When your world turns upside down

I will go there, and they will kill me. Or I will go there, and I will get my gold,” Joseph said. “It was a war now. When the police would come to the village, we came out of our houses with machetes, spears, and bow and arrow.”

Imagine your entire world changed in just 50 years. The Kuria tribe in Mara, Tanzania, transformed from a proud but isolated group of warriors, farmers, and herders into the center of a booming metropolis, complete with smart phones, motorcycles, and TVs. The revolution, brought on largely by the opening of gold mines in the area, has ushered in both incredible opportunity and profound violence.

In 2008, for example, about 200 people broke into the North Mara mine site, set it on fire, and destroyed $15 million worth of property.

The reasons for violence are complex – corruption, the community’s lack of awareness of their rights, and a huge influx of people looking for better lives. Many schemed to make it rich by building around the mine, believing the company would have to buy their land for expansion. But it didn’t happen. Despite the fact that the company now operating the mine, Acacia, spends $10-15 million a year to build schools, develop job skills, and promote economic activity, many people in the area remain extremely poor.

Joseph, like many, gave in to the lure of quick riches. The community became obsessed with gold, as if there was a pile of money on the other side of the mine wall and just a policeman with a gun standing in their way. They had to get it. When his friends decided to raid the mine, Joseph joined in. But an open pit mine is dangerous; you can die in a landslide. Conflicts between the raiders and the security grew intense, with death and injury on both sides.

Can you see how bad it was?” Joseph asks. “My mind was very hard, and nothing could change it. I was a leader among the intruders. I was one of the best.”

In 2011, Search started changing that dynamic of violence. First, we brought the community, government officials, police, and the company together for long, often heated, meetings. People needed a chance to speak out, be heard, and begin to listen to each other’s point of view. Our team offered a safe space for that. Then we gradually asked people to find solutions that would respect the rights of all.

Search showed us a different way to solve conflicts – to sit together and discuss a solution that both can accept. They showed us that conflict does not need to mean violence.”

quote_03 (1)“We had destroyed so much. So we left our machetes.” Joseph found a better way to make money off the mine. He sells soft drinks and drives a motorcycle taxi – not glamorous, but he provides for his family. “I realized that we don’t have to wait for a change – that we can do it ourselves. That feeling of self-determination, it made me happy.”

Joseph also begged his friends to put down their weapons, stop the intrusions, and be productive. “Joseph, you’re our leader,” his friend replied. “If you really have decided not to raid again, we will also stop.” As the trend spread across the community, their relationship with the police changed dramatically:

Before, we were avoiding each other, but now we can exchange greetings. Now there is safety,” Joseph observes.

Beyond economic, social, or political empowerment, the ability to solve problems effectively and without violence has proven the most powerful force for good in North Mara. Real progress has happened toward a relationship benefiting both the mining company and the community, here and around two other mines.

We each have this power for positive change in our lives.

Thanks for making these victories possible!