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An Inside View into Program Set-up

October 18, 2011

One of the early meetings SFCG conducted with local stakeholders.

Gary Decker worked as an international intern for SFCG in Tanzania this summer. He was recently in DC to speak about his experience and the challenges and successes of his project.

SFCG was invited to the North Mara region of Tanzania to help mediate tensions between the local communities and the gold mining company Barrick Gold after reports of human rights violations were published. Tensions had escalated in May 2011 when a shooting at the mine left 5 men between 19 and 32 dead, as was reported. The young men were trying to invade the mine in order to extract gold. The police gunned them intentionally down, even though they were unarmed. A few weeks after the shooting at the gold mine, sexual violations were reported. Ten women alleged that they were arrested at the mine site and sexually assaulted by company security guards or Tanzanian police over the past several years.

SFCG saw an opportunity to contribute to mediating these tensions and  set up an office in the region. Gary traveled with local staff to the town of Tarime, about an hour from Lake Victoria, to help start the project. One of the team’s first tasks was to furnish the office and the living quarters for the staff. “It was quite a challenge to find everything we needed and stay within the budget,” Gary said. He also faced the challenge of being charged the mzungu (“white person”) price which was between 10 to 30 percent higher.

A second important task for Gary and the team was to identify the stakeholders within the seven communities around the gold mines. One of the difficulties was that the Tanzanian society is very hierarchical and officials control interactions with communities. The SFCG team tried to get past the officials in order to hear the stories of those affected by the gold mine, away from people who might be part of the problem.

Intern Gary after one of the meetings with community members

Intern Gary after one of the meetings with community members

Gary observed that communication followed very different channels compared to the US. Gossip proved to be the predominant information channel and news was mainly spread by word of mouth. Sometimes the information was distorted “like in the telephone game, where you whisper a sentence into someone’s ear and a totally different sentence is received at the end of the chain,” Gary explained. He expressed his regret that media was not helping to constructively contribute to the flow of information and that the storytelling which passed for news often had an inflammatory effect on the issues.

One of the main areas that SFCG aims to address is the lack of trust between locals and the mining company. This lack of trust is further exacerbated by the difficult exchange of information, a basic lack of communication between different stakeholders and the difficulties of channeling information. One example Gary witnessed while living in Tanzania revolved around a waste dump planned by the gold mining company. The company had started to prepare a plot to dump rocks and had obtained governmental permission to prep the land. However, the community had not been informed about the project and was very reluctant to see the gold mining company take over more land for a purpose they did not understand and did not know anything about. After the General Manager had received word through SFCG about the community’s irritation, he stopped the project and went to speak to community members directly, explaining the project. It had been the first time that a company representative had addressed the community directly rather than just relying on the local government to settle the issue as they had done before.

SFCG brought the General Manager of Barrick Gold out to meet community leaders and discuss pressing issues with them.

Bringing the General Manager of Barrick Gold out to talk to the communities was one of the project’s greatest successes, Gary said. This measure tremendously increased trust between the communities, SFCG and Barrick Gold. “The General Manager was very willing to ease tensions by really listening and being very transparent of how he could help communities and what was beyond his reach” Gary recalled.

For example, the General Manager promised to help clear a pond. However, he also made clear that Barrick Gold is a company and that there are certain restrictions on the scope of its work. As a for profit organization the company needs to work in partnership with the government rather than as a development agency. Nevertheless, the General Manager expressed willingness to invest in a production center so that the food for the 2000 mine employees, many of them from South Africa, could be produced in Tanzania. With that measure, Barrick Gold can help to address poverty. Before the government sold the land to Barrick Gold about 20 years ago, the locals lived mainly from small scale mining – an option no longer legally possible for them. Having lost a major source of income poverty is pervasive in the area.

As a long-term solution Gary recommends involving locals in the mining industry, be it as suppliers or even as miners. As a first step Gary envisions a technical exchange between Barrick Gold and the local mining cooperative, where issues such as safety and work ethics could be evaluated and with each other’s help improved. “Having small scale miners and Barrick Gold meet and discuss technical issues would deepen trust between the communities and the mining company,” Gary said. Companies can be partners in contributing to the peace and stability of a region, but only when there is open dialogue and understanding of the local culture. The work SFCG has done thus far with Barrick Gold is only the beginning of the relationship building that needs to happen. Initially begun as a yearlong project, SFCG and Barrick Gold anticipate that the project will be extended for another year.

One of SFCG's efforts to help overcome human rights violations included police trainings.

Role games during police training included finding an alternative way to win an arm-wrestling competition.


Gary Decker was an international intern working with SFCG in Tanzania. He is currently working toward a Master of International Relations and International Economics at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. He previously wrote about the power of perception in Tanzania.

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