Friday, August 28, 2009

It is Time to Act: let's speak for the poor and Marginalised

Rev. Andrew Chulu of the United Church of Zambia

It is time for the Church to act... so said one of the Religious Leaders in the North-Western part of Zambia where infrastructure, social utilities and social amenities are in a bad shape.

People in the Copper belt live in deplorable conditions in the midst of plenty in terms of deposits of Copper and Gold. Irrespective of the many concerns raised by the locals, the government is said to “...remain mum and unconcerned.”

Alongside with the concerns on the government keeping quiet the religious Leaders feel that the programme that Council of churches in Zambia have embarked on to empower citizens from the grassroots upwards has come at the right time.

This move and the concentration on empowering the people and engaging the government on policy issues are looked at as a service that will make sense for the next generation. “What you (CCZ) are doing now and what we will do together as member Churches should be a firm foundation for the next generation.”

The people of Zambia in the copper rich areas are now upbeat and looking forward to the Church and other religious bodies to stand help them sound their voices. Despite the escalating poverty levels, there is also a great knowledge deficit. People are ignorant of what policies are in place to ensure equity in distribution of profits from Zambian rich fields.

In the view of the locals in the copper belt, the government regards the locals as irrelevant. “They come to our villages, take land without consulting with us or considering our livelihoods. The decisions are made by the elite and ours is to obey. Even when it means that we live our homes and heritage.

Looking at the general concept of the locals in the copper rich areas, an average man thinks that their land has been sold to the investors and thus gives the right to the same to toss them around.

On an interesting note, the Religious Members in the Churches under the Council of Churches in Zambia are also raising their voices on the audit of the Gold that has been reported to be extracted in the same pits where Copper is extracted. In reality this has never seen the light of the day in terms of proper auditing.

Concerns have also been raised on weak policies and the way the government treats the investors at the expense of her people. This comes at a point when there are a number of new investment ventures in the extractive industry from the Far East countries. But then the question that is being posed by the local religious Leaders is, “New investment for whose benefit?”

Council of Churches in Zambia aims at empowering Zambian people from grassroots level up with knowledge that will enable them engage the government in dialogue that is aimed at ensuring that the natural resources are used to boost economy and social status of the people.

Lest We Forget...

As part of our Bicentennial observances TIME asked leaders of nations round the world to address the American people through the pages of TIME on how they view the U.S. and what they hope, and expect, from the nation in the years ahead. This message from Tanzania's President Julius K. Nyerere is the fourth in a series.

America is a society whose faults are the more glaring because of its admirable openness, because of the principles on which the nation was founded and because of the power which comes from its wealth and its size. It is an inspiration, and a warning, to the world. Poor nations aspire to emulate it, or else they fear it—and sometimes both.

For America is judged by the standards set out in imperishable language in the Declaration of Independence of 1776—which is one of the greatest documents of all time. And America now has a degree of wealth and power which could enable the ideals of its founding fathers to be translated into reality. It should now be possible for all Americans to live in dignity in a society which gives to all its citizens equal freedom and security and equal rights and responsibilities. Certainly, it should now be possible for America to "observe good faith and justice toward all nations" without having to fear for its own independence.

The continual struggle of Americans for the implementation of these principles within America, regardless of race or economic status, is a matter of history and contemporary politics. Much progress has been made over the past 200 years. In particular the Federal Government is now committed to fighting racial discrimination within the U.S. by laws, administrative acts and education. This we recognize; it is vital to the respect accorded to America.

But the gap between the principles and the potential on the one hand and the reality on the other is still frighteningly wide, even within America. Americans of non-European descent are still having to struggle to achieve for themselves their full rights as American citizens, equal with all others. Extreme poverty, and even hunger, exist among a sizable minority of American people. There appears to be almost a breakdown of many of the public and communal services which are vital to civilized life and in respect of which we would expect America to be an example to the rest of struggling humanity.

So countries like mine look at America in its Bicentennial year with admiration and respect, yet a feeling of disappointment for opportunities lost. But we also look at America with fear because of the use to which America's great power is often put, and the extent to which American principles have been flouted in the international exercise of American power.

Americans fought a war for their independence. They fought a civil war to maintain their unity despite the diverse social and cultural origins of Americans. The poor and oppressed of the world therefore expect Americans to understand and support the struggles of other peoples to be free and united, even if freedom and unity cannot be won peacefully. We expect that America will be the last nation, not the first, to try to thwart, pervert or destroy the real independence of other nations.

