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Scale of Space and Time

Struggles over Resource Decentralisation: Legislative Reform, Corporate Resistance and Canadian Aid Partnerships in Burkina Faso

Luttes pour la décentralisation des ressources : réformes législatives, résistances des entreprises et partenariats d’aide au développement canadien au Burkina Faso
Luchas por la descentralización de los recursos: Reforma legislativa, resistencia empresarial y asociaciones canadienses de ayuda al desarrollo en Burkina Faso
Diana Ayeh


In attempting to counter the various negative correlations associated with the mining–development nexus in the global South (for example, the ‘resource curse’ or ‘enclave economies’), the global mining sector experienced a mushrooming of ethical norms, practices and policies during the past three decades, many of them intended to strengthen local communities. In addition to the launch of various initiatives from the corporate world (ranging from multi-stakeholder partnerships on the global level to corporate social responsibility programmes in mining concessions), a number of West African countries have reformed their liberal mining legislation in recent years, thereby introducing new mechanisms for a more just local redistribution of mining revenues. In this spirit, the mining code of Burkina Faso, reformed in 2015, provides the implementation of a Mining Fund for Local Development (FMDL) to which multinational corporations are legally required to contribute 1 per cent of their national turnover (before tax).

This chapter investigates multi-scalar policies for decentralised mining revenue allocation in and around Burkina Faso’s gold mining sector by engaging with and contributing to debates in post-structural geography and political ecology. It explores how ‘resource decentralisation’ became a priority of both the national government and of Canadian aid projects in Burkina Faso, while facing political resistance from mining companies. I argue that struggles for local profits from mining transcend specific scales (‘the global’, ‘the national’, or ‘the local’) in resource governance and focus either on promoting the various voluntary engagements of the corporate world or on calling for the state-centred enforcement of legal requirements. In Burkina Faso’s mining areas this has ambivalent outcomes: It leads to a reshuffling of responsibility for the (re-)distribution of mining revenues from corporate agents to municipal decision makers, on the one hand. On the other, it serves to engineer (potential) community unrest, and thus to eventually make large-scale mining feasible in the first place.

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The research underlying this chapter received funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG) within the framework of the Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) 1199 at Leipzig University.

1. Introduction

1In the past decade, the ongoing gold mining boom in Burkina Faso has attracted a new wave of foreign direct investment to the country. With multiple global crises regularly pushing the international gold price to new record levels (that is, over USD 1,900 per ounce in the aftermath of the global financial crisis in 2007/08 and over USD 2,000 per ounce during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020), a significant number of multinational companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) have started to extract gold from its resource-rich subsoil. This has raised great hopes for socio-economic development both on a national and a local scale. Similar to other African contexts of extraction, this optimism has increasingly been questioned. Today, the national gold mining boom has the reputation of not (sufficiently) benefiting the country’s citizens, and especially not those in the concessions directly affected by large-scale mining activities. According to some authors, the relatively recent engagement of foreign-based multinational companies in and with Burkina Faso even contributes to a deterioration of environmental, social and living conditions for mining-affected communities: the mines would ‘make [people] poor’ (Chouli, 2014; Drechsel, Engels and Schäfer, 2019; Drechsel and Groneweg, 2018). Others, such as many of the civil society leaders and government officials in the capital, Ouagadougou, do not question the presence of global mining capital and foreign direct investment as such, but increasingly call for a fairer distribution of access to, and benefits from, industrial mining activities (see, for example, ORCADE, PCQVP and Oxfam, 2018).

2In addition to access to natural resources such as land, water and raw materials, actors in the capital, Ouagadougou, and in the concessions increasingly also request access to the political–economic and monetary resources, such as taxes and royalties, created by industrial mining. Central to these claims is the assumption that benefits for some are not equivalent to benefits for all, partly because mining revenues in the past were largely concentrated in the hands of the presidential family and a small economic elite of the country (Chouli, 2014; Drechsel and Groneweg, 2018; Werthmann and Ayeh, 2017). As this chapter discusses, struggles over mining revenue distribution involve a range of global, national and local actors that focus either on promoting the various voluntary engagements of the corporate world or on demanding the state-centred enforcement of legal requirements. I call the different framing of their actions and goals, as well as their ability to enforce them ‘scalar dimensions of agency’ over mining revenue allocation and distribution. Drawing on the controversial implementation of the Mining Fund for Local Development (Fonds Minier de Développement Local, FMDL), it is shown how a decentralisation of mining revenues (or ‘resource decentralisation’) became a political tool with which to democratise the use and distribution of resources. As such, it not only figured as one of the most important projects of the reformed national mining code of 2015, it also became a priority for international donors and in particular for Canadian aid partnerships in the country. Between its operationalisation in 2017 and 2021, territorial units (municipalities and regions) have in total received over USD 166 million (West African CFA franc (XOF) 96 billion) through the FMDL. Of this amount, the mining municipalities of Houndé and Bagassi alone have each received more than USD 1.7 million (XOF 1 billion) (Kaboré, 2021).

