Uranium mining leaves Kayelekera community destitute
…former mine employees wallowing in poverty
…natives cry foul over compensation issues
By Marcel Chimwala
There can be no development for indigenous peoples without their free, prior and informed consent and without them being involved in every step of a project. These fundamental principles are enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Despite hosting an imposing uranium mine which is so far Malawi’s largest investment in the sector, members of the community in the Kayelekera area in Karonga say they are wallowing in abject poverty as mining activities have brought more harm than good to their day to day livelihoods.
During a media tour of the Kayelekera area organized by a civil society grouping, Publish What You Pay Malawi, with funding from the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), the community members mainly complained of poor handling of compensation and labour issues by the government and the mine owner, Paladin Africa.
In narrating their ordeal, representatives of the Gondwe clan who were the native settlers of the mining site said that in 2006 they just woke up one day to receive a visitor who happened to be an official from Karonga District Council’s office instructing them to move to a new village site allocated to them as the government had earmarked their home area for mining activities.
It was a nightmare for us because we had to unexpectedly move to the new place about 5km from Kayelekera with all our belongings including livestock. The sad thing is that the soil at our original home was fertile that we never applied fertilizer in our maize gardens and there was also better grazing land for our livestock while in our new village, we have to apply fertilizer to our gardens three times a year which is expensive for us and we have also lost our flock of cattle due to lack of grazing land,
said a clan leader Hayson Gondwe, who claimed to have lost 38 cattle, 30 goats and herds of pigs.
Hayson said 12 households were displaced and government only gave K80,000 to five families which was even quite inadequate to compensate for the losses associated with the displacement from their ancestral land now hosting the mine.
His sentiments were echoed by Gracious Gondwe who said the gardens at their new home, Mbutuka Village, are not productive as the soil is sandy.
When we were at Kayelekera, we used to harvest enough for consumption and sell the surplus. This is not the case here because the soil is sandy and infertile so we have annual food shortages and we are failing to pay school fees for our children since we depend on the sale of agricultural commodities as a source of income,
He also said the family left fruit trees at Kayelekera which cannot grow in the sandy soils of their new location.
Gracious further claimed that Paladin promised to build the displaced families decent houses at their new location but never fulfilled the promise.
We were surprised that we were just forced to move from our original houses to temporary shelters made of stems and mud to pave way for the mine. Government never evaluated our property for compensation purposes and we signed no documents to that effect. These grass-thatched shelters never lasted a month before they fell. We have, therefore, struggled to build new houses as up to now Paladin’s promise to construct houses for us remains a pipedream,
Another descendant of the Gondwe clan, Stuart Gondwe, said the other issue of concern is that Paladin never retained anyone of the Gondwe clan as an employee of the company although its Kayelekera mine was constructed on their ancestral land.
He said, in his case, he was employed as a watchman at the mine with a K10,000 monthly salary but claimed that he was dismissed after only six months.
Surely, I have nothing to show as a benefit from the mine. This mine has only added more miseries to my life and that of my family,
Their new home is 5km from Kayelekera Primary School and children going to school cross four rivers without bridges.
Another member of the clan Maskin Gondwe told the visiting journalists that such a situation makes it difficult and risky for the children to go to school especially during rainy season when rivers are flooded.
It was better when we were in Kayelekera Village, our original home, as it was close to school. In the current situation, our children cannot concentrate in class because they are always tired of travelling over the hills,
Maskin said in order to address the situation, they tried to construct a grass thatched junior primary school at their new location with the hope that Government and Paladin would support the initiative and come up with a better facility but their plea for assistance was met with deaf ears.
He also complained that it is difficult to get patients including pregnant women to the hospital from their new home which is far away from the main road to Kayelekera mine.
Maskin and his septuagenarian father Hayson were initially employed by Paladin as a driver and security guard respectively, as part of the deal for the family to relocate, only to be unceremoniously sacked six months down the line.
But the misery associated with the government’s poor handling of mining issues at Kayelekera is not only confined to the original inhabitants of the mining area. The mine’s ex-workers are also feeling the pinch.
A sad story is of Maneno Kandulu Milanzi who worked as a cook at Kayelekera mine for 10 years starting from 2007 and has now lasted 1-year and 4-months without employment.
Milanzi, who is originally from Mangochi, said he only received K680000 as terminal benefits when he was retrenched last year.
