Social Development and “Good Neighbourliness” in Mineral Exploration and Mining
By Ignatius Kamwanje
When a large, anticipated mining enterprise is in the development stage, its promoters generally believe that the world will welcome the project with open arms. Increasingly that is not the case in reality.
Mineral exploration and mining companies, because their projects occur in remote parts of the world, have been lately receiving this message. A few celebrated mining cases in the past years have changed the dynamics. People who live in the vicinity of mining projects may or may not be delighted by the prospect of a steady income. In fact, some will fight, with activism, weapons if required, to protect their way of life. It is a new world out there than one can imagine. Exploration and mining companies need to think outside the box here because some communities are very hostile.
In response to this, exploration/ mining companies must be much more sensitive to their neighbours and start much earlier in the development cycle to explain what they are doing, what they are prospecting for, how they are doing it, what they plan to do during an exploration or mine life, etc. Everyone likes a good neighbour and with mineral exploration/ mining team carrying weird and strange looking equipment in the field, being the first time, they are not good neighbours at all to the surrounding community.
There are so many questions banging in the heads of the anticipating, affected communities than answers. It must be borne in mind that the first impression to the local communities when an exploration project starts or takes centre stage with geologists moving around in the neighbourhood/vicinity with their weird looking equipment not forgetting a geologist hammer and a Brunton compass, they think it’s the beginning of the mining activities thereby expecting social developments instantly. Practically, this is not the case at all and with the arrival of the drill rig during exploration phase, the communities think that it is the beginning of ore extraction for export while amazingly admiring sample bags filled with drilled material. Of course they are left puzzled if they are told that such tonnes of extracted material are scheduled for export only to be assayed outside the country for analysis. They will still ask why such type of analysis cannot be conducted right here in Malawi, others even asking to be present when assaying.
Again, when they are told that for every 100% of sampled material assayed, there will only be 1% of ore recovered leaving 99% as waste material and thrown away, they do not believe such a cryptic calculation appearing as a jigsaw puzzle to them. What they know is that the company is depriving them of their resource in the name of samples thereby turning it into a resource curse.
Therefore, the development of a good neighbour relationship clearly must change as an exploration project changes. But being a good neighbour starts as soon as the exploration team is in the area and not when the drilling rigs, bulldozers, mobile cranes and earth moving equipment start to show up to ruin the view. This is what is not necessarily shared by all on the ground when the team shows up in the remote setting where the mineral resource could be a breakthrough for the communities.
Exploration projects must be undertaken with the view that “If we leave the area because we don’t find any minerals here, what kind of foot prints do we wish to leave behind?” So what does this mean? Certainly it means explaining to people what is being looked for (mineral prospecting), the role played by the geologists/prospectors because they will be met by the local people in the bushes who might think they are soldiers parading as guerrilla fighters, what the weird looking machines/ instruments do, how long the project shall take, what steps/ measures shall be undertaken if an ore body is discovered or not, how the company plans to communicate with their neighbours, how will the communities be affected, how the environment may or may not be affected, what noise may be generated etc. It is not difficult per se but it is a requirement and needs someone to pay attention to it – of course this entirely means spending some money to make this a reality and surely, the community needs scheduled awareness meetings.
When mineral exploration occurs in areas of poverty – which normally covers most of the known world – there is a need to be a good neighbour in a way that disciplines the other neighbours not to keep asking for handouts. Again, it is a process and when people realize they have to make their requests for money in writing they soon stop making the requests unless it is for serious business. And then there is an obligation to help. An example is one of exploration projects elsewhere where they budgeted some money to the local community. They purchased boxes of condoms to be distributed to the community to combat HIV/AIDS and STI, they recruited equal numbers of women and men (local villagers as labourers) as part of gender integration, they purchased equipment so that the local clinician could assess pregnant women, they purchased tricycles to be used and distributed to the disabled, a loudspeaker for the local school so that large assemblies could be held and more pupils enrolled, a cement floor for the local primary school, contributions of prizes for the local activities just to mention a few. This was entirely made to establish good neighbour philosophy. Mining companies believe in conducting business in a manner which achieves sustainable growth whilst demonstrating a high degree of social responsibility. This approach creates a source of competitive advantage for the business. However, to achieve this, the responsibility encompasses interaction with market place, the community, environment and the employees. Demonstrating commitment to So c i a l d e v e lopme n t a n d g o o d neighbourliness is a journey, in the course of which they aim to align business values, purpose and strategy with the social and economic needs of stakeholders, whilst embedding responsible and ethical business policies and practices into everything they do. On the other hand, effects on local communities may not always be positive. Discoveries of deposits and the arrival of a mining company can cause major shakeup in the rural community.
There will always be potential conflict between mining company and local community. As real or imaginary income opportunities become more attractive than traditional activities like agriculture, the discovery of a nearby deposit may trigger a lot of imbalances that may result when the mineral commodity becomes a parallel local currency. By embracing Social development and good neighbour philosophy, mining companies open doors to new markets, opportunities and relationships, increasing competitiveness and financial sustainability and demonstrating continued commitment to sustainable development. So if social development is handled properly from the beginning of mineral exploration, it will be pretty much looked after by the time the feasibility study starts and everyone will be comfortable with the prospect of a new and larger neighbour. In fact, if it is really done right then the company’s “good neighbours” will defend the project when some inevitable Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and activists show up as is always the case. For an exploration/mining company to embrace good social development and neighbourliness, the following are some of the most important aspects that can be of importance:
~ proactively assess and manage impacts of the environment to the good neighbours (the community).
~ further develop standing as a responsible organization in the community with reference to previous projects that the company carried out elsewhere that were/are successful.
~ benchmark and evaluate what they do in order to constantly improve their services and improve the performance of Social Development.
~ commitment to full legal, international Standard compliance in what they do.
~ incorporate, provide a safe, fulfilling and rewarding employment to people surrounding the project area to give them sense of belonging/ownership.
~ develop community programmes which support its brand values and further promote recognition as an active contributor to local community development.
In essence, social development and good neighbourliness are the elements of the feasibility study and must be integrated into the project economics and tied up in the project deliverables in the cycle.
The Author, Ignatius Kamwanje, is a Consulting Geoscientist with experience in Mineral Exploration, Mining Geology, ESIA, Ground water Resources and Occupational Safety, Health and Environment. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org – 0999216869.
This piece was initially published in Malawi’s Mining & Trade Review Issue Number 54 (October 2017).