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LEFT FOR DEAD

How big firms ruin lives in hunt for minerals

As multinationals explore in settlement areas, one can smell, see and taste the pollution they leave residents choking in. The minerals they extract in pursuit of fortunes are often a whole community’s curse

In Summary

• Despite being home to 30 per cent of the world’s mineral reserves, Africa’s poverty rate stands at 41 per cent

• Copper-rich Kankoyo in Zambia epitomises this contrast, as the mineral enriches a few while sickening and displacing the majority

Image: FARIDAH BWARI-MILLAH

When it comes to minerals, Africa is a land of contrasts. According to a World Bank report, Africa is home to 30 per cent of the world’s mineral reserves, 10 per cent of the world’s oil and 80 per cent of the world’s gas.

Yet, despite such enormous resources, the continent’s poverty rate stands at 41 per cent. And out of the world’s 28 poorest countries, 27 are in Africa, all with a poverty rate above 30 per cent.

While mining countries appear to fare better than other countries abroad, this is not the case in most resource-rich countries in Africa.

 
 

Kenya sits on a number of minerals, including gas and oil, that are increasingly being exploited. The country has proven deposits of titanium, coal and gold. The government has also been pursuing the possibility of constructing a coal power plant. Despite these resources, few people have benefited.

While Kenya’s extractives industry is at its infancy stage — with the Mining ministry only set up six years ago and legislation to regulate the industry passed in 2016 — Zambia is a veteran in this space. Zambia’s economic development has been heavily dependent on copper for close to a century now.

More than 60 per cent of the country’s export earnings is derived from copper, which amounts to 10 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product. In Kenya, the sector accounts for less than one per cent of GDP.

Excavators and drillers at work in an open pit at Tenke Fungurume, a copper and cobalt mine northwest of Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, January 29, 2013
Excavators and drillers at work in an open pit at Tenke Fungurume, a copper and cobalt mine northwest of Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, January 29, 2013
Image: REUTERS
All we ask for is relocation. We beg to be moved so our children can live. We ourselves are already dead.  We just keep going by grace
Kankoyo resident Prisca Mutale

OWNER BECOMES BEGGAR

In both Kenya and Zambia, resource extraction has triggered inequalities and resulted in environmental degradation and pollution. In Zambia’s Copperbelt Province, multinationals have taken over ownership of mining and are reaping big. There is extensive mining by Glencore Plc in Kankoyo township in the mineral-rich district of Mufulira.

What is unknown to many is that Kankoyo is a township of contrasts. The township is visibly calm and idle on the surface, but a few metres underneath, there is multi-million dollar mechanical activity. While the land surface is bare because it cannot support any vegetative growth and the town unliveable, beneath it are deposits of copper, the country’s main export.

While the mining process is going on smoothly, Kankoyo’s water and sanitation system collapsed years ago. Many houses in the area have either collapsed or are cracked due to the seismic movement of the ground caused by mining blasts.

 
 

Besides the effects of mining, a sulphur dioxide plant was established by Glencore subsidiary Mopani Copper Mines in close proximity to the residential area. The plant emits a mist-like substance to the air. The soluble solution ends up in nearby streams.

Not only have the emissions turned sources of water to rivers of acid and extensively eroded the houses’ tin roofs, but they have also caused deaths and disease upon inhalation.

A section of River Kibos in Kisumu
A section of River Kibos in Kisumu
Image: FAITH MATETE

COPPER CURSE

It is in Kankoyo that one gets first-hand the effects of an activity happening underground. One can smell, see and taste pollution. Listening to residents explain the impact mining has on their lives will make even the strongest emotional. This is the home of a rich few and a whole community of sick, poor people. In Kankoyo, a valuable natural resource like copper is referred to as a curse.

Tax Justice Network Africa, a pan-African organisation advocating pro-poor policies in the continent, was part of a solidarity group, Fight Inequality Alliance, that visited Kankoyo at the invitation of the community.

Kankoyo is a township that was established to accommodate miners who worked in Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines. As a parastatal, ZCCM used to carry out regular maintenance of the houses, repair roads and provide other services like garbage collection and hospitals.

As such, the residents led normal lives. This changed when the Zambian government privatised the mining industry in the 1990s, following economic decline.

A survey conducted in 2014 by a joint team from the local government, NGOs and other players in Mufulira district concluded that the area is not fit for human habitation. The joint group further recommended that the residents must be relocated, which has not happened five years later. The residents, who were issued with tents after their houses collapsed, are still living under tents.

“All we ask for is relocation. We beg to be moved so our children can live. We ourselves are already dead.  We just keep going by grace,” resident Prisca Mutale said.

In most cases, resources are found in areas where people are vulnerable, yet those who come to mine have both economic and political power
UoN School of Law’s Nicholas Orago

CIVIL SOCIETY INTERVENTIONS

The relocation process is long overdue and the community has knocked on every possible door for facilitation to relocate in vain. Glencore Plc still operates unshaken.

University of Nairobi School of Law lecturer Nicholas Orago blames such predicaments on lack of governance and implementation of legislation.

“In most cases, resources are found in areas where people are vulnerable, yet those who come to mine have both economic and political power,” he said.

There are a number of instances where Civil Society Organisations have won on behalf of the people who do not have the intellectual and economic muscle to seek justice.

In the case of Kankoyo, a number of CSOs came forth to educate the community on their human rights and pursue justice from both the government and the multinationals. The CSOs were able to access the agreement between Glencore Plc and Government of Zambia, which was termed as “signed in bad faith”.

While speaking to a group of Tax Justice Champions in Senegal, TJNA executive director Alvin Mosioma cited lack of caution when signing agreements. “The wide range of tax incentives erode the tax space,” he said. This is the exact scenario between Glencore and the government of Zambia. “Therefore, people should be careful when signing agreements.”

Last week in Kenya, the National Environment Tribunal stopped the construction of what would be Kenya and East Africa’s first coal power plant, which has been in the planning stages for the last six years. This was as a result of several CSOs’ engagement in challenging the project, citing negative effects on livelihoods, environment and health problems.

The sad reality is that governments do not consult citizens when signing such contracts. In most cases, citizens never get to know the contents of the agreements until too late. Challenging such processes has in the past proved to be slow and costly.

Edited by Tom Jalio