Mining companies operating in developing companies face a variety of inherited issues that worsen over time. As mines change hands, problems are passed on rather than addressed. Security problems, which could be easily solved if tackled at the outset, often intensify and become intractable. If a malevolent attitude toward a mine is allowed to develop in the local community it can be very hard to shift and can lead to extremely damaging consequences for the mining company on both a financial and reputational level.
Risks for mines in developing countries
One gold mine in East Africa has a staggering 10,000 to 20,000 trespassing illegal miners (TIMs) per month entering its site. This caused major financial loss and posed a serious challenge for the mining company’s security operation. Illegal mining has now taken root and become a prominent form of unofficial local employment.
The trespassers are coordinated and sometimes armed; they have inside knowledge of the mine and step up their illegal mining accordingly. The revenue from the stolen gold is now so important to the villagers who live near the mine that they are prepared to risk their lives trying to obtain it.
Trespassing and theft are not the only problems foreign mining companies can face in developing countries. Disaffected local communities can cause a mine to close, either through sabotage or protests. Rebel groups in politically unstable countries commandeer mines. Companies must anticipate risks and develop an adaptable security strategy.
Holistic, integrated security strategy
It will take more than a ramped up security program to reverse such trends. The mining company will need a holistic, long-term strategy that centers on better integrating the mine into the community.
Part of this strategy must, of course, include a comprehensive review of the current security measures. But it is imperative this is done in conjunction with successful community outreach programs.
An integrated security model brings together protective security services in the form of access control and law enforcement response and private security, together with community engagement and outreach. Security actions must be tightly governed by the rule of law and underpinned by Voluntary Principles of Security and Human Rights.
But the most important tier of defense will come from the community itself. The mining company’s strategy must engineer a change in attitude towards the mine’s role in the community. This multi-faceted approach requires a long-term commitment from all parties involved.
The re-introduction and regulation of artisanal mining at a mine in East Africa provides an example. This mine is in a region where artisanal mining was prevalent long before foreign companies began their excavations. When the mine was first opened, the locals lost their livelihood and saw their gold being taken away by foreigners. In meetings between the mining company, the local government and the villagers, lack of employment was identified as the root cause for the illegal mining. Now, as part of the new overall strategy, the mining company is encouraging local artisanal and small scale mining (ASM) and working with the government to regulate it.
The best laid plans…
Yet even plans with good intentions and community involvement can cause disharmony. This has been particularly apparent in some poorly executed localization programs foreign mining companies have tried to introduce. The locals do not receive sufficient training and mentoring and therefore do not perform their tasks to the high standard expected, which breeds discontent and mistrust. The solution is a sustained skills transfer program of training and mentoring, but this requires continuity so it can be difficult to achieve if a mine frequently changes hands.
Community programs can also suffer from legacy issues. Projects are begun but not completed when the mine changes hands or the mining company is let down by their local government partners. The companies build schools but the classrooms remain unfurnished; new clinics receive neither doctors nor medical supplies. Because their needs are poorly understood, the community is left feeling disappointed and disillusioned.
Mining companies that have inherited such legacy issues must formulate a strategy to unpick the problems one by one and weave the solutions back into the cloth of the community. Although the problems are complex, the solutions are often simple and mutually beneficial to the locals and mining companies.
For example, another mine, again in East Africa, provided seeds, plants and farming advice and equipment to the local villagers. They learned to successfully farm various fruits and vegetables, which they then sold back to the mine. Local employment was provided and the mining company no longer had to ship in fresh produce.
Clearly initiatives such as this are not standalone solutions but part of a holistic, integrated approach to enable a mine to create its own eco-system and a thriving community around it. In order for a mine to be truly successful in a developing country, like any country around the world, it needs to be not only welcomed by the local community but to provide it with a vested interest in its success.
By Zoe Magee, Assaye Risk