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Nyamongo drowns into economic limbo

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RESIDENTS of Nyamongo in Tarime district are rolling rapidly to the grave of cultural extinction besides socio-economic doom as African Barrick Gold (ABG) enjoys weak implementation of laws governing land acquisition and compensation in the country.

Among the fifteen policies enshrined in the Tanzanian mining policy of 2009, there is among others, adequate compensation and relocation upon land acquisition by the investor but implementation is purely on the hands of ABG.

The Canadian mining company has completely altered the life style of over 70,000 individual citizens in what is referred to as investor operation in awe of exhausting natural resources.

A people who lived on tilling land for food and cash crops, cattle rearing and “digging” of gold from their neighborhoods, are speedily rendered homeless and helpless.

Of late, they have been referred to as “intruders” in the 518.6 sq. km. land now owned by a giant miner, African Barrick Gold of Canada.

Since 19th century almost 90 percent of young men between the age of 14 and 50 in the area had embarked on “digging of gold,” now commonly and appropriately referred to as “artisanal miners;” embracing it with cattle rearing and crop production on their pieces of land.

Today, as you talk to residents of Nyamongo, you find they are about to tell you something like: “We wish we knew!” This is because; there are no more cattle to rear. The land has shrunk as the giant mining company extends its borders. Villagers are being pushed to the hills beyond the horizon.

What they own now is a wrangle with the mining company which is spreading its tentacles into pieces of land with gold; pieces of land also onto which residents have houses, a number of crop gardens and some of them with cows and goats, dogs, cats and chicken.

Residents have had too, disputes with Barrick. Acidic water seeping out of the company’s waste water ponds into Tigithe River has been confirmed to affect adversely people, livestock and environment but the mining company enjoys impunity.

After the Tigithe River hullabaloo, lives, livestock, crops and injuries were meted upon some of the residents but no compensation was made even though the government realized that the mining company had faulted.

Now, as if this is not enough, the company is planning to relocate 1,070 Nyamongo residents under its 20th phase programme of extension.

Situation on the ground have it that the displaced families were given some meager compensation, but those who were relocated in the 1990s were paid even less because of a socialist-era law that deemed all land to be owned by the state. The families were compensated only for their buildings and crops; they never received the full market value of their homes. “The process suffers from a local perception of inadequate compensation for previous resettlement,” African Barrick acknowledged in its prospectus.

Privately, some company officials go further. The early payments were “peanuts,” one official acknowledged.

“The mine is a salutary lesson in how not to establish a mine within or near to an existing community,” said a report in 2012 by the South African Institute of International Affairs, an independent think tank affiliated with the University of the Witwatersrand and funded by the United Nations. The institute’s researcher was given access to Barrick’s four Tanzanian mines, and Barrick made management available for interviews. “There is constant and persistent anecdotal evidence that the way in which the mine was established was neither transparent, nor did it secure the support of the local community,” the report said. “Moreover, there are repeated reports from people involved in mining and community development work in the area over many years that the community feels duped and deceived by the way in which the mine was established.”

The report says Barrick inherited a “perfect storm” of problems when it acquired North Mara in 2006 as part of the Placer Dome purchase. But it notes that those problems were compounded by Barrick’s own mistakes, including a much-publicized spill of acidic water from the mine’s storage ponds in 2009. The report concluded that Barrick may have a legal licence to operate at North Mara but it lacks a “social licence.” In other words, it has failed to win the support of the local community, a crucial requirement for any mining company these days.

What’s more, the report said, “The company has acknowledged that not only does it not enjoy a social licence to operate the North Mara mine, but that the very viability of the mine is under threat.”

If someone at Barrick hinted to the institute’s researchers that the company might abandon North Mara, the company now insists it is fully committed to it and is buying more land. “We think shutting down a mine that provides employment and other meaningful benefits to thousands is not a good solution,” Barrick president Aaron Regent wrote on The Globe and Mail website.

Complains are on board and those about to be quashed off their land are worried that they are still going to be victims of mediocre law implementations enjoyed by ABG.

They wait for the same fate as there is no government hand in the business as Barrick uses its own land evaluators and sends records of its dealings with residents to the office of district commissioner for sheer information.

Now, the People of Nyamongo who have known artisanal mining, subsistence farming besides pastoralism since immemorial times are on the verge of extinction since ABG loots their land at a price determined by its own private land evaluator.

The people of Nyamongo have now been thrown to perpetual wanton poverty as artisanal miners have been reduced to scavengers of sand gold thrown away by ABG but guarded like treasure. The people of Nyamongo who are no longer farmers or cattle keepers are now left to starve to death or with a bullet on the forehead or a spear cruising through the ribs as man-made Nyamongo vs Nyambasi conflict bruises the Kurya people.

 Pastor William Marwa(47), a resident of kewanja village in Nyamongo says that they are becoming refugees in their own land. They are internally displaced from the arable land of their ancestors against their will as one either gets the money ABG evaluators suggest or is thrown out.

“ Our people have become “discardable” by a regime that wants their land, but not them, in order to lease it to foreigners mining activities that employ 700 people at the expense of 70,000 villagers plus,” the pastor bitterly says.

