Representatives of 24 African countries met in Benin to discuss sharing information on natural resources, as called for by UNCTAD´s 13th African oil, gas, and mines conference.
The first Expert Meeting on the implementation of a Natural Resources Information Exchange (NRIE) took place in Cotonou from 8-10 July.
At the gathering, six countries were chosen for the project´s pilot phase: Benin, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania, Mozambique, and Nigeria. The pilot undertaking involves the organization and digitization of each country´s archived data on natural resources and tests on the communications infrastructure needed to share the information.
In Supachai Panitchpakdi´s statement to the meeting, the UNCTAD Secretary-General highlighted that while the African continent is richly endowed with mineral resources, "this potential wealth is yet to be fully harnessed into the kind of broad-scale economic and social development that will enable African countries to attain and sustain the level of development that will improve the lives of their peoples."
The NRIE system was originally called for by the 13th African oil, gas, mines, trade and finance conference organised by UNCTAD in Mali, back in 2009. The project aims to increase the positive contribution of natural resources to African populations and help raise living standards on the continent.
Openly shared and more extensive information on mineral wealth can help African governments better manage their natural resources, speakers said at the Cotonou meeting. It can help governments negotiate better terms for the extraction of these resources; and, it can help governments devise ways of channelling the benefits so that poverty is reduced.
Barthelemy Kassa, Minister of Mining and Petroleum Research of Benin, in opening the meeting, said implementation of NRIE is crucial for overcoming the challenges faced by African countries in efficiently using their natural resources to spur broad-based, sustainable economic growth.
Claudine Sigam, UNCTAD´s Project Officer for Optimization of Natural Resources Management in Africa, told the meeting that once NRIE is up and running, it should provide access to continuous and interactive information on geo-scientific and other data related to the exploitation, transformation, and commercialization of natural resources. There is "intrinsic economic value" in the information itself, Ms. Sigam said. In addition, if effectively used, it can help attract investment that benefits African economies.
The NRIE´s pilot phase will be officially launched in Geneva, at a meeting to be jointly organized by UNCTAD and the ITU.