In West Africa, a Canadian mining company pioneers ‘the new humanitarianism’ – by Geoffrey York (Globe and Mail – March 21, 2012)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

BURKINA FASO – Mining company boss Steve Letwin was ecstatic when he struck a precedent-setting deal with the Canadian government to work together on a training project for African youth. “I think it’s the model of the future,” says the president of IAMGOLD Corp., the Toronto gold miner that operates the biggest mine in the West African country of Burkina Faso.

Many aid experts are less thrilled by the controversial $7.5-million deal between IAMGOLD, the Canadian International Development Agency, and private aid group Plan Canada. They say the miner’s partnership with CIDA amounts to a taxpayer-funded benefit for a highly profitable corporation.

But like it or not, this may be the shape of things to come. The United States has done 900 such deals between its official aid agency and private companies. Now Canada is heading in the same direction, with four similar projects in recent months. “Welcome to the new humanitarianism,” says one of the skeptics, Toronto physician Samantha Nutt, founder of the aid group War Child.


In Burkina Faso, impoverished parents are desperate for training programs for their unemployed children. “Some of our children just get lost,” says Asseta Ouedraogo at a community meeting in Korsimoro, a village where the Canadian project is likely to operate. “They walk around from person to person, doing nasty things,” she says.

A buzz goes through the meeting, and one man speaks up. “People are shy to say it, but the word is ‘prostitution,’ he says. “Our children just go anywhere and get in trouble.”

After her 12-year-old daughter dropped out of school, Ms. Ouedraogo tried to help her to sell peanuts and snacks in the village. “She disappeared, she never brought back the money, she got lost for days,” she says.

The villagers have gathered at a vocational school that could benefit from the Canadian project. The school is so under-equipped that its 37 students must take turns with the sewing machines and motorcycle repair tools on which they are training. Classroom benches are old and broken, some classes must be held outdoors, the school has no running water – and there’s a waiting list of 50 children still hoping to enroll.

Across the country, most children drop out of school at an early age. About 1.2 million children from the ages of 9 to 14 are out of the school system completely. Thousands end up working in informal gold pits, digging for tiny flecks of gold in crude holes that can collapse on them. “They do dangerous work and even die,” says one father, Moumouni Sawadogo.

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