|23 July 2019
More than 78 mining companies came together in Accra last month to consider solutions to the deteriorating security situation in West Africa, particularly in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. The convening event – The West Africa Mining Security Conference sought to equip business leaders to make more informed security and investment decisions around the very real threats and risks to their operations.
“With the mining industry in the region facing threats from kidnapping for ransom, direct action raids and denial of access attacks, companies are encouraged to engage in risk management and mitigation; and complete risk assessments and a risk registry,” commented William Witham – CEO, the Australia Africa Minerals and Energy Group.
Hosted collaboratively with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, discussion focused on greater industry collaboration, information sharing and collective action against the backdrop of underlying drivers including: impacts of the 2011 Libyan uprising; partial displacement of Islamic State from Iraq and Syria into West Africa; the fall of the Compaoré regime in 2014; and challenges confronting the United Nations’ MINUSMA peace-keeping initiative.
While threats over the past 12 months have shifted from historic religious drivers to varied and overlapping factors including income and protection, growing risks exist where terrorist groups (Ansaroul Islam, Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin [JNIM], and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara), new violent extremist groups and coalitions are increasing the tempo of complex attacks via local disgruntled groups.
These terrorist groups are focused on addressing the concerns of local communities and exploiting community divisions and regional vulnerabilities, often engaging a combination of intimidation, exploitation of ethnic tensions and financial control to gain influence.
“Unfortunately large ransoms paid by some countries/people have helped sustain terrorist activity, and we are worried that it is possible that extremist groups will shift focus to commercial targeting in the future. This requires a more securitised approach to mining operations and the Australian High Commission in consultation with other key stakeholders, will explore opportunities for further mining industry-wide initiatives to improve safety and security for personnel and assets in the region,” said Glen Askew, Australian High Commission Chargé d’affaires.
With the Australian Government’s limited capacity to respond to a major security incident, or kidnap for ransom case in West Africa, companies are encouraged to:
- Fund security operations appropriately;
- Conduct risk assessments;
- Maintain effective plans, policies and practices supported by training and drills;
- Review the adequacy of insurance;
- Observe effective security protocols;
- Promote a culture of security awareness;
- Maintain a high level of situational awareness;
- Develop a network of contacts to facilitate information sharing;
- Ensure physical protection of assets including journey management;
- Engage local communities and authorities;
- Collect appropriate information at the local level; and
- Enact targeted community based corporate social responsibility programs to address local concerns and grievances.
“AAMEG places significant energy into advocacy focused on better engaging the Australian Government both at home and in Africa to secure solid outcomes for our members. Our work in the area of security is just one example and is crucial to the safety of Australian mining companies operating in West Africa,” concluded Witham.