Bishop Mwita's Blog

Tragic Deaths at Barrick Gold Mine in Tarime, Tanzania

On May 16, 2011 five young people were shot and killed on the spot by the police at Barrick Gold Mine in Nyamongo area, some 40km or so from Tarime town, east of Lake Victoria. Several others were wounded. Two of those wounded died later. I understand that some police officers suffered injuries too as a result of the chaos that took place on the fateful day.

The question that many of us are asking is this: when will these killings and battles end?

The relationship between Barrick North Mara Gold Mine and the local community surrounding the Mine continues to be a problem and a challenge to many stakeholders in Tarime, including the Anglican Diocese of Tarime.

The Diocese has 5 strategic churches and a food security and income generating project in the villages surrounding the Mine, some 35km or so away from Tarime town. So the Diocese is touched by this tragic incident.

The families of those who were killed refused to bury their dead for over 10 days awaiting legal experts to witness the post-mortem. As many would know from news reports on some Canadian media especially The Star, families of those killed say that the police took the bodies by force from the mortuary of the main hospital in Tarime and dumped them at night near the family homes some 40 km away. This has disturbed and saddened many. The police deny this, but the families didn’t take the bodies. Somebody did!

Put simply, with the permission of the government, Barrick came to Tarime and took away the plate of food from the table where many young unemployed people were eating. Then the investors asked those young people to go away, without look behind. This has not happened!

The unemployed young people have never gone away because neither the Mine nor the Government has given them something else to do to earn a living. So this problem is a national one: how to address youth unemployment.

It is alleged (and many believe this), that each day, there seem to be some quiet arrangement between the small scale miners and the police on duty that allows those young people to go into some of the mining areas. Each day those young people to go to the Mine pits in hundreds if not thousands. I have seen lots of them up and down the heaped waste rock from the pits as I visit the congregations that we have in the surrounding areas. Honestly I never knew those young people also go into the pits, and as it alleged, with the permission of the police and the security guards. What is unclear is whether the Mine authorities are aware of this.

It is also alleged that the shooting occurs only when there is a breakdown of communication. Otherwise, this practice goes on smoothly each day! The police deny the existence of such an arrangement.

Another thing that annoys the local community is the fact that there seem to be inadequate commitment on the part of Barrick to honor its promises to assist the community with generous funds for local community projects. Some of the projects include improving rough and dusty roads, contributing towards the construction or renovation/repair of primary and secondary schools and clinics for women and children and the general local population, plus the provision of clean and safe water as a way of returning a little compared to the big plate of food that Barrick took away from the mining community. It is believed that Barrick Gold do pay some money to the local government at district level for development purposes. But the local community argues that the amount is too small compared to what is taken from 'their land'.

The question is this. Can there be a long term solution to this ongoing problem? In my view, the answer is ‘Yes’. As the local Bishop in Tarime I believe that this can be achieved in a number of ways.

First, Barrick must allocate some portion of land to the young small scale miners where they can do the small scale mining freely. After all, this is exactly a government policy, but no one knows why it is taking years to implement it.

Secondly, there have to be other ways of diversifying the local economy so that jobs can be created for young people and the local population. The Anglican Diocese of Tarime is already trying to help in this area. Currently and through our Mogabiri Agricultural Centre, we have a food security and income generating projects in the villages surrounding Barrick Gold Mine. We serve over 2500 people. I wished that Barrick were able to join us in these efforts and other projects that would help create jobs or self employment for young people.

Thirdly, we have to increase the number of secondary schools and vocational training centers in the area. At the moment many young people move straight from school into informal employment (mining included) at a very young age. This is because many have nothing to do to earn a living. Barrick Gold could play a major role in this. In passing, let me mention that for girls, finishing school at an early age and having nothing to do leads to early marriages soon after the rite of passage, namely female genital mutilation.

Fourth, the government of Tanzania has to work with all key stakeholders such as religious leaders to help improve the relationship between the police and the communities even beyond the mining areas. At the moment, the local community does not trust the police and the police feel threatened. This situation has to be rescued.

Yet there are other complications. The community surrounding the Mine often votes for the Opposition party. Tarime as a district is a stronghold of the Opposition, though the current local MP is a member of the governing party. He unseated the Opposition candidate by few hundred votes in last year's General Election.

Despite all this and the nightmare of the presence of Barrick Gold, and non-ending conflict between Barrick and the local community, Tarime has lots of unique things and a great potential for development and progress.

It has hard-working people, variety of crops, cheaper farm foods, fertile soil that grows banana trees, maize, coffee, round potatoes, onions, cabbage, tomatoes, carrot, among others. There is plenty of gold too! The landscape is attractive too, divided largely between highland and lowland areas. Barrick Gold Mine is located in the lowlands

All of this makes our mission context very challenging indeed. Yet we remain focused. Despite the small resources at our disposal, we are evangelizing, teaching the disciples of Christ, building places of worship, teaching our people how to support the ministry, and are engaging in community development projects, among other initiatives.

God is with us. Do pray for us.

The Rt Rev. Dr Mwita Akiri
Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Tarime, Tanzania