Doing Mining Right In Africa
By Thomas C. Mountain
08 October, 2014
The small east African country of Eritrea has started a mining
industry and is doing it right. To start with Eritrea is receiving 40%
of the profits generated by its first gold/copper mine.
Compare this to Tanzania where Anglo-American mining company operates
one of the worlds largest gold mines and pays a whopping 4% royalty to
Thanks to Wikileaks we know that the USA forced sanctions against
Eritrea through the UN Security Council in 2009, not to punish Eritrea
for allegedly supporting “terrorism” (i.e. Al Shabab in Somalia) but
in an attempt to sabotage the start of Eritrea’s mining industry.
40% vs. 4%? Small wonder that Eritrea’s deal threatens western
interests for if the rest of Africa takes note and begins to follow
suit in the deals cut allowing exploitation of the continents
resources Pax Americana and its vassals are facing a serious problem.
Mining is a dirty, dangerous industry which inevitably scars the land
and leaves behind massive amounts of cyanide and acid polluted slurry.
Any country starting a mining industry has to face up to whether
mining is a blessing or a curse.
Unfortunately small, war and climate change ravaged countries like
Eritrea badly need foreign currency to pay for medicines, fuel,
machinery and to help pay for building the infrastructure colonialism
failed to provide.
When Eritrea won its independence on the battle field in 1991 there
was no national electric grid. Most of the people had no access to
clean drinking water, medical care or education for their children.
While major advances have been made in providing these basic human
rights to Eritrea's people much, much more needs to be done and
developing the mining industry is an immediate answer.
Still, once Eritrea's first mine runs out of ore it faces a major
problem in dealing with the mines “tailings pond”, actually a massive
reservoir of cyanide and acid polluted water, the by product of the
process used to extract the gold and base metals from the ore. We are
talking about hundreds of thousands of barrels of “slurry”, toxic and
very, very difficult to treat.
In most of Africa, in the rest of the world really, the multinational
mining barons just walk away from this problem, taking their super
profits with them. This is not going to happen in Eritrea.
First of all the “tailings pond” has to be built right. A densely
compacted base of gravel is laid down, similar to a heavy duty road
bed and then covered with not one, but two layers of acid resistant
Once the mine has exhausted the ore bearing rock the best solution
presently available is to cap the “tailings pond” with a layer of rock
and absorbent earth which acts like a sponge, soaking up rainwater
during the rainy season which later evaporates under the scorching
east African sun.
This prevents the water from reaching the toxic slurry and prevents it
from overflowing and seeping out into the ground water. Bore holes
down slope are monitored to test if any of the slurry is leaking and
can be used to pump back into the capped “tailings pond” any leakage,
Compare this to the all to common practice of abandoning the tailings
ponds, leaving them to burst their banks during major floods and
polluting the surrounding lands and waterways with toxic slurry for
many many decades to come.
Eritrea is doing mining right, yet is being condemned by reports in
the western media that can only be termed malicious. To start with
there have been a series of stories claiming that Eritrea uses “slave
labor” to build its mines.
A closer reading reveals that what is actually going on is that
members of Eritrea's national service program are helping construct
In Eritrea everyone is required to complete their national service
obligation. Most of the country's school teachers are in the national
service program along with many of our nurses, medical technicians as
well as our troops at the front defending the country from Ethiopian
invasion. To say that being a member of the national service program
is tantamount to “slave labor” is to say that most of our teachers are
Still, this matter obviously needed more investigation and over the
last few years I tracked down half a dozen national service members
who have helped build Eritrea's first mine, the Bisha gold and copper
mine. First of all, they all verified their work at Bisha by showing
me photos on their mobile phones of them actually working at Bisha.
All of them, while not being happy with the very small salaries paid
national service members, were proud of the work they had done helping
build Eritrea's first mine. They knew that the foreign currency the
mine would bring in was badly needed and that their contributions
would really help the country.
When I asked them if they ever considered themselves to be “slave
labor” they were rather insulted. In contrast, none of the reports
claiming the use of slave labor in Eritrea's mining industry could
provide any proof that those persons they interviewed every worked at
the Bisha gold mine let alone were actually anything other than
national service members.
Today the Chinese are constructing a new mine, the Zara Gold mine, and
members of the Eritrean national service program are participating. I
know one of them, Tseggai Asmerom, who is a surveyor at the site and
in the national service program. Tseggai says the work is hard, the
sun is hot but he actually enjoys it and is proud of his contribution.
Of course he wishes his salary was larger, but that is another story.
Like I have said, Eritrea is doing mining right and the rest of Africa
would be well served to take notice. As for those outside maligning
our new industry, it would serve your readers well if you would do
your homework first and report reality on the ground here for a
Thomas C. Mountain has been living and writing from Eritrea since
2006. He can be reached at thomascmountain at g mail dot com
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