Instead, during the 15 years of our own national existence, we in Tanzania have witnessed American military power being used in an attempt to crush the national liberation struggles of Viet Nam and Cambodia. In some Latin American countries we have seen American economic power being used to frustrate the democratic will of the people about their own form of government. We have felt the effects of America's direct and indirect, but very powerful, support for the racist and colonialist forces of southern Africa. And we have seen American power time and again being used to fight freedom on the plea that it is fighting Communism.

Further, as poor nations like Tanzania struggle for those structural changes in the world economic system which are essential if our own efforts for development are not to be nullified, we find that American economic might is ranged on the other side—that is, on the side of our continued exploitation. Only minor reforms, or economic aid, are offered; sometimes even these are made conditional upon what America regards as our good political behavior in the United Nations and elsewhere. So the poor nations fear America and we struggle against America, even while we admire the great principles of America and her people's achievements.

We watch with respect, sympathy and anxiety—and sometimes almost with despair—as Americans endeavor to cope with the political and moral results of their own wealth-creating economic system, and to give international meaning to the principles laid down by the founding fathers of their nation.

For it is this one thing, above all, that really gives hope to the world. There are Americans of all colors and creeds who continue to struggle for equality and justice within America for all its peoples. There were Americans who used the time given by the dogged resistance of the Indochinese peoples in order to reassert the principles of democracy and equality and to oppose American imperialism in Southeast Asia. It was Americans who revealed, and who opposed, what was being done by their nation in Chile. And Americans are now working to get American support ranged on the side of national freedom and human equality in southern Africa.

Americans have created a power which is frequently abused internally and externally. But Americans continue to struggle against these abuses and for the survival of the universal principles enunciated in 1776. There is therefore still hope that America's great power will be used for human beings everywhere, rather than simply for the preservation and creation of American national wealth.

From Tanzania we salute America on its 200th anniversary. We send our good wishes for a future of American cooperation with the rest of the world on the basis of freedom, equality and justice, for all men and all nations

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Isle of Peace, Home of the Homeless

It is ironical in our ears when the world praises Tanzania to be the isle of peace. What is the benefit of outward peace when there is NO peace within? Tanzanian Government must try the best to maintain peace among her peoples. You cannot be proud as a country and claim to be sovereign when all we see is slavery at high places. The narrative below comes from a group fighting for justice among the Maasai community in Serengeti. Read and advise what can be done...

The Maasai community living adjacent to the Serengeti National Park have been sent parking forcefully to pave way for Hunting Company from the United Arabs Emirates.
Following the eviction of the Maasai community members from Loliondo villages women were raped; children disappeared into Serengeti and killed by the wildlife, while houses and property were set ablaze by armed soldiers to protect the company.

Traditionally the Maasais they depends on livestock for their survival, this minority group have been protecting wildlife and the greater Serengeti and Maasai Mara ecosystem for many centuries and enormous species of wildlife are found near their homes.

Endangered by own conservatory work

The price of their work of conservation is putting them under Government force
to get out of their land to give a land for Arabs Hunting Company (OBC). Traditionally the livestock and wildlife are co-existing; but the Government of Tanzania decided to evict these people to make land free for hunting.

Since 1992, the Tanzania Government allocated Loliondo villages as a hunting block to Arabs Company from UAE. It’s almost 17 years when the hunting process started. In the beginning of last year 2008, there was a serious discussion between the investor from, Government of Tanzania and Local Maasai people.

The discussion was to create an exclusive hunting area for Arabs Company, in the course of this discussion the Arabs with Government backing; manipulated local leaders from the Maasai community to enter into the shoddy business contract between the Hunting Company and villages.

On 4th July, 2009, the Government at Regional and District levels commissioned the armed Filed Force Unit (Anti riot police) to undertake operation that and remove the Maasai people out of their land.

The eviction operation saw more than 400 house burnt, young livestock killed, and 600 people homeless and without food and 40,000 heads of cattle in the bushes.
In the operation women were raped, other had miscarriages, children disappeared into Serengeti National park and killed by wild animal while the young men were serious beaten and the FFU men used live ammunitions to disperse livestock into the forest and many families lost their livestock and properties.

Testimony of the raped woman

“I was running out of my house, which was set ablaze following my child who was running to the bush; two armed men chased me and force me to lie down. Six men followed them and all raped me! There many other girls and women who were raped inside their houses during the operation. The armed soldiers told us to remove our belongings from the houses at the same time followed us inside and rape us”

State of Emergency

Today people don’t have food and water, shelter and security. Before the operation the Government and the International food relief agencies provided food relief to these people to address a serious food shortage due to drought that hitting Africa.

The evicted local Maasai people are trying to respond for the eviction but it’s difficult for them to sustain armed Government soldiers. The local people are forced by the situation to sell their cattle to get food but the prices for their livestock are low due to drought and lack of pastures. Hundreds of people and livestock will perish out if immediate international action is not put in place.

