for a greater share of mining revenue and more control over their northern desert communities. The north holds most of the country's mineral wealth.

Niger is one of the world's largest exporters of uranium, used to produce nuclear energy.

Aghaly Ag Alambo is president of Movement of Nigeriens for Justice, a group that launched a new wave of desert violence one year ago. He says the government has not fulfilled its peace promise from the 1990s to give local communities more power.

Alambo says locally elected officials in the north do not receive state financial support. The rebel leader says local officials only have a title and not much else.

He says national government leaders have never consulted local populations about mining activities or how mineral revenue is spent in the communities where it is mined.

The Niger government says it has fulfilled most of its peace promises.

Niger recently signed the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, an international voluntary effort among mineral-rich countries to publish mining revenues.

But British-based mining watchdog Global Witness says despite transparency agreements, millions of dollars worth of minerals are still smuggled out of West Africa every year because of poor border control, government and mining company corruption, and lack of cooperation between different countries' legal systems.

Africa holds about 40 percent of the world's diamonds, more than half its gold, a quarter of its bauxite mines, produces half the cobalt found in cell phone batteries, and significant quantities of uranium.