Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Uranium for the Rich, Contaminated Land for the Poor

Photo: Sun setting over Lake Tanganyika, Kigoma, Western Tanzania

The announcement that Tanzania has substantial deposits of uranium may or may not be good news. The country already exports a lot of gold but receives little benefit from this. There are so many subsidies and benefits for foreign miners operating there and so little capacity for enforcing proper overview of what is being extracted and exported that the only people who benefit are the big mining operators themselves. Employment in mining has dropped to a fraction of previous levels, so the industry probably represents a net loss to the country.

Why should uranium mining be any different? Large scale mining will employ very few people, will be capital intensive, will cause a lot of environmental damage, the usual story. There is a lot of talk about new laws but it is more likely that the mining operators will be allowed to come in, take what they want, do as much damage as the always do and leave the mess for Tanzanians to clean up or put up with. All the good resolutions being made now about proper regulation mean nothing when countries like Tanzania have virtually no regulatory power because of ubiquitous excuses such as the need for 'deregulation' and 'free markets'.

Countries like Tanzania need regulation and they need to be able to enforce regulation to protect people from the sort of exploitation that they have suffered since the beginning of Western invasions of the African continent. If the market is to be free, Tanzanian mining operators, ones owned by Tanzanians, not just with a few Tanzanian board members, need to be able to avail of the benefits that foreign miners receive. And the country needs to be able to audit operations to the extent that they get their fair share of royalties and other levies. So far, large scale extractive industries have only benefitted rich people and big companies while the majority of poor people lose out and end up worse off than they were previously. Sphere: Related Content

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