I left Mangochi to seek employment at the mine because I thought that my economic status will improve as has been the case with my colleagues from Mangochi who worked at mines in South Africa and are now rich. But alas, this mine has not benefitted us retrenched workers!
Another retrenched worker Alice Munyenyembe worked as a cleaner at near-by Malcoal mine for 8-years then Kayelekera for 4-years but is still living in a grass-thatched house just as several other Kayelekera retrenched workers.
National Coordinator for Publish What You Pay Cynthia Simkonda said the suffering the people of Kayelekera are going through is all because of poor governance of the country’s mining sector due to inadequate legal provisions.
The country needs legal provisions that will empower and protect communities in mining areas from exploitation.
Thus when the government grants a licence to an investor to pursue a mining project, the community has to be consulted and must be allowed to take part in decision making on every step of the project.
Community Development Agreements must also be legally binding as reflected in the Revised Mines and Minerals Bill yet to be enacted. We urge government to fast-track the enactment process for this bill.
Simkonda is advocating for the Malawi Government to uphold the concept of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) which is a specific right that pertains to indigenous people and is recognised in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
FPIC allows indigenous communities to give or withhold consent to a project that may affect them or their territories and once they have given their consent, they can withdraw it at any stage.
Furthermore, FPIC enables the communities to negotiate the conditions under which the project will be designed, implemented, monitored and evaluated which is embedded within the universal right to self-determination.
In addition to empowering communities to take part in decision making on mining projects, Simkonda said Malawi needs to incorporate specific provisions that protect mine workers from exploitation in its laws.
The calamities Paladin’s retrenched workers at Kayelekera Mine are facing are an indication that in most cases, working for a mine cannot be a lifetime job so there is need for government to ensure that there are specific laws that ensures better working conditions and packages including terminal benefits for mine workers,
Kayelekera community proposes enactment of EITI legislation
…demands allocation of mine revenue proceeds for local development
By Chiku Jere
Members of the community surrounding the Kayelekera Uranium Mine in Karonga have proposed the need for Malawi to enact an Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) legislation that will provide legal enforcement for adherence to principles of the global standard on transparency and accountability in oil, gas and mineral resources governance.
The call was made when representatives of a civil society grouping Publish What You Pay (PWYP) Malawi with funding from Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (Osisa) went to the area on a fact-finding mission as to whether the project has benefitted the people of the area or not.
The members of the community, who were sensitized on EITI issues by PWYP Malawi, said enactment of the EITI legislation will help uphold transparency and accountability, which are lacking at the Kayelekera Uranium Mine, the biggest mining project in Malawi’s history operated by Paladin Africa Limited, a subsidiary of ASX- and TSX-listed Paladin Energy.
If the Kayelekera people’s wish is granted, Malawi will join neighbouring Tanzania, Liberia, Nigeria and Ukraine that have enacted dedicated EITI legislation.
The community members said that they believe such legislation will play a role in ensuring compliance with EITI requirements by companies engaged in exploration or mineral extraction and relevant government agencies, which are mandated to timely provide accurate information for the EITI annual report.
PWYP and EITI are some of the commonly used approaches to transparency and use what is commonly known as the pillars of change to advocacy along the whole extractive value chain, from licensing, production to revenue management.
PWYP National Coordinator, Cynthia Simkonda, said in its initial MWEITI Report, the Malawi government published revenue it received from Paladin, and PWYP wanted to know if that money has had any impact on the livelihoods of the Kayelekera community.
So we took the report and enlightened the people of what the document was all about. We made them understand issues of transparency and accountability in the sector and how they can hold authorities accountable,
She said it was after being sensitised that Kayelekera village groupings called ‘Reflection Action Circles’, whose main objective is to allow communities consensually reflect on the impact of the mine on their lives and make informed demands vis-à-vis their rights and needs, were formed.
It is through group reflections that the community is now making demands for an EITI law, because they believe that adherence to requirements of the initiative’s process will ensure transparency and accountability,
Simkonda urged authorities to take the Kayelekera people’s demands seriously as they are the ones that have experienced the impact of the mining activity.
The community also demands an insertion of a legal provision in the EITI legislation and Mines and Minerals Bill that ensures mandatory allocation of a certain percentage of reported revenue to a community where the mining activity is taking place to finance development activities.
Village Development Committee (VDC) chairperson for Kayelekera-Mwenechanga area Edward Kapondi Sichinga explained that they are making such a demand because it is the only way mining areas would be assured of benefitting from mining investments.
