This past spring, Adam Hochschild, author of the superb history King Leopold’s Ghost, published some remarks about Congo today which have reignited discussion of the “blood diamonds” phenomenon. Blogging for Mother Jones on March 29, Hochschild argued that boycotting the Democratic Republic of Congo’s “conflict minerals” probably would not “do much more than put tens of thousands of miserably paid miners out of work.” He pointed out that “even the best laboratory tests cannot easily prove where an ounce of gold comes from” and “Congo’s lengthy borders are impossible to police, and certificates of origin are easily forged.”
Then what to do? Contrasting the DRC’s situation with that of diamond-rich Botswana, Hochschild observes that the latter “has used its mines. . . to fund infrastructure, education, and health care, as well as set aside a rainy-day fund” of close to seven billion dollars as a hedge against a possible fall in the price of diamonds. “But,” Hochschild concludes, “Botswana has something essential Congo does not: a government known for being both functional and honest.” Tragically, one can scarcely imagine a government like Botswana’s coming to power in the Democratic Republic of Congo any time soon, so the DRC’s mineral wealth may curse rather than bless that nation for many more years.
Meanwhile Bubelwa Kaiza has studied Tanzania’s mineral riches for the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Cape Town office. In July, at http://www.boell.org.za/web/114-570.html, Kaiza noted that in the last ten years Tanzania “has been experiencing a rapid expansion of exploration and extraction activities for minerals” and “become Africa’s third-largest exporter of gold,” which accounts “for as much as 44% of the country’s value of exports.” Kaiza writes that “tanzanite (a semi-precious stone unique to the country) and diamonds” also “significantly contribute to the country’s foreign earnings” while titanium, nickel, and iron ore “are available in plenty but not extracted yet” because of energy shortages and over two billion dollars’ worth of uranium “is scheduled for extraction in early 2012.”
Kaiza writes of rising “tensions between foreign mining companies and local communities” due to claims about poor treatment of employees and, equally seriously, discharges by Canada-based Barrick Gold Corporation of toxic chemicals and heavy metals into the Mara and Thigite Rivers. Last year villagers dependent on the rivers accused Barrick of causing the deaths of cattle and fish as well as one person—yet by the time of Kaiza’s report more than a year later, the government had not issued its findings on water contamination levels.
Even more disturbingly, the prize-winning journalist Richard Mgamba reported only last month that despite passage of “a new Mining Act early this year barring all miners from employing children,” poor enforcement lets the abuses continue. In a lengthy article at http://www.ippmedia.com/frontend/index.php?l=21909, Mgamba catalogs the hazards: “toxic exposure to heavy metals, dangers from the use or handling of explosives or drilling equipment and contaminated drinking water sources due to unregulated practices and environmental degradation. . . injury from use of crude tools or those designed for adults, osteo-muscular problems associated with carrying heavy loads and prolonged standing, silicosis due to inhaling dust, diseases like tuberculosis and diarrhea due to unsanitary conditions, lack of access to emergency or other health care and poor nutrition.”
Still, if Tanzania’s government cannot rival a government like Botswana’s in the levels of transparency and participation usually needed to drive efficient delivery of services and protection of rights to citizens, including the most vulnerable ones, neither should one confuse the Tanzanian government with the DRC’s. Tanzanians who have just kept President Jakaya Kikwete and his CCM in power did so peacefully. They will most likely see excruciatingly slow—too slow—progress against problems such as child labor in the mines and elsewhere. But they can reasonably expect to see progress rather than war or government collapse.
In the last few days the travel guide Lonely Planet has announced its list of the globe’s top ten places to visit in 2011, reserving eighth place for Tanzania, right behind Vanuatu and Italy. Having visited Tanzania each of the last four years, this doesn’t surprise me. Although the people convinced by Lonely Planet to visit Tanzania will not want to see the children in the mines, the things they will want to see are no less real than those children. And we who go back again and again with Karimu to Tanzania have every right to love the same things the tourists love—the breathtaking national parks, the pristine beaches of Zanzibar, the safety and stability—even as we find much more to love among the residents of Dareda Kati Village who become our friends and who talk about the Tanzania they want their own children to inherit. So, like the Tanzanians themselves, we recognize the good along with the bad in their country while the good motivates us to try to do something about the bad.—Don Stoll