THE EXTRACTIVE TRANSPARENCY ACCOUNTABILITY GROUP (ETAG) STUDENT GROUP AT FOURAH BAY COLLEGE

A MEANINGFUL EXAMPLE THAT THE STUDENT VOICE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SIERRA LEONE HAS NOT DISAPPEARED

Independent Social Performance – West Africa // Freetown, SIERRA LEONE

Back in February of this year I was reading Mats Utas’ blog repost of the article “Fourah Bay College: The Decline of Sierra Leone’s “Oxford in the Bush” by Tom Gardner originally published in Think Africa Press.  The article is both a thoughtful and strongly critical piece on how a once important and influential institution is struggling for it’s own credibility and how the student voice is both muted and self-interested.

In the article, Gardner wrote:

“The university itself has slid into apparently irreversible decline. Material conditions have atrophied almost continuously since the civil war ended in 2002…In such circumstances, one might expect to find the students in fighting spirit. Yet despite being equipped with a collective history that boasts the remarkable events of 1977 − when ‘No College No School’ demonstrations spread from FBC and forced Stevens to hold elections and lower the voting age to 18 – students today rarely challenge the university administration, and almost never confront the government…activism on campus still happens, but unlike in previous eras, when student activists tended to unite against a common enemy, student politics today is largely mobilised around internal struggles.”

Independent SP’s first project in Sierra Leone has been with the Peace and Conflict Studies Department at Fourah Bay College. As this project nears it’s conclusion and another begins, I find myself thinking about this article and how it is not representative of our – all be it new and limited – experience with the staff and students of the Peace and Conflict Studies Department at FBC. Yes, FBC and the University of Sierra Leone certainly face tremendous challenges but what Independent SP has experienced is an active, passionate student culture within the Peace and Conflict Studies Department and one that certainly is actively and optimistically looking outward.

One of the student organisations we have come across is the Extractive Transparency Accountability Group (ETAG).  Far from being focused on internal struggles, ETAG provides a forum for the  young Academia of FBC to advocate for  good governance of the Sierra Leone Extractives Industry.

I asked ETAG to provide Independent SP with some text to better understand and introduce their organization and the response they provided to me below demonstrates that there is at least one organization on campus that doesn’t fit the perspective shared in Tom Gardner’s article:

NOTE ON ETAG (FBC Student’s Group on mining, oil and gas in Sierra Leone)

INTRODUCTION TO THE EXTRACTIVE TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY GROUP (ETAG)

Sierra Leone is a natural resource rich country but still experiencing the paradox of plenty since 1930 when diamond was first discovered and export begins[1]. Natural resources are meant to benefit the socio-economic wellbeing of the people and the natural environment, but the majority of Sierra Leoneans has not realized this benefit much as its people remain in abject absolute poverty[2]. Natural resources since 1930 have created several communal and inter-communal conflicts as well as fueled the ten years of armed conflict in the country. As a result, at the end of the civil war in 2002, many efforts have been applied by the government and International development partners (such as GIZ, IBIS, World Bank,  UNDP USAID, DIFD, RDF, Action Aid International, etc. etc.) this also includes local civil society (such as CGG) and non-governmental organizations  (such as NMJD) to promote the good governance of the extractive industry so that the natural resources in Sierra Leone can be a blessing to the people and the natural environment or addressing the paradox of plenty in Sierra Leone. Through reformation of mining laws, regulations, policies, Initiative, Vision, research work, and advocacy[3].

However, with all these efforts in natural resources management, Young People – specifically University Students have not been contributing in the new trend in the extractive industry of Sierra Leone.

BACKGROUND TO EXTRACTIVE TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY GROUP

Based on this gap, some students who are both under-graduates and post-graduates from the University of Sierra Leone have thought it good to participate in promoting the good governance of the sector and the prudent management and use of revenue coming from the mining sector for the wellbeing of the people and the natural environment as well as preventing the scramble and violent conflicts over the natural resources in our post war country. Therefore, these set of students have formed a group called “The Extractive Transparency and Accountability Group (ETAG) through which they can bring to action their desire to promote transparency, accountability and extractive debates through advocacy for the implementation and the harmonization of mining laws, policies, regulations, Principles, Charters, Vision etc. The use of  various activities (Public Lecture on the NRC, Radio discussion on the AMV, Research work on the NRC etc are also ways this students can champion their objectives.

OBJECTIVES OF ETAG

For the purpose of ETAG project, the following shall be its key objectives:

  1. To contribute and to create a forum for public debates on various policies, laws, Initiative, Vision and community development issues in the extractive industries of Sierra Leone.
  2. To empower University Students and youths to participate in the good governance of natural resources in Sierra Leone.
  3. To engage stakeholders especially, duties bearers and mineral rights holders (Government Officials and mining companies) on issues of contracts transparency and the well management of revenues coming from the sector for the benefits of everybody
  4. To proffer recommendations to stakeholders (Government, Mining Companies, Development Partners) on how to approach challenges faced in the extractive industries of Sierra Leone.

JUSTIFICATION OF THE PROJECT

It is very clear and factual that young people in Sierra Leone do not have a stake or are not fully knowledgeable about the debates in the good governance of the mining sector in Sierra Leone, as compared to other natural resources rich countries (such as Ghana and South Africa) and also young people do not have the forum to contribute to the well management and the prevention of conflicts around natural resources extraction and exportation in Sierra Leone. Thus, the youth role is very absent in the stakeholder’s input towards good governance in the extractive sector of our country.Therefore, the activities of the Extractive Transparency and Accountability Group (ETAG) will support to create the plain level ground and/or will serve as a forum for young people to contribute and to hold officials responsible for the according mining contracts, and the management of revenues derived from the sector. To a larger extent, this project gives access for youths to contribute in addressing the paradox of plenty in the governance of the extractive industries in post-war Sierra Leone.

STRATEGY FOR THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THIS PROJECT

The Extractive Transparency and Accountability Group (ETAG) will use the following as it strategies for achieving it objectives.

  • Use of Public Lectures on key issues around the extractive sector
  • Organized community conferencing on major issues affecting the mining host community people
  • Make official visits and call on key government official to address the challenges in the sector
  • Organizes Press Conferences on key issues on the community development and protection of the Human Rights of people.
  • Do academic research on the extractive sector.
  • Advocate for youths capacity building in mining, oil and gas through support to the natural resources modules at the University

REFERENCES

[1] Ali, Joe A.D: New history of Sierra Leone first edition

[2] Fanthorpe, Richard and Gabelle Christopher: World Bank Report, “Political Economy of Extractives Governance in Sierra Leone. July 20013

[3] Pundeh, Sarh et al: Natural resources and the Civil War in Sierra Leone

At the start of his article, Gardner quotes a student as saying ‘When Fourah Bay College sneezes, all of Sierra Leone catches a cold” and I’d like to think that ETAG is the symptom of a more optimistic and hopeful future for Fourah Bay College and the students who are today demonstrating through their own actions at ETAG that they are engaged, actively contributing, and hopeful about the future of both FBC and Sierra Leone.