“Looting of land by Africa Barrick Gold (ABG) is alive and kicking but the villagers have nothing to say as per se. The government  security officers keep guard of the Canadian mining company interests at all costs due to hefty allowances that they earn from NMGM,” Jacob Chacha (27) a villager of Kewanja desperately chips in.

Kicheere Nyagoto (71), a resident of Nyangoto  village says that mining activity had started even before the coming of the colonialists.

“Mining was the life blood of the people of Nyamongo but things changed when the white men came. The grabbing of our native land started after negotiations that involved village elders and the whites but not villagers,” Nyagoto sadly tells.

“The villagers got mad and appealed to the village leaders to summon a village meeting but nothing came to light. The land was grabbed since the days of East African Gold Mine. It was a bad start but the village elders’ consolation that any money that would come from the investor would be directed towards village development is yet to materialize. But in case of any payment, it is just too little as the government does no supervision,” the old man sadly states.

“ Leaders from the local to the central government do not listen to the community since whatever they say is in support of the white man. Most of this land is gold but we are dying of hunger and bullets. We do no farming here today. What will happen to our people?” Nyagoto sadly wonders.

“What they can offer is maybe 3 or 4 million shillings for 4 hectares of land full of gold. We have no farming land yet our people cannot even pick the gold sand lest you get shot,” the old man bitterly laments.

“Our leaders from the central government to the local level, are all useless simply because they do not talk to the people and in case there is a problem, they support ABG at all cost whatsoever the circumstance,” the old man sadly adds.

“ Take the case of Tigithe River, the river was intoxicated by ABG but the government through NEMC supports ABG at the expense of the people. That river is not perfectly clean to date but where do we complain at a time our government supports our tormentor,” Nyagoto further claims.

Pastor Marwa of Kewanja village also shares the despair.

“ African Barrick Gold has its own land evaluator whose job is final as what the government does is just to authenticate the deal genuine,” the pastor desperately says.

“ The villagers are afraid of what will become of them on the eve of ABG’s further land acquisition because you either take the money they offer or the police will come wielding their ‘rungus’ coupled with the power of a barrel for forceful evacuation,” Pastor Marwa painfully adds.

Christopher Irogi, another victim of land grabbing on his part has two cases against ABG in court. The cases are in Tarime District Court and Mwanza.

“ ABG has built a wall annexing my land without any compensation just because they are forcing me to take their proposal,” Irogi sadly says.

“ I cannot reach the other side of my land for farming activities because the white man erected a wall,” Irogi sorrowfully adds amidst rolling tears down his cheek.

Joyce Chacha (37) a villager at Nyagoti married with three children now working as a dealer of stones laced with gold also tells of her bitter memory of ABG’s method of land acquisition and compensation.

“ The issue of land here is either you take what ABG has to offer for land compensation or you face frustration. ABG having taken our land, we have been left to perpetual tenants without any economic activity. Our farming land of 2 hectares was taken at 4 million shillings and that is all. No farming land as of now,” she sadly explains.

“ Our only means of survival is buying stones laced with gold from the so called intruders. The major challenge we face is the police brutality and corruption around here. The police come and arrest us taking all the stones we have bought for our trade. If you have money to bribe them, they let you go with your stones but without money, they take your stones,” the mother of three emotionally narrates her ordeal.

“ They made arrests this morning but none was taken to the police station because they managed to buy their way out, either by their stones being taken or the police taking monetary  bribe,” Ms Marwa further explains.

“ With our land going at meager prices as it is, the community is being left without any other remaining economic channel. I predict a gloomy future between the ABG and the community. The government has failed us a great deal since it has refused to set aside land for artisanal miners,” Ms Marwa bitterly concludes.

The outgoing Tarime District Council Director, Fidelis Lumato on his part said that his office did not have a say in ABG’s acquisition of village land since ABG has private evaluator.

“ We are not involved in the land evaluation process since ABG has  got its own land evaluator. Our duty is just to receive the evaluation report then take it to the District Commissioner’s office who also forwards it to the Regional Commissioner as a procedure to the central government evaluator and the deal is simply done like that,” the district director told the reporter in his office.

 ABG spokeperson in Tanzania Foya  says that they use two different companies to carry out asset valuations for land acquisition at North Mara.
The criteria used includes compliance with the national laws including the National Land Policy (1995), Village Act (1999), The Minerals Policy (2009) and other related legislation. Collecting of data is done in accordance with Government asset valuation practices and ensure fair compensation (market value of property, disturbance allowances, transport allowances). Asset and crop valuations are based on Compensation Rates as per the Prime Minister’s Office and land rates are advised by the Musoma Municipal Council.

In this respect, the population of Nyamongo has been left as loners – without support from local or central government. It is hard to imagine the future of residents of Nyamongo who will survive Barrick relocation. They cannot dig gold anymore. They have no sufficient land onto which to grow sufficient food for their expanding families. They can no longer go back to cattle keeping as there is no more land.

There is little or no hope at all for return to the “good old days” at Nyamongo.

When land continues to shrink with expansion of Barrick and economic activities in the area remain unfeasible, only history remains to document the demise of a culture of a people necessitated by avaricious economic interests of a company from far off the continent.

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