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Acacia Mining and the ‘Bulldozer’: A Reflection

President John Magufuli of Tanzania aka the Bulldozer has embarked on a campaign to end the abusive exploitation of the country’s natural resources by greedy multinational extractivists. Caught in Magufuli’s cross hairs is the Canadian mining group Barrick Gold whose record globally is a litany of human, economic and environmental abuses.

“If I am dreaming, don’t wake me up…”, sang Afrikan reggae maestro Lucky Dube. On his mind was the celebration of the annunciation of the ‘revocation’ of the “Group Areas Act” in South Afrika, the apartheid law that restricted movement and residence of black people. It is not a surprise that I felt the same sentiments. For a different, yet similar, reason.

In my case, it was when the President of the United Republic of Tanzania, John Pombe Magufuli said words to the effect that: ‘massive pillaging of Tanzanian resources and oppression of already marginalised Tanzanians by multinational corporations must stop’. Since March 2017 when this Afrikan statesman, famously known as the “Bulldozer”, spoke words to that effect, a lot has been written and said. The discussion hasn’t stopped.

One thing that I have to clearly state is: I did not, at any time, imagine that at some point in my lifetime, I could witness a President in Tanzania who would openly criticise Barrick Gold Corporation and its subsidiaries. The Canadian multibillion-dollar miner has operations worldwide that are blighted by a litany of human, economic and environmental abuses.

A litany of rights violations

In the case of Tanzania, this whole discussion has brought to the fore, at least in my mind, the Bulyanhulu Case of 1996. Reports in the aftermath of this massacre shows that over 50 Tanzanian artisanal miners were buried alive. However, the headcount of people killed violently during ‘the clearing site’ in Bulyanhulu is a lot more.

Accounts from those who witnessed and experienced this first-hand, which have been denied and termed as lies by Barrick Gold Corporation and collaborators over the years, support the fact that those who died were more than the ‘accepted’ 52. Now, we are definitely not supposed to talk about this. Digging out dead bones is not forward looking, so the duty bearers claim. And the citizenry have accepted, out of fear.

I am also reminded of the ‘daily’ killings of fellow Tanzanians and the deliberate environmental pollution in the mining areas where Barrick Gold Corporation and its subsidiaries, such as what is now known as Acacia Mining, operate.  Writing about it again, I suppose, only makes the hearers’ and readers’ aesthetics numb. Yet one hopes that somewhere in the hidden sections of the reader’s mind, such rewrites as these would aid a proactive readership to seek ways to act.

But even before such violent trends came in the wake of neoliberal capitalist market-led economic trajectories in the mid-1990s, Canadian ‘development’ projects in Tanzania had adverse impacts on local communities.

Here I am reminded of the Tanzania-Canada Wheat Complex (TCWC) project in the 1970s. This project facilitated the alienation of vast tracts of land from community members in Hanan’g. The same could potentially be said about mining operations by the Canadian extractive industry in Tanzania.

Even more prominent, my thoughts went to the story of the 13-year-old girl who, several years ago, was forced into a sexual act with a dog owned by an exploration staff working for Barrick Gold Corporation at a field in Sengerema. Reading through the Judge’s decision, all comes to mind is imagination of a girl bellowing in excruciating pain and a sense of disgust, “mayo nacha” (mother I am dying!).

It reads like a tale from some horror movie when the veterinary doctor who was asked for a report on his part said, “The dog just came from a medical check-up in south Africa, therefore no need to worry for any sexually transmitted disease!” Let alone the women who were raped by the Acacia Mining’s security personnel.

I call this ‘the Canadian historical human and economic rights violation in Tanzania’. A muddy yet true characterisation of the supposedly noble, human rights adherent and human dignity upholding Canadian government pursuing trade relations with the resource-rich yet economically poor Tanzania.

Illegal operations

On his criticism of Acacia Mining [the economic ‘radon’ offspring of Barrick Gold Corporation – the Canadian global human, economic and environmental rights violations giant] Mr. Magufuli, citing recent reports, said that Acacia Mining has “operated in the country for 20 years without legal registration”.

The question is, was there something amiss in the recent reports? Was due diligence followed to reach the conclusion that Barrick Gold Corporation and subsidiaries have operated only for 20 years in Tanzania’s extractive sector?

Documents reveal that Canadian multinational mining corporations (MMCs) operations in Tanzania go back 34 years.  The information on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSE) on Sutton Resources,[1] the Canadian Mineral Exploration and Development Company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, first listed its operations in Tanzania with TSE on June 8, 1983.

