Mombasa, Kenya– It was 4am when Nadiya Ahmed awoke to a loud bang in her house in Floringi village near the southern Kenyan city of Mombasa. Ahmed cautiously walked into the living room to find heavily armed police officers dressed in military fatigues and bulletproof vests.
“They were so many of them. They looked as if they were going to war,” Ahmed told Al Jazeera. The police ransacked the house, turning mattresses upside down, and taking photographs of her. A few minutes later, she heard her son, Idris Mohamed, 26, call out to the officers from inside the house.
“I have surrendered,” Ahmed recalled him saying. She said the police then stripped her son naked, handcuffed Idris, and shot him three times, killing him instantly.
Nnimmo Bassey is the co-founder of Environmental Rights Action (ERA), a Nigerian advocacy NGO, also known as Friends of the Earth Nigeria. Bassey has been involved in the struggle against oil exploitation in the Niger Delta. In 2010 he was awarded the Right Livelihood award. This interview was originally broadcast on Amandla radio in Montreal, Canada.
NNIMO: I’m Nnimmo Bassey. I direct Health of Mother Earth Foundation in Nigeria, which is an ecological think tank. I also coordinate Oil Watch International, which is a global South resistance network. I am a poet, writer and architect.
AMANDLA: You trained as an architect. How did you start working on issues of oil extraction?
N: Well, oil in Nigeria is as old as I am. And the problem is not getting any better, although I am getting better as I get older! I am joking. I started out life as a human rights activist, after graduation from university. In those days Nigeria was under military rule. The military ruled Nigeria for over thirty years and that really affected the political structure of the country.
NAIROBI, Jun 14 2013 (IPS) – On a side street in Nairobi’s bustling neighbourhood of Shauri Moyo, Faisal Ngila shouts to street vendors, motorbike taxi drivers and pedestrians. “Do you know taxes are increasing in Kenya?” he asks, handing out flyers urging Kenyans to say “no to Unga (maize flour) tax” by dialling a phone number that will register their signature on a petition.
Ngila is one of 17 activists involved in the campaign Kenyans for Tax Justice, speaking out against a new Value Added Tax (VAT) Bill, known popularly as the “Unga tax bill”. In trains, buses, football stadiums and community centres, the activists are trying to raise awareness and compile a petition against the bill.
GEITA, 3 June 2013 (IRIN) – On the outskirts of the northern Tanzanian town of Geita sits a cluster of makeshift tents constructed from plastic sheeting and bits of wood and metal. The area, which resembles a refugee camp and is known by residents as Sophiatown – or colloquially, Darfur – is inhabited by farming families who were displaced in 2007 to make way for one of the country’s largest gold mines.
“[One day in 2007] I was attacked by police at 5am,” Mwajuma Hussein, a 75-year-old farmer from the village of Mine Mpya in Mtakuja Ward, told IRIN. “They arrested three people and beat them, and then they dumped us here.” Hussein is one of an estimated 250 people displaced from the village. This camp has been her home for the past six years.
Geita, Tanzania – In northwest Tanzania, less than a kilometre away from a sprawling open pit gold mine, hundreds of people are engaged in a complex and arduous task. While young men emerge from deep pits equipped with hammers, picks and torches, women pound large chunks of grey rock into smaller pieces for further processing into the mineral which brings in Tanzania’s largest source of foreign investment: gold.
Magema, within the village of Nyamalembo, is one of the last remaining strongholds of artisanal and small-scale miners in the Geita area. But they are not officially allowed to be here. The land that stretches for more than 196 square kilometres around the Geita Gold Mine is occupied by AngloGold Ashanti, one of the world’s largest gold mining companies. The miners say they were given an eviction notice to vacate the area in early May.
“When Geita Gold Mine arrived 13 years ago, we small-scale miners were carrying on our work as usual at another mining site,” said Raban Masunga as he turns off the torch strapped around his head. “But now, the hills have been sold. The land has been sold. Everything has been sold to the company. This is the only place left for us and we can be evicted any day.”
Before multinational mining companies arrived in Tanzania, the mining of minerals was largely conducted by small-scale miners. A report from February 2013 by the International Institute for Environment and Development states that globally, small-scale mining employs 10 times more people than large-scale mining.
