[C]onservation is not a priority….. they [Frelimo] want economic growth at any point. So if they find …… coal and gas and other minerals it doesn’t matter where they are found, their priority is to develop those industries and I think they will worry about ecosystems ……. as an afterthought. Right now their main focus is growth, economic growth. (Interview with government official, discussing the governing party’s view of conservation in the context of a resources boom, 14 May 2014).
Politics, says anthropologist James Ferguson, is about getting what you want. And the practice of politics is about engaging particular strategies and discourses – ‘arts of government’ – to achieve particular ends. During fieldwork in 2013 and 2014 in Mozambique, I spent time with conservationists who were increasingly anxious about the country’s resources boom. Extractives-based accumulation is currently intensifying throughout the country, and sites frequently overlap with conservation areas. For example, the Cabo Delgado gas fields lie largely within WWF’s Rovuma Basin Bioreserve. In Niassa National Reserve, widely viewed as one of Mozambique’s most important protected areas, there are rumours of an alteration to the reserve’s boundary in order to permit ruby mining. In the Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve (PPMR), where I spent six months, there has for several years been the threat of a deep-water coal port, with significant ecological consequences for the marine reserve.
July 4, 2012 (Santa Cruz el Quiché). The CPK (K’iche Peoples Council) is attacked by armed individuals during a peaceful manifestation, saying they are looking for Lolita Chávez, environmental human rights activist.
July 22, 2016 (Guatemala City). Seven ancestral authorities from Santa Eulalia who were detained because of their advocacy against two electric power dams in their community, are released from prison after sixteen months of detention.Continue reading
On February 2, 2017, Philippine Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, who has the full backing of the country’s controversial president Duterte, announced the closure of 23 large-scale mining operations. Two weeks later, on February 14, she announced the cancellation of 75 large-scale mining contracts, as a “valentine’s gift to the people”. These decisions followed a 6-month long environmental audit, which revealed that these operations were in severe violation of environmental laws. This, in itself, should not come as a surprise in a country that is infamous for its stringent laws, and for its inability – or unwillingness – to enforce them. What is surprising is that this administration seems hell-bent on enforcing the law, with the risk of alienating powerful domestic and foreign mining interests. So, how to make sense of this seemingly dramatic turn of events?
The sun was glittering on the Goulbourn River. The cicadas were loudly calling in the 40 degrees heat. The constant hum of their mating song intertwined with the sound of my two sons, trying to cool down in the lukewarm water. Looking upstream, Paul (a pseudonym) sighed. ‘There never used to be water in the river on days like today. The river would be dry during summer. Now, the mines are discharging over 19 megaliters per day! The water is clean enough but there’s just too much of it. The mine manager says “its just water” and, whilst one part of me agrees the other disagrees. It’s not just water. The river has changed, the flow has changed. Nothing is the same.’ Continue reading
“More studies, more studies! Ok, it is necessary to do those studies, but to what end?!” Carlos (a pseudonym) was furious. It is October 2016 and one of my first discussions with Carlos in which I ask him about his opinion on a critical report of Oxfam on the living conditions in Mualadzi, a resettlement area where 736 households have been relocated for a coal mine of the Australian company Rio Tinto (later taken over by an Indian consortium called ICVL) in Moatize, Tete province Mozambique.
Only recently, Tete was described as the “El Dorado of coal” (Kirshner and Power 2015) and with grant investments by companies such as Vale and Rio Tinto it was seen as the start of Mozambique’s promising extractive future. Yet, due to the low coal prices, transportation difficulties and, more recently, a series of attacks on coal trains by armed combatants, the boom has turned into somewhat of a bust. Nevertheless, the impact of the coal industry in Tete is tremendous and the involuntarily resettlement of thousands of people is one of its more controversial consequences. The governance practices that surround these dislocations are a topic of my research on the extractive industry in Tete, hence my discussions with Carlos, a reassentado (resettled person) from Mualadzi, about the Oxfam study.
When starting fieldwork in the Emiliano Zapata community in the state of Veracruz, Mexico in 2016, I was mainly interested in conflicts about hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking” – the practice of fracturing the subterranean rock deep below the surface to extract oil and/or gas. Fracking has been a topic of concern in Mexico since the approval of a series of constitutional amendments in December 2013 known as the Mexican Energy Reform. This reform, which enabled foreign investments in oil and gas exploration and production, led to a growing number of fracking projects in the country. However, the last decade has seen more and more conflicts related to fracking, especially regarding its environmental impacts. Fracking is said to trigger seismic events and major ground water and air pollution, thus damaging flora, fauna and the population living near fracking sites.
Recently, Burkina Faso celebrated the second anniversary of its popular uprising on 30 and 31 October 2014 that put an end to the Compaoré regime after 27 years. Parliamentary and municipal elections were held in November 2015. The new government under President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and Prime Minister Paul Kaba Thiéba faces a number of daunting challenges and expectations. One of the challenges is a reorganization of the mining sector. According to a report published in October 2016 by a parliamentary commission of inquiry on mining titles and the social responsibility of mines, the Burkinabè state suffered a profit loss of almost a billion US dollars between 2005 and 2015 due to corruption, mismanagement and speculation in the mining sector.
Each year in the Autumn, London’s Geological Society hosts ‘FINEX: Exploration Meets the City’ in their well-appointed premises on Piccadilly. Perhaps more than any of the other similar events hosted year-round in the City of London’s livery companies and Chambers of Commerce, FINEX epitomizes the commercialization of geological expertise upon which mineral exploration depends. Partly a matchmaking event for financiers and geologists, FINEX also includes seminars from lawyers who advise on the key ‘political risks’ facing the metals and mining sector, or provide detailed advice on navigating the mineral codes of newly attractive ‘frontier’ jurisdictions. Alongside the networking and the expert briefings, FINEX and events like it always make plenty of time for the spectacle of the investor pitch.
“REZEKI: Gold and Stone Mining in Aceh” was produced jointly by SEATIDE and the University of Milano-Bicocca. The 52-minute film is based on Giacomo Tabacco’s and Silvia Vignato’s research, respectively, on gold and stone mining and on marriage and labour in West Aceh (Indonesia). It is about seeking fortune and fast money in post-tsunami, post-conflict and resource-rich Aceh. It is a choral description of the relationship between a female-centred, matrifocal agricultural work and landscape (which includes men’s work too) and the obstentatiously male risky work of gold miners, up in the mountains, in the pits compounds where women are banned. It is, therefore, a film about young men desiring success and girls, and young women laughing about them. It is also a vision of landscapes of different resources.