A silver lining in gold mines

Tanzania’s rich natural resources are more a curse than a blessing. Mining brings corruption, insecurity and inequality. Many actors are working to improve the raw materials sector.

For several years, the mining sector in Tanzania has been growing rapidly. The gold regions of Mwanza and Arusha in northern Tanzania are teeming with small and medium-sized, manually operated mines. Almost one and a half million people depend on gold mining. State regulation of this sector is largely non-existent, and most mines are run informally by families or untrained officials. The result is outdated infrastructure, glaring inequalities and difficult and dangerous working conditions that harm the workers and the nearby population.

Modern-day misery

The miners, women and children are the first victims of this lack of regulation. Céline Krebs, a member of SWISSAID Geneva, has visited four mines and is shocked by the “modern form of slavery” that she has seen there. “Men lay exhausted on the bare ground after hours of digging for just a few grams of gold in the narrow and stifling gangways.” Some distance away, on the perimeter of the mines, young women purchase ore deposits from the miners. They use their bare hands to dip the ore into vast pits of mercury, so risking their health and the environment.

Responsible mining is emerging

Despite the lack of resources, the poor conditions in the mining sector can be avoided. Nsangano gold mine is one of the first mines in Tanzania to operate according to fair trade standards. Here, the workers wear proper clothing, gloves and protective masks; the infrastructure is sound, child labour is banned and the wages are better. SWISSAID aims to support the development of responsibly managed mines such as Nsangano, so contributing to a better life for the people in and around the mines.

This is part of SWISSAID’s new project for more responsible mining in Tanzania. In 2017, activists, experts, parliamentarians, members of government and civilian society as well as representatives of the major mining companies held two conference meetings. The participants agreed on a variety of fundamental reforms. A working group was also set up with representatives of the key mining sector, state and civil institutions to finalise and submit these reforms to the government and enforce them.