Manganese: Burkina Faso’s New Resource Curse

Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world. Many of its children are forced to work. (Photo: Eric Montford / Flickr Commons)

A Nationalist Impulse?

Just a few months after a long-lasting and corrupt government was swept from power, in March of this year (2015), in Burkina Faso, the country’s transitional Minister of Mining and Energy suspended a major mining contract with Pan African Minerals at Tambao, forcing the company to stop operations there. Missing from most press explanations as to why the suspension order was issued was the growing local opposition to Pan African Minerals’ practices. On February 17, 2015, a march in protest was initiated by people in the vicinity of Markoye, the town closest to the mine, seeking Tambao mine operation stoppage until further notice. More than 3,000 local people participated. They opposed the company’s environmental practices (explosions, dust) as well as the fact that the company had reneged on its promise to employ at least fifty locals in the work there and to involve the local community more in the mines’ plans. They demanded that the operations of the mine be completely shut down until these issues were resolved.

The February 17 protest was under the leadership of the region’s youth,  JUDECOM, “Jeunesse Unie pour le Développement de la Commune de Markoye” (Youth United for Markoye Development), a local social action group that has won the support of many.  More than 3,000 people participated in the demonstration which resulted in some property damage to the mine. The mine management fled. From all appearances, it was primarily in response to this local mass action that the new transitional government of Burkina Faso decided to suspend the mine’s operations.

Then, just a week ago, on December 18, the suspension was lifted. It is not clear how many of the local concerns were addressed and/or corrected by either the Burkina Faso government or Pan African Minerals. A new government, the result of recent elections, headed up by the country’s new president Roch Marc Christian Kabore, is to be installed on December 29, and this might have been a key factor in the reversal. No doubt the temporary suspension played well with the country’s current wave of nationalist fervor which swept long-time ruler and close ally to France, Blaise Compaoré, from power.

Was the suspension a part of  a new wave of economic nationalism suggesting that the post-Blaise Compaoré Burkina Faso government was about to take tighter control of the country’s resource production, mined overwhelmingly by foreign mining companies? Or was it something a bit more cynical on the part of the country’s transitional Minister of Mining and Energy? Was the new energy minister just showing that he now is the “new boy on the block” who needs to be wined, dined and otherwise well-greased in exchange for mining contracts as others had been before him? If so, it would not be the first time that a new African political leadership, and especially its minister of mining and energy, was bought off, lured by foreign bank accounts, European shopping sprees and some of the world’s finest and highest-paid prostitutes.

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