3This multi-sited ethnographic account retraces the recent history of mining reform in Burkina Faso. Inspired by debates in post-structural geography and political ecology on the different but entangled scalar practices involved in constructing and opposing global (mining) capitalism, it discusses how specific sites and topics of contention tell us something about ‘the global’ (Massey, 2005). To uncover the various local, national, and global negotiation practices and power relations that shape the global (mining) economy (Ayeh 2021; Engels, 2021; Martín, 2017), we are urged to look beyond Burkina Faso in the conventional ethnographic sense (Appel, 2019). These debates are simultaneously place-specific and global insofar as the transnational mining economy is ‘linking the upstream mineralisation with the downstream money’ (Miskelly, 2004): for example, investors, corporate executives and non-governmental organisation (NGO) representatives in the home countries of the global mining industry to government authorities, municipal actors and landowners in the host countries of foreign mining capital. A social engineering of extraction perspective reveals the different technologies and techniques ‘from above’ used by governmental, corporate and other elite actors in this regard, and how they shape and are shaped by (re)actions ‘from below’ (Brock and Dunlap, 2018; Verweijen and Dunlap, 2021). Making extraction feasible, its proponents contend, requires not only analysing how extraction is engineered physically (for example, through the use of specific technologies, fences, or the use of violence to smash protest). It is also based on the extensive use of social engineering practices aimed at ‘preventing opposition to extractive projects from emerging in the first place’ (Brock and Dunlap, 2018; Verweijen and Dunlap, 2021).

4This chapter studies resource decentralisation through the prism of the mushrooming of ethical norms, practices and policies during the past three decades. It specifically addresses the role of different Canadian mining sector–related stakeholders (for example, corporate managers and NGO leaders) in promoting community–led mining governance initiatives. Implemented via legislative reform, corporate engagements and foreign aid partnerships, these emerging yet controversial policies have ambivalent impacts in areas of extraction: they lead to a reshuffling of authority over the allocation and distribution of mining revenues from the private, national and global to the public and local. The new emphasis on local participation and responsibilities, however, simultaneously comes with an engineering of community consent, and thus produces extractive expansion.

5Methodologically, this can best be studied by tracing and looking into the various global, national and local arenas where ethics in mining are debated. As with other extraction contexts around the globe, the rather ‘fuzzy field’ (Nadai and Maeder, 2005) of the Burkinabè mining sector spans an indefinite number of social worlds, simultaneously anchored in the global mining economy and in national and local extractive relations and practices. None of these worlds exists independently from one another, which also means that (re)actions from ‘below’ and from ‘above’ mutually shape each other (Geenen and Verweijen, 2017; Verweijen and Dunlap, 2021). This requires us to extend the conventional lines of ethnographic inquiry (Ballard and Banks, 2003). The empirical foundation of this text is a total of 13 months of multi-sited ethnographic field research in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, and two industrial mining municipalities in the western part of the country (Houndé and Bagassi). A variety of methods (e.g. document analysis and interviews) and modes of participation were used to follow the different ideas on ethics in mining. In specific sites some were used in more depth than others. For example, the participant observation in municipal council sessions, project workshops or corporate social responsibility (CSR) meetings in the concessions was supplemented by a two-week research stay in Canada’s political and financial centres (Ottawa and Toronto) in November 2018, where semi-structured interviews were conducted with government, NGO and mining industry representatives. Research also entailed the regular attendance of online events dedicated to the Canadian (and African) mining investment world (quarterly investor calls, international mining fairs etc.). Rather than providing thick ethnographic descriptions, the chapter looks into the different sites of negotiation on resource decentralisation by analysing how they are connected.

6Following the present introduction, I outline the theoretical framework of a multi-scalar approach to ethics in mining. The first section notably stresses how resource decentralisation evolved as a dominant ethical paradigm in global mining governance. This is followed by a section on the Canadian (corporate and donor-led) mining presence in Burkina Faso. More specifically, the third section discusses how the contested implementation of the respective mechanism (FMDL) comprises questions of holding corporations accountable through both voluntary codes of conduct and the legal domain of law. A last section highlights a Canadian public–private partnership (PPP) social engineering project implemented in two mining areas in western Burkina Faso. I end by discussing how, despite their promotion by global and relatively powerful coalitions, these projects also comprise windows of opportunity for local appropriation and resistance.