Despite being subjected to numerous livelihood disturbances such as loss of farming land, displacement of villages as well as environmental damage, 10 years down the line, there is little we can point at as benefits from this so called largest mining investment in the land,
However, he said blaming Paladin alone will be unfair, because they were brought to the area by government.
Government needs to also own this mess as it could have put conditions in place to prevent the abuse that people have suffered
Joining Sichinga in condemning government was Welani Mweso, Chairperson for Uwembe Village-based Tikondane Reflection Circle who said officials botched everything during the mining contract negotiations.
They could have facilitated a binding development agreement between the community and the company to ensure that the area attains tangible benefits from this investment. This is why there is need to put measures in place to prevent this from happening again,
He said most of the development infrastructure that Paladin put in place were substandard and incomplete, citing the collapsed and washed-away bridges and an Under Five Clinic that has no doctor, medicine, equipment supplies and furniture.
This clinic which is in a state of non-operational remains a telling symbol of promises and lies that people of Kayelekera have been fed with for years by authorities,
said Mweso, an assertion that was cheered by women present during the meeting.
The clinic issue triggered emotions from the women, who had initially remained quiet, to start adding their voice to the contributions.
I was present when council officials came on December 7th last year and promised that, within a week, a doctor, drugs and necessary furniture will be supplied to the clinic, but it has now been months of waiting,
Hilda Maluwa Gama said.
Her contribution emboldened other women and one after another they rose to speak, with most of them focusing on the clinic issue.
Wyness Mkonda took a swipe at Paladin and Government for conducting a handover ceremony of the clinic to the community before it was completed wondering why a whole high-level delegation from government and the company would travel all the way from ‘wherever they hide; gather members of the community, and literally lie to them’.
I was also here when they handed over the clinic and I find their lies demeaning and disrespectful towards humanity. Imagine being told to leave your chores, to attend to a ceremony which you thought would address our crucial problems once and for all, only to discover later that it was all lies? We really feel insulted,
Delays in operationalising the clinic implies that the Kayelekera people continue to travel a 7km distance to seek medical services at Wiliro Health Centre.
The only personnel at Kayelekera Clinic is Blessing Chikwera, a Healthy Surveillance Assistant (HSA) who only plays the advisory role to community on health issues as he is not qualified to perform medical duties.
The area really needs a fully functional medical facility because there are a lot of health issues here. Sometimes, I am forced to attend to patients, though that is not my line of duty, but as someone who cannot stand to see people suffering, I just improvise,
In his remarks, Village Headman Fologo said the Kayelekera Uranium project, which has been touted by some quarters as a ‘big thing’ that has ever happened to Malawi, let alone his area, has proven to be nothing, other than a rip-off of land, livelihood and dignity of his people, whose impact will remain forever.
Let me tell you that for us there is nothing to tell about the investment, but only misery, betrayal and insult to our dignity as a people,
the visibly exasperated traditional leader, who was flanked by colleagues, village headmen, Nyirenje and Chisulo said.
Like all speakers, Fologo, had no kind words towards government and the area’s elected representatives whom he blamed for being responsible for what he described as the ‘Kayelekera social mess’.
For God’s sake! Do they hate us that much? How could they play dumb and deaf to our suffering?
The community has since agreed that the re-opening of the Kayelekera mine, currently on ‘care and maintenance’ since 2014, must now depend on the signing of a government-facilitated and binding community development agreement between the people and the company.
Simkonda said PWYP Malawi, a campaign run by a coalition of 16 organisations drawn from 33 Natural Resources Justice Network (NRJN) member-organisations that advocate the following of paper trail of the payments made to government by extractives sector companies, will continue conducting public awareness activities on EITI issues in Malawi, so that citizens’ understanding of the is reasonably improved.
We very much support the community perspective on EITI to be backed by a legal provision that will empower communities in mining areas to demand part of revenue the government has generated from a mining project in their area for local development.
We want to avoid situations like that of Kayelekera where the government is not showing interest to provide the necessary amenities such as water, electricity, drugs and a medical practitioner to have the Health Centre, which was constructed by Paladin, up and running. This is despite the EITI report showing that the Government has been collecting money in form of royalties, taxes and licence fees from Paladin.
This piece was initially published in Malawi’s Mining & Trade Review Issue Number 60 (April 2018).