In Tanzania, it is estimated that large-scale mining may have made upward of 400,000 people unemployed, contributing to further impoverishing the rural poor in a country that already ranks among the 10 poorest in the world.
Scavenging for gold
N’gombe Lukala Kadaso said after the mine was built, residents of Nyakabale realised that proceeds from mining were not going back to the community. Many like him took to scavenging waste rock.
“The way I work is I pound the rock, then I look back to see if the company’s cruiser is coming,” he said. “If it’s there, I have to run. People have been beaten, had their legs broken, some were disabled. Others lost their lives near the mining site. There is no justice, but we must make a living somehow.”
One year ago, 17-year old Mhoja Leonard was reportedly searching for waste material at AngloGold Ashanti’s mine when he was shot and killed by a security guard. His father, Leonard Salala, said he has received nothing in compensation from the company for the “cold blood murder” of his son, save for 10 kilos of rice, a bag of meat, and some water.
“The company agreed to cover the burial costs, but said we would discuss further compensation. Since then I have heard nothing,” he said. “They are not supposed to kill people. There is a court of law.”
“AngloGold Ashanti expresses deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Mr Hoja Leonard. The death of anyone on our concession is something we take very seriously,” the company said. In a letter to Salala, AngloGold Ashanti said it was not liable for the death of his son. In a statement to reporters, the company said the company said its security, is “outsourced to a company named Group 4 Securicor (“G4S”) and the security officials involved in the incident were working for G4S and not for Geita Gold Mine (GGM).” It added that Mhoja Leonard was nowhere near the waste dump area, but rather “had made an unauthorised entry intrusion” into the “GGM Heavy Mining Equipment workshop”.
“GGM conducted two thorough internal investigations into the death of Mr Hoja Leonard and we understand a G4S employee remains in police custody pending a hearing about the matter…” the statement added. “We can confirm that engagement with G4S has taken place regarding Mr Leonard’s death… GGM [Geita Gold Mine] has further enhanced its control mechanisms relating to a reduction in the use of firearms and the use of rubber bullets.”
Some miners claim that numerous people were recently killed, and their bodies thrown into into Nyankanga dam, a dam located on the mine’s lease area. According to AngloGold Ashanti, there were 24 third party fatalities in 2012, “many of which were the result of unsafe illegal mining methods, including void collapses … further fatalities were the result of drowning in the Nyankanga Dam”.
As for those in the mine dumps, the company said such people are “intruders and trespassers” that “enter the waste rock area and other areas, often with a criminal intent and despite knowing the dangers, and this poses a significant risk to their own safety”.
As a result, the company said it would undertake a number of measures to develop an Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Strategy. However, no land within the concession’s 196 square km could be considered for small-scale miners, according to AngloGold Ashanti’s executive vice president for the African region, Richard Duffy.
“We cannot afford to have artisanal and illegal mining in the existing areas, so we are looking for areas adjacent to or close by the lease area,” Duffy said in a telephone interview.
While AngloGold Ashanti claims its inability to grant land within the concession to small-scale miners has to do with security risks, corporate finance consultant and co-chairman of African Eagle Resources, Euan Worthington, said profit gains are also a factor.
“A company is there to make money. If they gave a piece of land to the locals and it turned out to be a bonanza, they would look very stupid in the eyes of their shareholders,” Worthington said. “And you don’t want to be in the news for having an accident or pictures of people clambering all over your property.”
Although small-scale miners are not allowed to remain within the concession area, Duffy said the company’s presence in the area has benefited communities in other ways.
“We are committed to using local employees and local supplies. We are currently completing our portion of a $10m water project in partnership with the Tanzanian government,” he said. “We run a school at Geita and support an orphanage …We certainly try and make a positive contribution. We understand that our being there has had an impact, and we try to minimise the negative impacts of that.”
The David and Goliath-like battle between large multinational mining companies and small-scale artisanal miners and scavengers is not unique to Geita. At least 14 people were killed in the past three years in Tanzania’s North Mara mine, which is run by African Barrick Gold and 74 percent owned by Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation.
Increasing reports of human rights violations by mining companies the world over have elicited outrage among campaigners, particularly in the United Kingdom, where a number of mining companies are listed on the London Stock Exchange.