2. Global Partnerships, National Reform, Local Agency: A Multi-scalar Approach to Ethics in Mining

7Whether natural resource endowment constitutes a ‘curse’ or a ‘blessing’ for governments and populations in African countries has been a prominent question in academia and policy discourse, and continues to be in even today. In the ‘three decades of scholarship examining the link between mineral wealth and negative outcomes’ (Elbra, 2017, 5), however, scholars increasingly questioned the very theories behind these concepts, such as that of analysing the curse as a mere technical and universal problem of revenue distribution. Anthropologists in particular explored ‘the dynamic interplay of social relations, economic interests and struggles over power at stake in the political economy of extraction’ (Gilberthorpe and Rajak, 2017) in that they highlighted how people respond to global discourses and concepts differently (see Behrends, Reyna and Schlee, 2013; Weszkalnys, 2010). Similarly to critical geography, there is a body of ethnographic literature on the global mining economy that increasingly uses spatial tropes to describe the implications of extraction’s ‘peculiar spatialities’ (Himley, 2019, 31) for socio-economic development in the global South (see Bridge, 2015). One of the most prominent examples of this is the account of James Ferguson (2005; 2006), who observed in recent years the emergence of territorial mineral enclaves as enclosed spaces of extraction on the African continent. In summary, the enclave theory assumes that extractive activities are disarticulated from both local populations and national development projects, reinforcing the status of ‘social thinness’ inherent to mining capitalism.

8What is absent from this ‘highly simplified sketch’, as Ferguson himself admits (2005, 381), is how ‘the global’, ‘the national’ and ‘the local’ as ‘scalar dimensions of practices’ (Mansfield, 2005, 468) are interrelated and shape one another. The scalar organisation in global capitalism has complex and contradictory effects on power relations, and the various scalar structures both shape and get challenged by social struggles (Dietz, 2017; Haarstad and Fløysand, 2007). Accordingly, ‘the local’ should not always be seen as a victim of globalisation; nor does it always represent a place of resistance. Yet those acting in the name of ‘the local’ shape ‘the moments through which the global is constituted, invented, coordinated, produced’ (Massey, 2004, 11). Therefore, the various ethical norms, principles and policies of the Burkinabè mining sector (ranging from corporate CSR initiatives and state-led policy reforms to community quests for more sustainable mining practices) cannot be analysed separately from one another. As the example of the reformed mining legislation of Burkina Faso illustrates, popular pressure must be considered very significant for the introduction of mechanisms for a more just and localised distribution of mining revenues (see Chouli, 2014; Engels, 2017; 2021). While scholarly attention paid to conflicting mining encounters in Burkina Faso (and beyond) has, to date, mainly focused on mobilisation against resource extraction ‘from below’ (see, for example, Ballard and Banks, 2003), this chapter retraces the implementation of a specific Canadian social engineering project in Burkina Faso’s mining sector as a political (re)action ‘from above’.

9The latest trends regarding resource decentralisation in global mining governance have to be analysed against the backdrop of a number of (ambivalent) policy initiatives aimed at either promoting the voluntary engagements of multinational companies or at reinforcing the legal basis of foreign direct investment in host states of mining. Prominent examples are the neo-liberal turn in development since the 1970s (Verweijen and Dunlap, 2021), the ethical turn in corporate capitalism since the 1990s (Dolan and Rajak, 2016), and a growing pressure in African states to reform investor-friendly mining legislation. Altogether this gave rise to decentralised approaches and an emphasis on local participation to address the mining–development nexus and to counter enclaving. The understanding of how these agendas could be achieved varied greatly depending on the interests at stake. In the corporate world, for instance, we saw an emergence of new regimes of voluntary codes of conduct and responsibility, often designed as global or universal solutions for local problems (Dolan and Rajak, 2016; Sydow, 2016). The global rise of CSR as a ‘semiformal, quasi-legal regulatory regime’ (Barkan, 2013, 111) included the participation of corporations in multi-stakeholder partnerships (including in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), launched in 2003) (Carbonnier, 2008; Fransen, 2017), the design of public–private donor projects (Zalik, 2004), and the implementation of the CSR programmes of individual companies in mining and oil extraction regions of the global South.

10Against the backdrop of failed attempts to produce legal codes and requirements for multinational corporations from the 1960s onwards, these policies all shared an emphasis on normative agreements of corporate (self-)regulation instead of state intervention (Barkan, 2013; Jenkins, 2005). An exemplary case is the ambivalent role of the World Bank Group (WBG) in the reform of African mining regulations. Via the implementation of structural adjustment programmes (SAPs), the WGB contributed to a major shift in authority from government to industry actors in mining governance during the 1980s and 1990s, including the establishment of weakened mining legislation in terms of environmental protection and democratic participation. Yet from the new millennium on, it increasingly incorporated poverty alleviation and sustainability as main goals into its funding schemes (Jacobs, 2013; McMahon, 2010). In terms of mining governance, the neo-liberal turn comprised policies to redistribute mining rents to stakeholders other than African political elites that were largely perceived as corrupt and rent-seeking. Therefore, the increased promotion of fiscal decentralisation and local mineral revenue distribution were encouraged as important outcomes of mining reform in African countries (Ayeh 2021). In the following, it will be discussed how this more recent trend of decentralising mining revenue allocation and (re-)distribution is shaped by multiple forms of claims and fields of contention in Burkina Faso and Canada. As a result, the trend not only became a national government priority in Burkina Faso, but also one for Canadian foreign aid, notably via the implementation of public–private partnerships (PPPs) in the mining sector.

