The blog is 20 years old this year. As chance would have it, so is Global Witness. This happy coincidence has prompted us to drag ourselves kicking and screaming out of the 20th Century and start blogging. We’re working on a new website too, but more of that later.
In many ways the world was a very different place in 1994. Nelson Mandela was about to be elected President of South Africa. Western economies were settling in for more than a decade of credit-fuelled prosperity that we now look back on ruefully. Emails were the domain of geeks before geeks became cool, and the White House was about to launch its first web page.
Those of you who know Global Witness’ founders will note that they looked a little different then too.
So plenty has changed. The issues we work on have also evolved, as has the way we work on them.
The big diamond and timber fuelled civil wars that ravaged West Africa in the mid-90s are now over, although Liberia, Sierra Leone and Angola all face real challenges in harnessing their resource wealth to lift the current generations from poverty without wrecking the environment. And natural resources are still fuelling conflict and unrest in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cambodia and Central African Republic, to name a few.
This dynamic – how brutal wars and destructive regimes are financed by the trade in natural resources, often thanks to corruption – is still a core part of what we do. But increasingly, we’re also focusing on the systemic problems which allow this to happen in the first place.
Ill-gotten gains don’t disappear by themselves. The dictators and the warlords need a bank willing to handle money and hide payments without asking questions, or a lawyer to work out how to skirt laws and disguise their identity in a sufficiently secretive jurisdiction. We call these networks – the pinstriped armies who are supposed to be the pillars of our society – the “shadow system”. We believe that the grand corruption, conflict and environmental destruction we investigate would not be possible without it. So increasingly this is where we focus, in our mission to tackle poverty and exploitation at the source.
We hope this blog will showcase more of this worldview. On these pages we’ll be talking more about the big campaigns and stories we’re working on, why we’re doing it and how it’s going. From ending anonymous company ownership, to making mining companies publish the payments they make to foreign governments, to stopping funding for deforestation, land grabs and fossil fuel extraction, to getting companies to stamp out conflict resources from their supply chains – it will all be featured here.
Hopefully, readers will see more of our personality, too. Often we come across things in our investigations which don’t make it into a report or briefing, but we still think they are still interesting and relevant – there will be some of that here. We’ll be blogging from our field trips, and showing more of how the issues we campaign on affect real people in lots of situations. And we’ll be offering comment and featuring guest posts on things we think are interesting and relevant to those who want to help us end the resource curse.
If that sounds like you, please sign up for regular updates from this blog.
Oliver Courtney is Senior Communications Advisor at Global Witness. Follow him on Twitter at @ocourtneygw