Due to financial challenges and “trouble obtaining financing because of weak gold prices [Sutton Resources sold its business equity to Barrick Gold Corporation] for about $350 million in stock”.[2] This goes against the common belief, and current reports, that Canadian MMCs in Tanzania began their operations in Tanzania in mid-1990s. The question that needs to be resolved is: were such receiverships between the Canadian extractive industries operating in Tanzania since 1983 legal? In other words, are there records that could prove Barrick Gold’s legality to operate in Tanzania from June 8, 1983?

This is a discussion that well-meaning Tanzanians as well as development partners focusing on mineral exploitation in Tanzania need to have. In my own research, it is clear that Barrick Gold Corporation operations in Tanzania, through the changing names, has not quite been regulated through legal channels from the very start.

This is the reason an incident such as the Bulyanhulu tragedy was hard to solve. Still remains unsolved. Probably will never be solved. Unless, President Magufuli decides to open, even more, the discussion on transparency regarding the country’s mineral-based economy.

The Bulldozer’s commendable steps

Recently, the government of the United Republic of Tanzania saw the enactment of two bills into law. One was to give back Tanzania sovereignty over its natural and mineral resources. This imposes “on the government the responsibility of ensuring that interests of the people and the United Republic are paramount and protected”. The other “requires all arrangements or agreements on natural wealth and natural resources to be tabled for review by the National Assembly” for amendments. Even though these are two fundamental steps towards the change that the people of Tanzania want to see, and given the lack of political will in the past to enforce laws, it is not clear how the introduction of the new laws will play out. Yet, it is innately laudable.

It is laudable because, this goes against the grain of neoliberal capitalist market-led economy. At least, as we have known it in Tanzania. It suffices to note, too, that this move by the United Republic of Tanzania’s head of state is in line with the 1962 United Nations Declaration of Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources. The declaration has taken far too long to be implemented in Tanzania. Far too long to even be named as a ‘palatable’ convention.

This convention stresses ‘sovereignty’ of countries to control and utilise natural resources for the benefit of their citizens. The reality, though, has been the very opposite. The people of Tanzania and citizens of other natural/mineral resources-rich countries in Afrika know this only too well.

Over the decades, if not centuries, affluent countries such as Canada still found ways to manipulate governance structures in underdeveloped ‘sovereign’ postcolonial states, such as Tanzania. This has been accomplished with the help of the international financial institutions (IFIs): the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.

The most surprising factor is also that countries such as Canada that sit on the United Nations Permanent Council (as non-permanent member) discussing world affairs support unethical corporate ventures from their companies to go right against the UN conventions they help make. All they seek are their own nation’s socioeconomic preservation.

In a sense, and for a long time, the ‘sovereignty’ over natural resources invoked by the UN appears not to encourage group action against economically dominant countries. Rather, it appears to encourage bilateral and multilateral agreements that only promote the unethical and unsustainable mineral exploitation sectors globally. This is descriptive of the relationship between the Tanzanian and Canadian governments.

But there is hope. When President Magufuli said: [the people of Tanzania] “must benefit from our God-given minerals and that is why we must safeguard our natural-resource wealth to ensure we do not end up with empty mining pits,” the marginalised communities in Tanzania, starting with those living in mineral areas, were happy.

Cautious optimism

Without a doubt, the few who benefitted from illicit, unethical and unsustainable exploitation of Tanzania’s natural/mineral wealth were chagrined. But as the rhetoric goes, there can never be change in the larger society without brushing part of the society on the wrong side.

While I join the celebration of this step, I am only cautiously optimistic. The malpractices that have characterised the extractive sector in Tanzania for decades points an accusing finger against state actors who were bestowed with political and economic responsibility for the nation at the time. This the “Bulldozer” knows well. Yet there was a presidential restriction as to what the people of Tanzania could talk about openly.

President Magufuli gave a stern warning to “not bring the names of such leaders as Benjamin Mkapa and Jakaya Kikwete” on issues related to mismanagement of the nation’s natural/mineral wealth and resources. His reason was, “their names never came up in the recent reports”.

Whether this is proper or not, President Magufuli who is increasingly gathering support from Tanzanians of all walks will have to decide. It will also be the responsibility of elites, academics and the larger civil society actors in Tanzania to decide whether to help and encourage President Magufuli to weed out any doubts on his intentions from the general public that would erupt from such seemingly protective pronouncements.

It is the aim of this article to generate constructive discussion on the issue of accountable governance and, two, to discuss how we can support the efforts by the present government of the United Republic of Tanzania.

Otherwise, if this is some form of a dream, then please, wake me up so I do not continue in this fantastical slumber.

Article source.
Image credits: Tanzania Invest

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