State Fa├žade

In 15 July, 2009 the deputy Minister for Natural Resource and Tourism with the Member of Parliament of Ngorongoro District visited to Loliondo to assess the impact of ongoing social injustice.
The Minister told the public meeting that she “does not know who commissioned the armed soldiers to do the operation” and ordered “the operation to stop.”
The following days the evictees went back to their original areas; but the armed soldiers burnt again the Maasai houses, beaten and chased the people out of the area. Young people were forced to pull heavy logs while being physically assaulted.

The local Maasai and other lobbying groups failed to understand the force behind the eviction. But it’s obvious clear that UAE Company is financing the process of the eviction. Local informants and investigators said the UAE Company is paying armed soldier and Local Government officials at the District and Regional levels cash amounting to US Dollars 400 per day to evict the Maasai people.

The local journalists were also on the pay roll of the hunting company from UAE Company and were neither now publishing nor providing the information to the public. The Maasai who complain for the effect of operation were threatened by the police not talk. However; the local Maasai with lobbying groups managed to give out the information to the public as well to the international levels.

Silenced not to speak

After a strong publicity done by the community; CSOs and the media practitioners at the national level; the Regional Commissioner (RC) of Arusha Mr Isodori Shirima, was ordered by the Government officials at the National level to silence the people and try to stop the public outcry.
The RC flew to UAE camp and stayed there for the whole day afraid to meeting the local Maasai people but he ordered the District Commission Mr Elias Wawalali to meet with local leaders.

Arrogant Government

In the meeting the local Maasai leaders raised their concerns for the eviction and operation. The DC told them that, “what was done by the Government was not an intended operation. The Government may undertake another serious operation if you are not giving out the land to UAE Company. The Government will start wildlife park area that will restrict pastoralism.”

Hearts on Shelves

When cases of people being buried alive arise in our countries the immediate question that we ask is; where are our Leaders? But the most sober question that many people would pose is whether the security personnel have any sanity at all? Mining companies are getting bold as days go by but our leaders have decided to keep mum.

In Tanzania we recall the Bulyanhulu case and Barrick and the Tanzanian government are still in denial. As we read the Press Statement below, let us join hands and never relenting until justice comes in our land – mother Africa...

NCOM Press statement

We members of the National Coalition on Mining (NCOM) from Chirano, Obuasi, Kenyasi, New Abirim, Bibiani, New Atuabo near Tarkwa, Prestea, Mpatuom, and Accra attending its normal rotation meeting held August 13th, 2009 at Accra, Ghana wish to unequivocally condemn AngloGold-Ashanti (AGA) for allegedly burying alive 40 small-scale miners (galamseyers) at Blacks Pit near Obuasi, Tom Collins one of the abandon pits

On Tuesday August 11th, 2009, we learnt with shock and deep regret that the security personnel of AngloGold-Ashanti allegedly decided to burry alive 40 small-scale miners at one of the company’s abandoned pits at Tom Collins also known as (Blacks Pit) near Obuasi the Municipal capital in Ashanti Region of Ghana. We view the action of AngloGold-Ashanti as barbaric, high-handedness, torture and attempted murder of citizens.

The sad incident occurred when the small scale miners were in the pit trying to eke a living. While in the hole scooping earth in search of gold, the security personnel of AngloGold allegedly used a bulldozer to cover the tunnel. It took persuasion of some members of the community to get the security personnel of the company to open up the tunnel.

This incident reminds the Coalition of the general attitude of AngloGold-Ashanti in particular and large-scale mining companies in general to small-scale miners. This unfortunate incident and many others highlight the risks small-scale miners face as they have to take even more difficult and desperate measures to eke a living.

The propaganda that seeks to criminalise them is unhelpful except that it makes the big players such as AngloGold Ashanti play a game of good guys and bad guys in the media. This propaganda goes back to the days when companies such as Ashanti Goldfields, with the active support of the colonial government, expropriated citizens’ land in exchange for derisory payments.

The incident also highlights the very contradictory posture AngloGold-Ashanti and large-scale mining companies have towards small-scale miners. On the one hand, the large-scale companies profess to want to “help” small-scale miners while denying them access to mineral-rich sites.

In Obuasi and its environs for example, much of the agricultural lands and the potential sites for small-scale mining is occupied by AngloGold-Ashanti. All over the mining areas numerous small-scale miners have been pushed out of business by a strategy which is really about the protection of the “legal rights” and commercial interest of large scale miners while pious noises are simultaneously made about addressing the aspirations of small-scale informal miners.

The use this occasion to call on government once again to develop the small scale mining sector as strategic response to youth and rural unemployment.