Time to extract responsibility from the African mining industry – by Samantha Nutt (Globe and Mail – August 22, 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.

Samantha Nutt is executive director of War Child and author of Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies and Aid.

Few things rankle Canadians like a debate about the mining industry. Perhaps it is because 70 per cent of the world’s mining companies are headquartered here, and throughout this lingering global recession we have enthusiastically (yet graciously, we’re Canadian after all) hitched ourselves to the resource economy wagon. It has protected us with titanium-grade, cadmium-laced, copper-plated armour from Wall Street’s profligacies. And from Greece. And from having to conjugate “austerity” as a verb.

But mining is, in the most literal sense, a dirty business. You cannot pan for gold and not get muck under the nails, as a poignant feature story by Geoffrey York examining the rampant exploitation of children in mining reminded us. It provided a moving portrait of children working as artisanal miners in one of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s many open-pit calamities, risking their lives with each toxic breath. The mine is owned by Vancouver-based KICO – not the “surface” rights to the land the kids scavenge, but the minerals beneath their shoeless feet.

I too have spent time in Congo. It is beautiful and heartbreaking, inspiring and terrifying. More than five million people have died in its protracted, merciless conflict. And at the heart of it all, like a bloated, beleaguered and degenerate Colonel Kurtz, lies Congo’s mining industry.

Mining in Congo fuels life almost as quickly as it snuffs it out. The linkages between cause and effect are not always direct, lost in an Athenian web of corrupted officials, ruthless militias, arms dealers and middlemen. For years, this sordid state of affairs invited neologisms for inaction such as “complex” and “local ownership of the process” (which, over the length of Congo’s history, has never occurred).

But pressure on the mining industry – from campaigns such as Global Witness and the Enough Project, to policy initiatives such as Dodd-Frank in the U.S. – are forcing the conversation. And the natural result of these conversations, as anyone reading about child miners would rightly ask, is: What can be done?

In the first instance, it must be acknowledged that stopping injustices is not the same as solving them. Children in mining often prefer the backbreaking tedium of scrounging for coltan to the mordant fear of traipsing through the bush slinging an AK-47. In a subsistence economy, the only future that matters is the one on your plate. And for every revenue stream that closes, a more sinister one opens.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/time-to-extract-responsibility-from-the-african-mining-industry/article4492385/

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