Peter A Allard School of Law

Research Profile: Sara Ghebremusse

Jun 23, 2020


Sara Ghebremusse
Professor Sara Ghebremusse

Professor Sara Ghebremusse frequently conducts research at the intersection of transnational law and mining governance, particularly within Africa. Here, she discusses one of her ongoing research projects, “Mapping Transparency in African Mining,” which seeks to investigate and map out how different stakeholders in African mining transactions define transparency as a transnational mining governance norm, and the implication of these varying definitions.

Can you talk about your ongoing research project? What questions did you set out to answer and what results have you obtained so far?

Transparency is a vital component of mining governance. In its simplest form, it has encompassed the disclosure of all payments (sometimes above a specific threshold) made by corporations to governments, including taxes and royalties. More complexly, transparency obligations may also include contracts disclosure and beneficial ownership disclosure. Given its breadth, various stakeholders have defined and implemented transparency obligations differently. Host states in Africa, home states in the Global North, mining companies, and international organizations like the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), and Transparency International have all conceptualized transparency differently for various purposes.

My research project sought to investigate how these different stakeholders define transparency. It was clear early on that the norm is neither defined nor implemented consistently. Early analysis also indicated the importance of examining the intersection between transparency obligations and access to information by mining-affected communities. The research project then shifted to map participation and consultation requirements. My early assessment showed there was little overlap. I am still reviewing the results and intend to complete the analysis over the coming months.

What spurred this project?

This project was spurred by my interest in transnational norm-creation in mining. African countries are rich in minerals but have been recipients of transnational governance norms and foreign investment. Rarely are they generators of transnational norms. I wanted to understand how this occurred with transparency and what the implications have been for law-making in various African countries.

Why is this research project significant, innovative and impactful? What are the possible real-world applications?

The research project is significant and impactful because transparency obligations have not been mapped to this scale. It is a norm that is universally recommended in mining but there is little understanding of how it is defined by different stakeholders and what the implications of these varying definitions could mean. The project is also innovative for mapping the intersections between transparency obligations and community participation and consultation. Not much is understood about how they interact, despite community access to information being one of the key objectives of transparency in mining.

How does this project fit in with your research and teaching interests?

I am interested in researching mining developmentalism in Africa: how can mining promote development? How should mining be governed to meet the development objectives of states and affected communities? Since transparency is a vital component of mining governance, it is important to understand how its conceptualized, legislated, and implemented.

How do you intend to translate/communicate your research findings to relevant stakeholders?

Thus far, I only have plans to communicate my findings in academic journals. Hopefully, I can continue this research project over the coming years and potentially write a book. Ideally, the articles and book could lead to future opportunities to present my research to relevant stakeholders at conferences or through direct consultation.

What are the future directions for this project?

The project would benefit from a closer examination of specific case studies of mining-affected communities in different countries with different approaches to regulating transparency.

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