Our development is inextricably linked to the past and next generation

1. Introduction

Natural resources, including minerals, belong to our common heritage, entrusted to present and future generations to support their respective needs.[1] In this respect, mineral resources have the potential to enhance the right to development,[2] a fundamental human right enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter) and in the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women. In fact, despite its core mandate to enhance human and people’s rights in Africa, the African Charter recognizes the right of all people to dispose freely of their natural resources in the sole interest of the people.[3] This right should be enjoyed on an equal footing when implementing the right to economic, social and cultural development of the common heritage of mankind.[4] In addition, the environment must be satisfactory and favorable to the development of every individual.[5] The Charter underlines the interconnection between human rights and development. Moreover, the Protocol in the Rights of Women to the African Charter has a more advanced approach. It expresses the right of women to enjoy fully the right to sustainable development.[6] In this regard, the State is required to use human development indicators when implementing policies on women’s rights and to mitigate the negative effects of globalization when implementing economic policies. Furthermore, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted the 2012 African resolution on the human rights-based approach to natural resources governance. It emphasizes the integration of human rights factors into the development and governance of natural resources.[7]

Despite the normative framework above, extractive activities have often been blamed for deforestation, soil degradation, air pollution and ecosystem disruption, leading to economic stagnation. The environmental impacts and social issues caused by mining operations have sparked protests and hampered development. Ojakorotu and Olajide argue that prevailing mineral resource governance regimes lack the values of humanity and care for others enshrined in the “Ubuntu philosophy”.[8] They propose an “Ubuntu-driven model of mineral resource governance framework”, recalling Africans’ close relationship with nature as a supplier of wealth for all.[9]

2. Imperatives of Ubuntu values in mineral resources governance

The idea of development is regarded as universal, supposed to have the same meaning in all cultures. However, progress is perceived in a unique way in the African context. Mabele et al. point out that the sustainable use and preservation of natural resources has been based largely on Western philosophy, disconnecting the way people live and their use of natural resources. [10] To redress this trend, the authors propose an approach based on pre-colonial African heritage, which places the “Ubuntu philosophy” at the core of natural resource use and mineral governance.

In “Ubuntu philosophy”, human relations between human beings, past and future generations, with mineral resources override development.[11] Mineral resources are indeed an inherent part of the living community. As such, humans are not living in isolation but rather belong to a community and are interdependent with nature in a balanced biodiversity. This implies the connection between human beings and the environment they live in and their interactions based on respect, solidarity and collaboration.[12] Such interconnection confers moral value to all beings, including nature and lifeless creatures. Ubuntu would promote community life instead of sustainability and collective action instead of individuality.

Within the “Ubuntu framework”, governance of mineral resources would value process over goals. Such a governance regime would preserve the environment and its mineral resources by engaging in extraction activities that not only satisfy the immediate needs of the current generation but also promote the long-term sustainability of future societies. Adopting Ubuntu would imply the inclusion of both human and non-human beings and promote equality, fairness and basic standards when carrying out mining activities. Indeed, indigenous knowledge systems across Africa have embedded a value that should be taken into account while focusing on sustainability for future generations. This is a prerequisite for safeguarding rights to a healthy environment and sound mining activities while advancing economic progress.

3. Conclusion

While mineral resources have the potential to promote development, their contributions should be seen as integral to the lives of human beings. The latter should be at the heart of priorities for sustainable development in harmony with nature. To this end, the governance of mineral resources should be deepened in the context of Ubuntu, which provides alternatives to development where community identity, culture and interests are preserved.

[1] Basu, Rahul and Scott Pegg, Minerals are a shared inheritance: Accounting for the resource curse, The Extractive Industries and Society 7, no. 4 (2020), 1369-1376.

[2] Busia, Kojo and Charles Akong, The African mining vision: Perspectives on mineral resource development in Africa, Journal of Sustainable Development Law and Policy (The) 8, no. 1 (2017): 145-192.

[3] African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (adopted 27 June 1981, entered into force 21 October 1986) (1982) 21 ILM 58 (African Charter), art 21 (1).

[4] ibid., art 22 (1).

[5] ibid., art 24.

[6] Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women, art 19.

[7] Olawuyi, Damilola S, The increasing relevance of rights-based approaches to resource governance in Africa: Shifting from regional aspiration to local realization, McGill International Journal of Sustainable Development Law and Policy 11, no. 2 (2015), 294-337.

[8] Ojakorotu, Victor, and B. Olajide, Ubuntu and nature: towards reversing resource curse in Africa, Ubuntu: Journal of Conflict and Social Transformation 8, no. Special Issue 2 (2019): 25-46.

[9] ibid.

[10] Mabele, Mathew Bukhi, Judith E. Krauss and Wilhelm Kiwango, Going Back to the Roots: Ubuntu: and Just Conservation in Southern Africa, Conservation and Society 20, no. 2 (2022), 92-102.

[11] van Norren, Dorine E, African Ubuntu and Sustainable Development Goals: seeking human mutual relations and service in development, Third World Quarterly 43, no. 12 (2022), 2791-2810.

[12] Mabele, Mathew Bukhi, Judith E. Krauss and Wilhelm Kiwango, Going Back to the Roots: Ubuntu: and Just Conservation in Southern Africa, Conservation and Society 20, no. 2 (2022), 92-102.


By Ange-Dorine Irakoze

Ange-Dorine Irakoze is a PhD Candidate at the Chair of African Legal Studies Bayreuth.

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