3. Canadian Corporate and Donor Presence in Burkina Faso’s Mining Sector

11The first location in which to discuss Canada’s relations with and to Burkina Faso takes us neither to Toronto nor to Ouagadougou, but to Cape Town in South Africa. At an Investing in African Mining Indaba panel entitled ‘Canada-Africa Session: Africa and Canada - a Win-Win partnership’ the then Director General of the Pan-Africa Bureau of Global Affairs Canada, Paula Caldwell, emphasised Canada’s ‘unique’ approach of partnering with African government, civil society, and private sector stakeholders:

I would like to start by saying that [in] Canada, we’re very proud of our African friends. Our mining companies play a very important role in our relationship, in reinforcing it. I will begin by talking about Canada’s engagement, its mining presence and its commercial relationships. And then I would like to discuss what makes Canada’s approach so unique beyond our technical expertise. And it’s all about community collaboration and of course working hand in hand with governments […].

12Her political statement to the audience at the 2018 edition of ‘the world’s largest mining investment conference and the largest mining event in Africa’ (Mining Indaba, 2021) continued with a reference to the financial and spatial extent of the commercial relationships between the Canadian nation and the African continent. In 2018, these comprised 130 mining and exploration companies operating in 29 countries and owning mining assets of more than 29 billion Canadian dollars (approximately USD 33.9 billion). Yet what makes of this a role model or a ‘win-win partnership’, she stated, is Canada’s strong engagement in CSR policies, on the one hand, and the support of partner governments, on the other. The representative of the Burkinabè Ministry of Mines and Quarries (MMQ), who was also on the podium, vehemently agreed.

13One year later, at the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada’s (PDAC) annual meeting, the Canadian government launched the Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan. ‘To improve our Canadian competitive advantage’, a representative stressed, goes hand in hand with helping mining communities [in the global South] ‘to adapt to issues such as climate change, participation and innovation’. The stated purpose of this document is to reinforce Canada’s leadership role in sustainable mining at home and abroad through ‘building a Canada brand for mining’. These attempts at establishing Canada as ‘the leading nation of responsible mining’ must be analysed against the background of decades of activist and scholarly criticism of Canada’s evolution as a ‘mining superpower’ in terms of financial capital for the minerals and metals industry (The McLeod Group, 2016, 1). Accordingly, Canada’s role as a ‘legal haven of choice for the world’s mining industries’ (Deneault and Sacher, 2012) implies multiple involvements of Canadian companies and their subsidiaries in human rights abuses and environmental destruction (Butler, 2015; Deneault, 2008; Dougherty, 2013, Thomas and Coburn, 2022). Also described as ‘the global hub for mining finance’ (Marshall, 2018, 6), the TSX and the TSX-Venture Exchange (TSXV) is ‘home to more Mining companies than any other market in the world’ (TSX, 2022). Interviewees in Ottawa and Toronto particularly highlighted Canada’s role in creating favourable investment environments. This includes, for instance, government subsidised financing and tax inducements for (junior) companies and the relatively ‘lenient’ corporate tax requirements of the TSX (Dougherty, 2016). A coordinator of the NGO Mining Watch Canada stated in late 2017 that Canada’s deep entanglements with the global mining industry could best be compared to what ‘Panama or Liberia [are] for shipping’.

14Another pillar of the Canadian state’s direct and indirect assistance to its mining industry is reinforced diplomatic engagements with states with significant mineral resources (Thomas and Coburn, 2022). Taking advantage of Burkina Faso’s investor-friendly mining legislation (at least until 2015) and the resource wealth of its subsoil, in 2021 Canada proudly claimed to be ‘the largest mining investor in the country with mining assets of over 3 billion dollars’ (approximately USD 3.5 billion) (GoC, 2021). According to Paula Caldwell, of the country’s five biggest mining projects, three were 90 per cent owned and operated by Canadian companies in 2018. Their operation and trading activities were promoted by a bilateral foreign investment promotion and protection agreement (FIPA) that came into force in October 2017 (GoC, 2021). The Canadian presence in the country is not limited to mining companies, of course. In the domain of development and humanitarian assistance, one finds a flourishing network of Canadian-based NGOs and multi-stakeholder partnerships. It is no coincidence that their programmes are often implemented in the vicinity of producing gold mines. Traditionally Canadian foreign aid is linked to Canadian commercial interests and (notably) the extractive sector, for example through the choice of recipient countries, or the type of assistance provided (Brown, 2016a; 2016b; Goyette, 2016).

