Tanzania: Africa Barrick Gold Under Siege?
Monday, 11 March 2013

Media reports indicate that two people died on Saturday, 2 March 2013, after about 4,000 villagers clashed with police when they invaded the Africa Barrick Gold (ABG) North Mara mine in Tanzania. This is the latest of such incidents with villagers invading the open pit mine allegedly to steal gold sand.

The mine has been increasingly targeted by armed intruders with its remote location making it particularly susceptible. This has prompted ABG to start erecting a 14km fence around the mine as well as spend more on both police and private security.

The deceased were described as relatively young at around 19 and 20. One was killed by a blunt object while the other was shot dead, although it was not immediately clear whether this was by the police. Anti-riot police engaged the invaders for several hours, but some managed to make away with gold sand with some reported damage to company property.

Perspectives

ABG do not have an entirely unblemished history in Tanzania. In the past, the company has been accused of polluting water supplies, damaging sensitive ecosystems, and of human rights abuses in the mine. At the same time, it has effectively come under siege as this was by no means an isolated incident. In May 2011, AFP reported seven deaths in the mine in similar but more deadly attacks. Although the company has stepped up social development spending for the communities around the mine, this has clearly done little to stave off regular, large-scale trespassing on company property. This continued stand off also points towards a failure by the Tanzania government to strike a balance between protecting the interests of host communities and those of investors.

For ABG, this means that operational costs are going to remain under pressure, but the company had argued that it has a long-term commitment to the mine. The North Mara’s licence was renewed for a further 15 years in 2012. However, a deal for ABG’s acquisition by Chinese investors fell apart early 2013 even as the company continues to report rising costs and missing production targets.



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