As Tanzania confronts its industrial miners, what do locals think?
Surveys of communities around Tanzania’s large-scale mines reveal widespread feelings of distrust, marginalisation and reports of violations.
For many developing countries, industrial mining is a key source of foreign direct investment, export earnings, technology transfer and infrastructure development. Yet, in numerous cases, mining has not only failed to spur sustainable economic development but brought harm to people and the environment. This has led to growing opposition to mining and prompted authorities to rethink their laws and policies.
In Tanzania, the government has rather aggressively sought to improve mining’s contribution in recent years by asserting control over the sector. This has involved hiking taxes, exacting higher government stakes in projects, imposing huge fines for non-compliance, banning the export of mineral concentrates and removing the right of international arbitration. Some have characterised its actions as a “crackdown” on mining companies or even as “economic warfare”.
In this debate, however, the focus has been on macro-economic factors such as tax revenue and foreign direct investment. As is typical, much less attention has been paid to the impact of mining on local development in the often impoverished rural areas where companies operate and leave their largest footprint.
To bring the voices of local communities to the centre of this debate, research institute IPIS conducted surveys in 32 villages in northwest Tanzania. These communities are predominantly rural and rely on farming, livestock, commerce, and artisanal and small-scale mining for their livelihoods.
They live close by to six large industrial mines. Four of those sites jointly account for the bulk of Tanzania’s gold and diamond exports and employ over 8,000 people. They are run respectively by the multinationals AngloGold Ashanti, Petra Diamonds, and Acacia Mining, which was just recently taken over by the world’s largest gold miner Barrick Gold. The remaining two mines are medium-scale and have a few hundred employees each. One is Tanzania-owned; the other is a Tanzanian-Chinese partnership.
The surveys of communities in northwest Tanzania revealed huge contrasts between the sophisticated industrial operations and the often impoverished groups that surround them. They also highlighted the high expectations communities have that mining companies will alleviate their deprivation. In three-quarters of villages, participants cited companies’ contributions to local projects that address basic needs as their main positive impact. In 2017, for instance, Acacia and AngloGold Ashanti spent over $8.5 million on community projects. Yet respondents’ answers also suggested that this has proven insufficient for companies to build trust and acceptance.
One way in which firms could do this is to embed more fully in the local economy. At present, regulations push companies to hire Tanzanian staff and source goods and services in-country. But this hardly benefits those living nearby these mines. Locals tend to lack the necessary skills and capacities to cater for the needs of these sophisticated operations. Of the roughly 22,000 residents in the surveyed communities, just 100-200 are estimated to be directly employed by the mining companies. If we include indirect job creation through subcontracting in security, cleaning, construction, maintenance and catering services, the number rises to 1,000.
Most large-scale mines also operate as fairly isolated entities with few opportunities for interaction with locals. Multinationals, in particular, tend to have most facilities on-site and their staff hardly ever leaves their compounds. This sense of seclusion is physically and psychologically reinforced by the building of ever more walls around their operations.
The picture painted by the surveys therefore is one in which companies have failed to manage community expectations, counter disinformation and create mutual understanding. Moreover, their focus on charity rather than engagement has given rise to over-dependence, which risks absolving local authorities of their responsibilities. In the surveyed communities, several donated items such water pumps and electricity generators had broken down and were gathering dust as nobody in the village had the means or skills to repair them.
Violence and violations
The lack of engagement between companies and communities risks exacerbating long-standing feelings of marginalisation. For locals, the arrival of industrial miners has not only threatened their ability to mine minerals themselves, but has hindered their access to land previously used for farming, pasture, fetching water or collecting firewood.
Relations have also sometimes led to conflict. Communities reported a range of harms they associate with nearby mining companies, including allegations of serious human rights violations. Most concerning were reports, in over half of all surveyed villages, of excessive force used by private security companies and police officers against locals trespassing on mining concessions. Some locals conveyed testimonies of beatings, shootings and sexual violence that had led to life-changing injuries, disability and death. Other reported violations included water, soil, air and noise pollution as well as unease and property damage caused by vibrations from drilling, blasting and truck traffic.
While there are differences between companies, there is a shared sentiment across all surveyed communities that corporate accountability and redress is low. Numerous locals said they struggle to report grievances to companies or seek remediation through legal avenues. This is problematic as unresolved harms typically raise tensions and create a downward spiral of distrust and conflict.
The local perspective
The debate on mining is usually focused on the industry’s contribution to national revenue and the few discussions on local impact tend to be restricted to corporate social responsibility (CSR). Adding a local perspective, however, reveals a great deal about the level of popular support for mining as well as shortcomings in the current corporate, policy and legal approaches.
The surveys show that companies need to work hard to win trust from local communities and gain a so-called “social licence to operate”. In doing so, they will need support from national and local government authorities in the form of clear and coordinated guidance. Authorities need to facilitate engagement and create a level playing field among companies. Communities and their leaders also need to take responsibility in setting appropriate expectations and making the most of the opportunities offered by industrial mining.