Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Stop Thief, There's More!

At present, Tanzania is Africa's third largest producer of gold but may be set to become the largest. Gold mines towards the North of the country, formerly mined by Tanzanian artisanal miners, have for a long time been making a handful of foreign mining companies very rich. But recently, gold that is still being mined by Tanzanian artisanal miners in the South of the country has attracted the interest of a handful of foreign mining companies, who can expect this to make them very rich.

It's interesting how this is a 'discovery' because, as far as Tanzanian artisanal miners are concerned, they discovered the gold. It's their livelihood and not a very good one at that. But it's better than the nothing they will be left with once the big gold extractors move in. Typically, big gold miners employ a few thousand people, compared to the hundreds of thousands that will be displaced.

Time and time again, such gold 'discoveries' have been trumpeted as great news for Tanzania (or Kenya or Uganda or where ever). But Tanzanians should be well aware of how much they have profited from their vast mineral resources. Or rather, they should be aware that they have been systematically impoverished because of their vast mineral resources. Uganda has had a recent opportunity to find out how gold 'discoveries' affect ordinary people and even Kenya will have an opportunity soon, as gold has also been 'discovered' in the Kenyan Mara region.

The American company buying a large but very cheap interest in these recently 'discovered' gold deposits will be given all the usual benefits of non-existent oversight, few taxes, if any, minute royalty payments, most of which they will probably renege on, somehow, and the freedom to exploit Tanzania's rather loose employment and other human rights protections. In return, Tanzania will experience a large increase in unemployment and a loss of resources that will never be compensated for; Tanzania being, already, one of the poorest countries in the world.

Oddly enough, there is also a recent article about safety in small mines in Tanzania. This issue is not often reported on, although the issue of safety in large mines is even less reported on. Not because large mining interests have a great safety record, they just spend more on publicity. The secrecy that surrounds big mining in Tanzania and other developing countries doesn't come cheap. Only the employees do that. It's true that safety in smaller mines has been neglected by the government for a long time but that's no excuse for giving the Americans, the South Africans and the Canadians carte blanche to plunder the country's gold. I'm just assuming the appearance of these two articles at around the same time is not a coincidence.

To be fair, many mining employees earn better than average wages, though nothing to write home about. But this doesn't make up for the fact that for every one employed there could have been ten or twenty put out of a job. Nor does it excuse the mind boggling, tax free salaries that the non-Tanzanian employees get (which are usually kept secret). And it certainly doesn't make up for the fact that the country is highly dependent on foreign aid, not because it is poor, but because everything it has of value is stolen with the connivance of senior statespeople and businesspeople, Tanzanian and non-Tanzanian alike.

Critics of large scale theft of gold from developing countries recommend that donor countries, international institutions and the like champion the interests of countries such as Tanzania. Well, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), America, Britain, Canada and many others who could be championing the interests of development are too busy fighting for the other side. The lack of regulation in Tanzania and other developing countries mainly emanates from the so-called international institutions, whose focus always appears rather national.

And America, Britain and Canada may well be big donors. But the amount of money they give in aid donations is very small compared to the amount they pilfer. I don't think it's reasonable to expect thieves to just put their hands up, so it's up to the Tanzanian people, through their government, to fight this one out. It remains to be seen whether they will continue to hand over their future or whether they will demand a more equitable way of managing their resources. So far they have behaved like a person confronted by someone raping their wife and offering the rapist their mothers and children.


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