15Burkina Faso was host to one of the three pilot projects of the so-called Devonshire Initiative (DI), criticised as ‘an indirect subsidy to the Canadian private sector in the name of development’ (Brown, 2016a, 23). Implemented by Plan Canada and the Mining company IAMGOLD, the project sponsored a USD 7.62 million (CAD 7.6 million) youth training initiative for the period 2011–17 (of which the Canadian International Development Agency contributed 75 per cent, the implementing NGO, Plan Canada, 12 per cent, and IAMGOLD only 13 per cent). With a strong focus on gender questions, it initially provided basic education and vocational training (in and beyond the mining sector) to 10,000 youth in southern Burkina Faso (Brown, 2016b; Butler, 2017). For the DI, one ‘lesson learned’ from the ensuing public criticism was that public–private partnerships should foster capacity-building, with an emphasis on helping communities (and local governments) set priorities for how to use and manage mining revenues (DI, 2017). From that point on, Canadian donors’ work started to focus on a democratic and transparent use of mining funds, and a more decentralised approach to mineral revenue governance, thereby strengthening the decision-making power of local actors. This was in line with both general trends in the donor policies of the World Bank Group and the reform agenda of the Burkinabè state. Initially, however, multinational mining companies opposed these efforts, mainly because they felt that the visibility of their CSR programmes was at risk.

4. Legal Requirements vs. Voluntary Engagements: Contestations over the Implementation of a Mining Fund for Local Development (FMDL)

16For many people in Burkina Faso, the reformed mining legislation of 2015 represents the spirit of the popular uprising that, in October 2014, overthrew the government of Blaise Compaoré, who had ruled the country for almost 30 years. The uprising not only paved the way for a democratic transition and for elections to be held in October 2015, democratisation also became one of the main demands of national civil society actors concerning an overdue reform of the mining code and a rupture with previous paternalistic modes of governance. Prior to these events the industrial gold mining sector (booming since 2008) had the reputation of being concentrated in the hands of a political elite close to Blaise Compaoré and his family. As one of the first political actions of the Conseil National de Transition (CNT), the subsequent reform addressed several scales and two main objectives: On the one hand, higher (national) government revenues from taxes and royalties were to be obtained (for example through an increase in corporate tax rates for industrial producers from 17.5 to 27.5 per cent). On the other hand, one of the main goals was to implement and intensify resource decentralisation, and thus to make the sector more profitable for populations living in the vicinity of mining projects. The mining code’s most important provision in this latter sense was the establishment of a Mining Fund for Local Development (Fonds Minier de Développement Local, FMDL). Multinational corporations are now required to contribute 1 per cent of their national turnover (before tax) to the FMDL, of which equal shares are then administered by neighbouring municipalities and other decentralised units of political administration in line with regional and local development plans (Government of Burkina Faso, 2015; 2017).

17In Burkina Faso and elsewhere, regional and local policy bodies, civil society organisations, private entrepreneurs and local populations have increasingly questioned the national government’s monopoly in allocating mining rights and deciding about revenues. The formal process of decentralisation instigated by international development and financial organisations from the 1990s onwards added a further layer of authorities, institutions, and interests to the already complex spatialities of extraction (Martín, 2017). Elected local government bodies increasingly became part of the political arenas in which conditions for mining were negotiated. Extractive relations, in turn, shaped the relationships between local and central governments (Kesselring, 2018), and questions of voluntary and legal corporate responsibilities. In Burkina Faso the first political attempts to reshuffle authority in mineral revenue allocation and to strengthen local decision-making in mining governance can be traced back to 2006, when the first nationwide municipal elections took place (Côte, 2013; Côte and Korf, 2018). Since 2003 the mining code has provided for an annual surface tax (taxe superficiaire) to be paid by all industrial license holders to the local authority of the area in which their concession is located (Government of Burkina Faso, 2003; 2005). Since 2015, accounts of the mismanagement of these local budget lines by municipal actors have nurtured corporate concerns about (potential) municipal inefficiency regarding the FMDL. It is not surprising then that the FMDL’s implementation has been both controversial and slow to materialise.

