African Barrick Gold (ABG) has partnered with Search for Common Ground to facilitate conflict resolution and help reinforce the company’s own efforts to improve relations between the North Mara mine and the villages surrounding the Tanzanian operation.
Search for Common Ground is an internationally-recognized non-governmental organization (NGO) that uses a multi-faceted approach to resolve conflict in non-violent, culturally appropriate ways. The NGO is providing human rights and conflict resolution training to police and residents who live and work near the North Mara mine. It’s also designing an external grievance mechanism to deal with community concerns and developing a proposal for initiatives to address violence against women in the Mara region, among other things. Search for Common Ground has already completed four training sessions on human rights with local police, and at least two more are planned, says Reme Moya, Director of Sustainable Business Practices for the NGO. “They were very appreciative and have asked for more sessions,” she says, adding that human rights training in local communities also recently got underway.
The North Mara mine is located in an isolated, underdeveloped part of Tanzania 30 kilometers from the Kenyan border. In-migration from other areas and countries is rampant and law enforcement capacity is limited, making the area a magnet for organized crime. Civil unrest due to poverty is also a problem. “It is a warrior culture and many local men join the military,” Moya says. “There is also a long history of artisanal mining in the area.”
A number of legacy issues and historic community grievances predate Barrick’s acquisition of the mine in 2006 and continue today. North Mara is now operated by Barrick’s subsidiary, ABG, and efforts to secure social license and community support have been challenging, particularly in light of ongoing law and order and security issues. Illegal entry into the mine is a constant security concern that can sometimes have serious consequences. In May, a mass intrusion of the mine’s ore stockpile resulted in a confrontation between police and armed intruders that left five intruders dead and a number of police officers injured.
The problem of violence — and even allegations of sexual assaults — have challenged the company to find new and enduring solutions that address the company’s legitimate security needs consistent with the international human rights standards, specifically the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights. A range of measures are underway to improve and enhance security at the site, including construction of a wall around the property, hiring more female security officers and installing additional CCTV cameras. At the same time, the company has also been focused on reducing community conflict and ensuring local residents benefit from the operation. “North Mara is a long-term asset for us, and for Tanzania,” says Greg Hawkins, President and CEO of ABG. “The mine is a major contributor to the economy of the region and the country. We are committed to the success of this operation and to addressing issues that impact the community.”
In recent months, the company has significantly increased its engagement with the community and all levels of government in Tanzania as part of a broader strategy to promote peaceful co-existence at North Mara. ABG’s engagement with Search for Common Ground is one facet of the strategy. The company is also working to resolve community grievances, striving to be more transparent in its dealings with surrounding villages, and improving alignment with international human rights standards. There are signs of progress on all of these fronts.
Given the significant poverty and development challenges in the area, funding for community initiatives has also been increased. ABG recently tripled its annual community development budget in Tanzania to $10 million, a move that will allow the company to fund more community development projects, as well as expand current projects.
The mine recently provided funds to the Tarime District Council to repair roads leading to nearby villages, such as Kewanja, Nyangoto and Matongo. The repairs ensure that the roads are passable year round. All told, ABG provided $300,000 for the repair work, which the council usually pays for as part of its infrastructure budget. “The road rehabilitation has created a lot of goodwill in the community,” says Kevin D’Souza, Barrick’s Director for Community Relations. “It obviously helps with general commuting for the villagers and improves access to markets.”
ABG is also working on plans to improve access to water in nearby villages, which are located in an arid region of Tanzania. The company is now delivering 90,000 liters of potable water via tanker trucks every day to surrounding villages, and it is conducting studies to identify locations for bore holes that will provide more immediate access to water.
In addition, ABG recently began renovating the Sungusungu Hospital, a small hospital located near the mine. The initial phase of the renovation involves a $350,000 investment that includes upgrades to the hospital’s water supply and electricity-generating capacity. The next phase will involve a $250,000 investment and include upgrades to medical equipment and improvements to service delivery.
To help local residents benefit from the mine, the North Mara operation recently signed an agreement with a local environmental contractor to provide garbage collection and street-cleaning service in three nearby villages. The mine requested that the contactor give preferential hiring to local women and today more than 60 women have been hired. If the pilot project is successful, it could be expanded to other villages.
ABG also recently adopted a new human rights policy, modeled after Barrick’s human rights policy, which is part of a larger human rights compliance program currently being developed by Barrick. In addition, ABG completed upgraded mandatory human rights training for its security staff that encompasses sexual assault issues and new procedures for escalation of human rights allegations.
Perhaps most important, in recent months, ABG has held numerous meetings with local leaders, elders and village assemblies to foster a regular and open dialogue with the seven villages that comprise the mine’s area of infl uence. The aim is to rebuild trust and early indications are promising.
Basie Maree, General Manager of the North Mara mine, attended the vast majority of the meetings, some of which were arranged by Search for Common Ground. “The meetings were a breakthrough,” Maree says. “They’re giving people an opportunity to speak and vent frustrations in a non-confrontational way. We’ve also made real progress in clarifying village-benefit-implementation agreements, royalty payments and improving transparency in land acquisitions. We recognize that there is still work to do, but these are positive developments.”
D’Souza notes that village elders greatly appreciated the fact that Maree himself participated in the meetings. Indeed, as a sign of respect for Maree, villagers now refer to him as Basie Marwa, which means first-born boy child in Kurian, the local language spoken by most villagers. “The village is just so glad someone like him is listening to their concerns,” he says.
Chief Marwa Gabogwe, head of the Nyamongo clan, one of the biggest and most prominent Kuria clans in the region, says ABG and local communities can resolve their differences by working together. “Together, we can find amicable ways of resolving the existing conflicts so that we rebuild peace for the community to co-exist with the mine,” he says. “We need to support one another to remedy the situation. Alone, you cannot change the existing problems. Not even the government on its own, using its powerful security organs, can bring peace. Sustainable peace will only come by dialoging with the community and its leaders.”
Meanwhile, Search for Common Ground is continuing its work in North Mara. The NGO, which is in its thirtieth year of operation, has hired nine employees in Tanzania, including a former colonel in the Tanzanian military. Search for Common Ground frequently uses visuals and hands-on activities as teaching tools, Moya says. Comic strips are being drawn up that contain illustrations of behaviors that trigger conflict. For instance, one of the comic strips includes scenes of illegal arrests and mob violence, and serves as a jumping-off point for discussion and education about fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. “People remember what they see and learn from stories,” Moya says. “If we sat people down and read out a bunch of declarations related to human rights, they’d forget them as soon as they walked out of the room.”
Another simple yet powerful exercise used by Search for Common Ground trainers is to ask participants to tear up a piece of paper and then try putting it back together again. “It’s very hard to do, and the paper will never be the same as it was,” Moya says. “Conflict and violence are like that, too. They tear things apart, sometimes permanently.”
In some cases, instructors replaced the paper with a map of Tanzania, underscoring to police and villagers the damage that conflict can have on their country. “It’s a strong message,” Moya says.
Chief Gabogwe says this type of education and continued dialogue between ABG and local communities are critical to the future of the region. “We need to ask each other questions, brainstorm on why certain things have gone wrong, and at the end of the day, agree that fighting helps no one,” he says. “The struggles of our time are struggles for development, for overcoming poverty, not fighting wars.”