In response to queries about AngloGold Ashanti’s human rights record, Duffy said the company acts accordingly.
“We investigate any and all allegations of human rights violations. We take those very seriously and operate in accordance with the UN voluntary principles of human rights. One of our core values is that the communities should benefit from our being there, and human rights is a core part of that.”
The company suggested that “any member of the community with credible evidence or information relating to fatalities or security and human rights violations on site to formally contact the Tanzania Police Service for further investigation.”
The Tanzanian Commissioner of Minerals did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
AngloGold Ashanti, like many companies, subscribes to the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPSHR), a set of voluntary principles established in the year 2000 that assist companies in providing security for their operations while also promoting human rights. The VPSHR have been criticised by organizations like Global Witness for being vague and hard to enforce.
Campaigners from the London Mining Network want the UK government to enforce stricter oversight upon companies listed on the London Stock Exchange, and to bring forward legislation that is internationally binding.
Until then, the struggle between companies such as AngloGold Ashanti and Tanzania’s small-scale miners and waste-rock collectors continues. The people of Nyakabale remain outraged at what they perceive as ongoing injustices by both the company and the Tanzanian government, which they accuse of corruption and complicity.
Kadaso, the waste-rock collector from Nyakabale, said he believes the kinds of abuses he has witnessed would never occur in the West.
“This investor, I would ask him to think about us here near the gold mine,” he said. “This is our home, not his. If I took my property and invested in his home, as a white man he would never tolerate the same kind of treatment he gives me as a citizen of Tanzania.”
RAMALLAH/AL-JIFTLIK, 11 January 2013 (IRIN) – As night descends in the Jordan Valley in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), a family in the village of Ras Al-Ahmar lights a small paraffin lamp in the tent they call home.
There is no electricity here and the nearby Palestinian villages are enveloped in darkness. The only visible cluster of light is from a nearby Israeli settlement.
AL-JIFTLIK/WEST BANK, 31 December 2012 (IRIN) – For those who recently watched images of the Israeli bombardment in Gaza, the wide open hills of the Jordan Valley in the West Bank appear as a stark contrast. Flocks of sheep accompanied by their herders cross the hillsides, home to some of the most fertile land in all of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and unrivalled even in Israel.And yet despite the abundant land and resources, Palestinians living in the Valley are some of the poorest in oPt, lacking even the most basic infrastructure.
SEBHA/OUBARI/MURZUQ, 24 May 2012 (IRIN) – Since Muammar Gaddafi’s fall seven months ago, Libya’s non-Arab minorities, including an estimated 250,000 Tuaregs, have begun more vehemently to insist on their rights.
“Gaddafi’s policy was ‘keep your dog hungry so that he follows you’,” said one Tuareg activist, al-Hafiz Mohamed Sheikh. “This means keeping people in need. With Tuaregs, he said many times that we would have our rights, but he never fulfilled his promises. Sometimes he would favour some individuals, but not whole communities.”
SEBHA, 14 May 2012 (IRIN) – A tenuous peace has taken hold in Libya’s southwestern city of Sebha more than a month after tribal clashes killed at least 70 people, with tensions still high between communities living here, many of whom have their own armed militias, according to local residents.
“You see that place?” Adoum Abaka, a Tubu from Tayuri, a poor neighbourhood of Sebha inhabited mainly by Tubu and Tuareg families, told IRIN, pointing to a nearby building on a hill with gaping holes where the walls used to be. “That is where some of us hid when Tayuri was under attack by the Awlad Sulayman [tribe]. We were fighting with Kalashnikovs. One person was killed there.”
BENGHAZI, 3 May 2012 (IRIN) – In one of the many rooms where detainees are held at Ganfouda detention centre in Libya’s second largest city, Benghazi, Suleiman Mansour*, a young Somali from Mogadishu, spends his days locked up along with 15 other migrants. They lie on mattresses propped against the walls, which are scribbled with names and slogans: one says “I love Somalia”.
“I’ve been here for four months,” Mansour told IRIN. “I left Mogadishu in August last year and was arrested in Kufra before they brought me here. Some of us have documents, but they are still being kept in Kufra.” The desert town of Kufra, lies at a point where the borders of Egypt, Chad and Sudan meet.