18Contestation over its implementation reflects more general debates about both a redrawing of boundaries between corporate and state-centred regulation, and different scalar dimensions in mining governance. The FMDL law project, in this sense, provided for a reshuffling of certain decision-making powers from the national levels to municipalities. Paradoxically, the legislative project was supported by international donor communities (notably Canadian aid projects) on the one hand, and challenged by TSX-listed multinational corporations on the other. The companies’ motivation derives from three factors: First, with respect to the interests of their shareholders and investors, they considered the amount of money to be paid as too large. Second, they expressed concerns about the management capabilities of local government in the municipalities, not resulting in serving the needs of local populations. Several corporate managers commented thus, that mayors and municipal councillors ‘don’t know how to use the money’. Third, and maybe most importantly, they feared a loss of the visibility with regard to their various voluntary engagements in the concessions, and therefore with regard to their ‘social licence to operate’. The FMDL, as stated in a letter from the lobbying organisation Chambre des Mines du Burkina Faso (representing numerous TSX-listed multinational mining companies) to the Prime Minister in April 2019, ‘does not resolve the issue of the population’s expectations vis-à-vis the mining companies’ (CMB, 2019, 4). During a workshop on the reformed mining legislation in March 2017, an executive of a Canadian-based corporation emphasised the danger of ‘weakening’ Burkina Faso’s economy, but notably the (potentially) ‘disastrous effects’ on the companies’ voluntary engagements due to the ‘1% law’:

I speak in the name of all companies in the mining sector; everyone undertakes CSR [programmes]. Some have foundations, others do it on their own. […] The budgets are approved by the shareholders. Today, if you tell them ‘we will conduct CSR [programmes]’, the first thing that happens is [they say], ‘but beware Mister [name], there is 1 per cent of taxes that turns up, but there is not enough money to undertake CSR’. Therefore, the first thing that happens with that fund is that the mining companies cut their CSR [budgets].

19What the Burkinabè mining world contested was not only the amount of money to be paid, but also the question of who is entitled to decide on its use. In doing so they stressed their legitimacy with regard to having a certain monopoly on the control of resource governance. ‘We want to know how the money is used’, as a national director of a Canadian mining firm insisted in August 2017. Following the adoption of the new mining code in July 2015, individual mining companies and the Chamber of Mines thus lobbied for a reduction of their contribution from 1 to 0.5 per cent of turnover after tax. Another 0.5 per cent of the initial 1 per cent amount should be administered by the mining companies themselves within their existing CSR frameworks. In the letter to the Prime Minister they eventually accepted the 1 per cent figure ‘as a sign of good faith’, but only on their own terms, requesting the ‘deduction’ of already realised CSR expenses from the annual FMDL sum (CMB, 2019, 4). Ultimately, the Ministry of Mines and Quarries adopted this requirement for half of all FMDL payments of multinational corporations to their host municipalities and regions between 2017 and 2019 (MMQ, 2019).

20This led to strong civil society resistance in the capital and in the mining regions (Bach, 2019; Kaboré, 2019). Notably, activists rejected threats expressed by corporate executives to cut their CSR budgets, or even to relocate their operations completely to other ‘more investor-friendly’ legal mining contexts. For these activists, multinationals in Burkina Faso should stop engaging in corporate publicity campaigns in the name of ‘local development’. Ethical engagements were considered as both legal and moral obligations that the companies have to meet, and included the provision of appropriate compensation for the forced resettlement of populations. For a civil society leader in Houndé, a municipality hosting an operating mine since 2017, ‘CSR is not an obligation. [And] Since it’s not an obligation, it’s not a responsibility’. Central government representatives and corporate agents alike—the same individual stated in early 2017—would perceive people in the provinces as ‘idiots’ who are unable to allocate and manage resources in a transparent and accountable way. To put pressure on the national government and the Ministry of Mines and Quarries to implement the FMDL, overdue since 2015, Houndé-based NGO leaders engaged in a social media campaign against the ‘deductibility’ of the FMDL for the benefit of CSR budgets. A civil society coalition organised, on 30 August 2019, a protest march to request the payment of the totality of FMDL funds to the municipality (Sanon, 2019).

5. Reshuffling Responsibility and Monitoring Community Unrest: How Ethics Shape Mining’s Feasibility

21Decentralised governance as a means of redistributing mining rents is also a prominent issue in regional policy frameworks (such as the African Mining Vision of 2009), sometimes implemented via development funds very similar to that of the FMDL in other West African host countries of large-scale mining. Examples include the reformed legislations of Guinea (in 2013) and Ghana (in 2014). As in Burkina Faso, however, these frameworks’ implementation is often not yet completed or enforced (see, for example, Knierzinger (2016) for the Guinean Fonds de Développement Économique Local, adopted in 2013). To assist the (local) redistribution of mining revenues in these countries, the West Africa Governance & Economic Sustainability in Extractive Areas (WAGES) project was launched in 2016. It was financed by Global Affairs Canada and jointly implemented by two Canadian NGOs the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) and the Centre for International Studies and Cooperation (CECI) for a project period of seven years (2016–22). In Burkina Faso, the project was realised in two western mining areas, including seven municipalities where Canadian industry is located (with one company headquartered in Canada and one being TSX-listed).

