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Transnational mining operations in a number of developing countries worldwide have employed the ‘devil might care’ attitude in the areas where they operate. The impunity with which they operate leads to internal population displacements and leaves local communities in deplorable living conditions. Even though transnational mining activities have varied impacts at the national and grassroots levels, peasants and or subsistence farmers – the grassroots population is the most impacted.
Of all the developing regions in the world, Africa as a continent remains to be one with the highest number of grassroots population affected by mining. The impact could be attributed to the fact that the majority of population in the African countries live in the rural settings. The impact of mining is therefore felt more in the rural setting than in the urban.
Mining and Land
It is obvious that when we talk about mining, our thoughts should go to land, which is the primary natural resource. Land in the context of African rural, is the backbone of livelihood, the sense of belonging and a great connection in spiritual and ancestral realms. I must stress, though, that the latter is not specific to the African context. Indeed, the whole human race lives out of the land. Mining activities on land is not only destructive to the environment as a source of pollution and environmental contamination but also deepens difficulties faced on a daily basis by the community members in the mining areas where extractive activities take place.
One of such examples is found in Tanzania – in East Africa. Since the invasion of the Western – neo-colonial ‘development strategic visions for Africa’, which started by the Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) in the 1970 and the “one size fits all’ of the Washington Consensus (WC) – aka John Williamson’s 10 commandments, in the 1989 after the failure of the SAPs, there has been an influx of ‘mineral for development’ investments in Tanzania as well as other countries in the developing countries in Africa, Latin and Central America. The same can also be said to be happening in the Native territories in Australia, Canada and the United States of America.
With the coming of the neoliberal market-led economy, land, in Tanzania turned into a hot commodity, human rights became a thing of the past and sacredness of life thrown into relativity. The advent also introduced abuse of the environment that has now turned to a catalyst to a number of climate change factors. The Advent of transnational mining companies’ (TNCs) operations in Tanzania in 1996 brought with it experiences of appropriation of land to facilitate the needs of the Western economies at the expense of the local communities in the mining areas as well as the national economy. This was followed closely by the displacement of over 400,000 artisanal miners and their families forcefully evicted and over 50 (the number is between 53 and 72 people but this is shrouded in denial) artisanal miners buried alive in the mineshafts. This incident happened in August 1996 in the Northwest part of Tanzania at the Kahama (Bulyanhulu) Gold Mine owned by the Canadian Barrick Gold Corporation.
From 1996 onwards, mining operations in Tanzania is riddled in controversy ranging from high rates of human rights violations and environmental abuse. Some of the most common impacts of mining activities identifiable in Tanzania range from creation of internal refugees, disintegration of the family fabric, destitution, to lack of the sense of belonging/heritage. Other factors directly related to mining operations in Tanzania are climate change phenomenon, and loss of revenues starting from individuals, family units to the national economic grid.
Mining and Spirituality
Looked at from the spiritual point of view, the scriptural instructions as related to the manner in which the environment is to be taken care of, calls human race – you and I to the role of a steward. This has not received any consideration in the global development discourse. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, “a steward” is “a person whose job is to protect or is responsible for money, property, take care of, [or] to manage land and property of another person”, see also Psalm 24:1.
Evidently, the majority of people championing “mining for development” at the global level are Christians and people soaked in spirituality of one form or the other. During my interaction with the extractive industry it became evident that the majority of Canadian Christian community is investing in the mining business and indeed a number of Canadians through the pension funds and other economic securities. Therefore, such would be counted to be part and parcel of the destructive cycle. Human spirituality which was connected so closely to the commission given to mankind “to tend and keep” (Genesis 2:15) mother earth is now far more estranged from it.
Human activity in the exploitation of natural resources is continually threatening its own support system which is both connected to our human, spiritual, economic and ecological wellbeing. I do concur with the late Wangari Maathai when she stated that, “Today we are faced with the challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking so that humanity stops threatening its life support system. We are called to assist the earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our wounds.”