Will discovery of minerals benefit the local community? By GASIRIGWA SENGIYUMVA, 25th June 2010 @ 03:35 TANZANIA is a country endowed with a wealth of minerals, including diamonds, gold, cobalt, copper, nickel, platinum group metals, silver and Tanzanite, a gemstone unique to Tanzania. There are also enormous deposits of unexploited iron ore and coal and now various exploration activities have shown that there is enough amount of uranium beneath the soils that farmers work on.These minerals are all over the country, from the shores of Lake Victoria to those of Lake Tanganyika, from the plains of southern highlands to the shores of the Indian Ocean, and of course from the northern part of this country to the central plains of the land. In fact, there is everything in abundance on and in the soil the people live on and till and in there, are more than just fish in the waters that the country has been blessed with. The good thing about this country is that, if a certain region isn't blessed with good soils and reliable rainfall, it instead has precious stones beneath the surface. One of those regions is Dodoma. The region has a semi-arid type of climate which means it receives very little rainfall throughout the year. The main economic activities are basically agriculture and livestock keeping. One can imagine the dependency on such activities with such a hostile climate. No wonder food shortage is a constant visitor to the natives of this land. However, in recent years nature has revealed that God, whoever he is, has blessed the land from within its soils and thus if that blessing is properly harnessed, the dependency on agriculture and livestock for the livelihood of people could face a new turn. One of the blessings is a completely new type of ruby material that has been discovered at Winza-Mtakanini area, in Mpwapwa District. It is known as Saphire or Red Diamond. According to several mining websites, these rubies are of exceptional beauty and are already in the Asian and European markets. Faceted Tanzanian rubies of over 10ct are fetching extremely high market prices. Hundreds of dealers and miners are heading to this new mining site everyday. The rubies are of excellent colours and exceptional clarity. ''Significant numbers of unheated rubies appeared on the Thai market. Parcels that have been acquired from these new occurrence contained synthetic rubies and first samples of heat-treated rubies appeared in the market as well. Beside rubies, blue sapphires, orange-pink sapphires (padparadscha) and colour-changing sapphires were found'', reads a line in one of the Switz mining reports. This was the first report in the literature on the properties and identification of the new ruby material from this mine in the country. But what puzzles stakeholders most about this whole issue is that, while the authorities are still negotiating to offer titles of land and licences to prospective miners, the gemstone is already in the market abroad. One could imagine the amount of revenues the country is losing as a result of this. According to Dodoma Regional Commissioner, Dr James Msekela, there are over 500 pieces of land in the area but only three tracts are believed to be highly yielding. He says there are still problems in the area that's why officially, mining hasn't started. He says confusion appeared when other people were given licences to operate but found small miners already occupying the area and are adamant to quit. He says the current mining policy gives advantage to small miners and, ''our focus is to enable them do the job, but there are problems to be solved. Safety of both miners and investors is given first priority in the area'', he adds. Another sensitive and precious resource found in the region, is Uranium. Explorations have revealed its availability in Bahi district but challenges are already underway even before mining activities commence. According to the people of the area, there are some pressure groups and others operating on individual basis that go around telling them that once the mining activities start they will be evicted from their homes and that the mineral itself was very dangerous to peoples' health. ''It is true that there are people scaring others about this whole thing. They exploit peoples' ignorance on the issue to their political advantage'', tells Dr Msekela. He says the word exploration needs to be explained to people even before the actual process is done. In order to show commitment on this, his office invited experts from the Tanzania Atomic Energy Commission (TAEC) to explain the whole thing to various local leaders who will in turn create awareness to those areas where the resource is. ''The way it is right now, it is safe but people need to understand that this mineral is special. It could be used for power production just like water and coal. It only needs extra care to handle. I'm a scientist by profession and I have been teaching on power plants for years. I know what I'm talking about'', affirms Dr Msekela. Mining accounts for about 3.2 per cent of Tanzania's GDP and 3.6 per cent of its total tax revenue. The mineral sector also contributed 52 per cent of total exports, with gold representing about 90 per cent of mineral export value. Despite the sector's potential to fuel rapid economic growth, there are widespread concerns that minerals have not contributed enough to improvement in the lives of the poor, particularly for those living around and near the mines themselves. The gap between the sector's financial success and its uncertain benefit to citizens' lives has made the national role of mining highly controversial. For over a decade, many Tanzanians have believed the sector disproportionately benefits foreign mining companies rather than the locals. This climate of distrust has only been exacerbated by the fact that the mining contracts and development agreements have been withheld from public scrutiny, and by the government's recent failure to enforce environmental law despite environmental hazards around the North Mara Gold Mine in Tarime district. There also has been constant chaos between small miners, authorities and investors in Geita in Shinyanga. This could possibly be the reason why it is still not safe to start official mining activities in Mpwapwa and it could be the same sentiments haunting stakeholders in Bahi. In 2006, the government conducted an in-depth review of mining contracts to assess why revenue from mining activities was so small. As a result, contracts were re-negotiated, companies agreed to pay 200,000 US dollars annually to local authorities, in addition to a three per cent royalty to the central government on the value of exports. Another important milestone was the formation in 2007 of the Presidential Mining Review Committee, known as "Bomani Commission." Some of the commission's recommendations formed new mining policy of 2009 and newly-passed 2010 law. Analysts say as new minerals are discovered countrywide, so do the new contracts to be signed. An extra care needs to be taken when handling this if the country has to benefit from its own resources. ''There is a need for the government to use the feasibility studies that companies present to the banks as collaterals in the same manner in controlling our mines'', says Prof Abdul Mruma from the Geological Survey of Tanzania. According to him, this is a scientific study that shows how companies are going to work and benefit. ''We will then monitor both their income and profits. It's easier to work out if there is a loss'', he says. Daily News | Will discovery of minerals benefit the local community?