22With the strengthening of a decentralised mining revenue allocation being one of its main goals, the WAGES project was in line with both the new emphasis of Canadian aid policy on local resource governance and with targets for political reform in Burkina Faso. According to its implementers in Burkina Faso, the project’s first and most important aim was to promote a more just distribution of mining benefits among local populations, especially women and young people. It therefore provided three different but interrelated areas of intervention, which consisted of (1) the strengthening of local governance, (2) the promotion of (sustainable and inclusive) local economies, and (3) the promotion of knowledge sharing concerning local community development (WAGES, 2017). The various training initiatives and programmes were implemented in more or less close collaboration with ‘local and national governments, selected mining companies, as well as small and medium-sized businesses and civil society organizations’ (WUSC, 2021). Journalists and NGO representatives more critical of the mining industry emphasised that WAGES was very similar in design to the highly criticised PPP pilot projects. However, the ‘lessons learnt’ from the past included that there were no longer any direct financial payments between Canadian NGO projects and the mining companies. Instead, a large portion of donor monies was paid directly to the respective municipality officially in charge of project implementation.

23In its design, WAGES at least indirectly helped to legitimise the Canadian mining presence and the ‘existing extractive order’ (Hönke, 2018, 115) in western Burkina Faso. Philanthropic capacity-building programmes, for instance, obviously had the double effect of providing a ‘skilled’ workforce for the mining labour market and of reducing popular pressure on mining companies to provide access to jobs in mining for whole communities. The first pillar of their work (the strengthening of local governance) was intended to have an immediate impact on achieving the successful implementation of the FMDL. To enhance the credibility and management capacities of local states, for instance, WAGES organised training for municipal actors on accountability, planning, and budgeting. In 2017 and 2018 the programme (proportionally) financed a review of municipal development plans (Plans Communaux de Développement, PCDs). According to the reformed mining code, PCDs prescribe the criteria for the future allocation of monies derived from the Mining Fund for Local Development. While WAGES coordinators emphasised that their work was not equivalent to corporate social responsibility; they saw the FMDL as an opportunity to ‘reduce the burden on behalf of CSR’ in that it potentially ‘mitigates’ community pressure on mining companies. A lack of knowledge among local populations and notably among municipal councillors was identified as a key obstacle to peaceful business operations (see Hönke, 2018). Resource decentralisation, the coordinators admitted, enhances the social marketing of companies and reinforces the ‘Canada brand’ in extractive areas of TSX-listed companies. Finally, it facilitates ‘the successful implementation of the mine’.

24A social engineering perspective allows one to assess the extent to which these NGO projects represent ‘(re)actions from above’ with the aim of securing community consent, disciplining dissent, and—eventually—making large-scale mining feasible (Brock and Dunlap, 2018; Brown, 2016b; Verweijen and Dunlap, 2021). Today, such and similar programmes in Canada are being referred to by some as ‘token “corporate responsibility” initiatives […] often implemented alongside […] massive privatization programs’ (Schalk, 2021). Thus, resource decentralisation not only creates (limited) scope for local governments to exercise control over mining revenues. For multinational corporations it also results in new ways of abdicating responsibility (Appel, 2019). The new trend of considering local socio-economic development as the task of municipalities could eventually allow Canadian policy bodies—(non-)governmental and corporate—to distance themselves further from certain responsibilities for ‘local externalities’ of large-scale mining in the global South, a Canadian NGO’s leader stated in November 2017. While local governments are now held accountable for the fair distribution of mining revenues, this could consequently also be the case for all conflicts arising out of these new forms of distribution. In the eyes of that same representative of a civil society that is critical of mining, resource decentralisation could ultimately serve as a tool for engineering community consent in Canada and Burkina Faso, and therefore for preventing opposition to extractive (policy) projects from emerging in the first place.

6. Conclusion and Debate

25The WAGES case is an example of multi-scalar strategies of actors in resource governance and different configurations of power that become (re)negotiated (Dietz, 2017; Haarstad and Fløysand, 2007). Far from solely representing mere technical questions of who is responsible for what (i.e. the roles of mining companies, national governments or municipalities in the mining revenue system), they have complex and contradictory effects on local, national and global power relations. No doubt community pressure in the mining areas and civil society engagement in Burkina Faso’s capital city, Ouagadougou, had created important conditions for political change, legislative (mining) reform and the introduction of the FMDL in the first place (Ayeh 2021; Chouli, 2014; Engels, 2017). A social engineering perspective, however, is particularly useful in helping us to understand the underlying conditions for the (non-)implementation of such reform projects (e.g. why, how, when, and by whom). It ‘entails looking at the less visible and long-term ways in which corporate actors and their allies obstruct, condition and attempt to shape (re)actions “from below”’ (Verweijen and Dunlap, 2021). The present chapter’s aim has been to contribute to these debates in political ecology and post-structural geography while emphasising the contestations around resource decentralisation in Burkina Faso and the implementation of the FMDL in specific mining regions. In Burkina Faso’s mining sector, Canadian private and state-led initiatives served as an example of how the mining industry, foreign aid partnerships and the central government alike have an interest in preventing opposition to specific extractive projects from emerging in the first place, and thus in maintaining existing extractive orders. The decentralisation of mineral revenue allocation and distribution can play a significant role in this regard.

