“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.
The continued economic and ecological crises of recent years have again shown how economists and international leaders have overestimated the ability of markets to expand and self-regulate. In a finite world, dominated by a social imaginary of infinite progress and magically generated wealth (Comaroff, Comaroff 2001), the appropriation of resources and control over the commons are the reasons behind an increasing number of conflicts and structural inequalities (Strang, Busse 2011). To escape from the “specter of impoverishment fostered by unlimited growth benefiting only a few” (Nash 2006: 36), we need to critically rethink the relationship between societies and environments. As Melissa Checker (2009) has pointed out, anthropology can offer an important contribution to academic and public debate by inviting and inspiring an in-depth analysis of recent social and environmental changes. Continue reading
My recent start of new fieldwork in Suriname and French Guiana raises interesting questions about ‘entering the field’. How is it that the process of negotiating access to people and places is in itself a major source of knowledge about power relations?
The extraction of natural resources produces particular resource environments, or landscapes of resource extraction. These landscapes are dynamic systems that people try to influence, contest, operate within or benefit from. The pictures in this exhibition depict the wide variety of interpretations of `Landscape´.
Resources are all around us, they are in the screen you are now looking at, in the Olympic medals that have recently been generously awarded at the Olympics in Brazil, in the cars, bikes and trains we use to transport ourselves with and in the houses we live in. For many of us, resources are in the ground they are working on – digging, breaking, sifting, washing this ground in order to extract that valuable product, be it coltan, stone or diamonds – or operating machines, managing human resources, building mining infrastructure, functioning in the boards of companies and trading on the stock market. For others, resources are the reason for resettlement and dispossession, for conflict and for environmental disasters. In other words, resources and their extraction are a crucial daily reality for everybody, be it in the (potentially combined) form of production and consumption, as challenge and opportunity.
Sakolabada is a new town which completely depends on gold mining. Officially, it doesn´t exist, it doesn´t show on any official administrative map. However, in this non-existent town, life never stops.
In this film from July 2016, Sidylamine Bagayoko (University of Bamako-ULSHB) explores some of the urgent dynamics associated with artisanal gold mining and (informal) settlements in Mali.