26We have also seen, however, that the meaning and implementation of mineral revenue decentralisation as a powerful global idea and concept is disputed, not only locally and nationally, but also among actors from the globalised mining elites. One example of this are the multinational mining companies in Burkina Faso that want to avoid higher taxes and royalties, felt that the visibility of their CSR projects was at risk and that lobbied against the FMDL, which introduced a new mechanism for state-centred and localised resource governance. Although numerous Canadian-based and TSX-listed mining companies initially resisted the ‘1% law’, evidence shows that in practice the increase in the importance of municipalities in the field of mining governance can also foster corporate practices of abdicating responsibility for the various environmental and social consequences of corporates’ operations (see Appel, 2019). Furthermore, corporate executives are able to interpret reform measures to their benefit. One example of this is the deductibility (albeit only temporary) of their CSR expenses: ultimately, multinational mining companies successfully managed to avoid having to make full payments of their FMDL share to Burkina Faso’s regions and municipalities between 2017 and 2019. During a corporate presentation in Houndé’s municipal council in December 2019 ‘on the FMDL and investments for the benefit of populations’, a mining firm was thus able to present its CSR projects and programmes of the years 2017 and 2018 (including the establishment of a youth training facility, and the purchase of an ambulance for the local hospital) as its good will participation in the ‘1% law’ procedure. The municipal councillors’, for their part, criticised this corporate interpretation of reform implementation, describing it as a mechanism by which they themselves were excluded from determining the use of large portions of the fund. Those are exclusion mechanisms that were not envisioned as such when the FMDL legislation was approved in 2015.

27A multi-scalar approach to studying ethics allows us to develop a better understanding of old and new actor constellations and sites in the global mining sector. Instead of assuming a unidimensional increase in the importance of ‘the local’ in resource governance (Mansfield, 2005), or conceiving of national and global elites as dominant per se, it is necessary to analyse who has access to which resources and bargaining power in specific cases and circumstances. Therefore, it is worth taking a closer look at how actors in the concessions negotiate, reject and also appropriate, aid partnerships in different ways. An example of this is the municipality of Houndé, which received double funding, from a mining firm and the WAGES project (without their prior knowledge), for the revision of its municipal development plan (Ayeh 2021). Whether the engineering of ‘inclusionary control’ (Verweijen and Dunlap, 2021) succeeds or not also depends on who is part of the powerful alliances implementing ‘ethical’ projects, and which (multi-scalar) alliances mobilise against them. The Canadian mining industry, promoting resource decentralisation at home and abroad, points to important connections (and sometimes disruptions) between companies, home governments, and donors in the enforcement of legal reform in mineral-rich countries of the global South (Thomas and Coburn, 2022). While these alliances are often subject to contestation in home and host countries of mining, the make-up of the global and national mining sector itself is constantly changing. For several reasons the Canadian mining presence in Burkina Faso has been shrinking in recent years. In 2019, for example, a convoy of the Canadian mining company Semafo was attacked by armed groups, and at least 40 civilians died (van Praet and York, 2019). The company and its assets (the operating mine sites Boungou and Mana) were then acquired by the TSX-listed but Cayman Islands–registered multinational Endeavour Mining (Endeavour Mining, 2020). More empirical research is needed on whether Canada still occupies a dominant role in the global and Burkinabè mining sector, and what the answer to this question means for the role of resource decentralisation in public–private aid partnerships.

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Diana Ayeh, Struggles over Resource Decentralisation: Legislative Reform, Corporate Resistance and Canadian Aid Partnerships in Burkina FasoInternational Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement [Online], 15.1 | 2023, Online since 02 May 2023, connection on 06 June 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Diana Ayeh

Diana Ayeh is a researcher at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig (Germany). She was recently associated as a fellow at the Merian Institute for Advanced Studies in Africa (MIASA) in Accra (Ghana) where she worked on mine closure in Burkina Faso and Guinea. From 2016 to 2019, she was a member of the Collaborative Research Centre 1199 Processes of Spatialization under the Global Condition at Leipzig University where she completed her PhD, on industrial gold mining and corporate responsibility in Burkina Faso. Her current research focuses on temporalities of extraction and citizen science approaches in West African and German (post-)mining regions. She is particularly interested in studying the enactments of global ideas of ‘responsible mining’ using an ethnographic lens.

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