From hostility to hope in Tanzania’s gold mines

by Richard Omanya and Natalie Rowthorn

on September 6, 2017

Inspector Revocatus K. Munyaigara followed his childhood dream of becoming a police officer. Growing up reading crime novels by British writer James Hadley Chase, he decided he would don the uniform one day. Thanks to his parents’ support and his education, his dream came true.

Today, Inspector Munyaigara is married, has four children of his own, and is the Second Officer in Command in the Criminal Investigation District in North Mara, Tanzania. But the reality of police work is different from what he imagined; justice isn’t always served in the clear-cut manner of the fictional heroes of his childhood readings.

The Inspector has seen violence between police and civilians with his own eyes. At the center of it all stands Tanzania’s most precious economic asset: gold.

Tanzania is Africa’s fourth largest gold producer, and North Mara is an area rich in gold ore. The Acacia Mining corporation is the largest gold miner in the country, managing many extraction sites in North Mara. While mining is one of the most thriving sectors of the Tanzanian economy, it’s also one of the most controversial, and hostile relationships between local government, citizens, and mining companies are not uncommon. The tensions often give rise to clashes between security forces and intruders. The latter are often disenfranchised citizens, living in poverty, who take up arms and resort to stealing gold from the deposits.

In North Mara, human rights abuses, violence, and loss of life have impacted the lives of people in many local communities. Inspector Munyaigara says that since Acacia began its operations in the area, intruders armed with traditional weapons such as machetes and spears keep coming to the mining sites, seeking gold ore. When police forces arrive on the scene, they are often armed with deadly weapons themselves. Many have lost their lives in the ensuing fights.

The inspector struggled to cope with this growing problem. He was constantly on high alert, knowing that anything could happen at any time and that his officers were always at risk of injury.

Our program completely changed the way the Inspector’s division works.

The situation seemed hopeless until our team stepped in. In May 2016, we launched a new local training project, Tuunganishe Mikono Kwa Maendelo Yetu, or Let’s Join Hands for Our Development. Its goal is to end the violent clashes and facilitate peaceful interactions in North Mara. Our strategy is to promote positive long-term relationships between the community, law enforcement, and Acacia at the local and district levels. We also aim to provide platforms for dialogue and collaboration around the mining issues.

Our team on the ground is focusing on implementing conflict resolution trainings to teach government officials, police, mining industries, and women and youth how to deal with conflict constructively. We are also partnering with the Voluntary Principles Initiative to promote the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, a collaborative program involving NGOs, corporations, and governments that advocate for the inclusion of human rights protection in the code of conduct of security forces.

These trainings transformed how Inspector Munyaigara and his fellow officers confront the mine intruders, including how they handle the use of deadly force. “Following Search’s training, we’re always trying to use alternative methods to reduce casualties, such as the use of tear gas and water cannon,” he says.

In late June 2017, hundreds of villagers armed with weapons invaded the mines, resulting in 66 arrests and the injuries of several police officers called to the scene. The situation, Inspector Munyaigara said, was dangerous. That day, he was on duty and responded quickly to the invasion, yet he and his subordinates did not forget their training.“As an inspector in charge I could have given an order to the police officers to force,” he explained, “but I knew it was not within the human rights standards.

According to the Inspector, before the training began, the police in North Mara frequently used deadly force. Now, officers are expected to adhere to human rights standards and uphold the Voluntary Principles. Communication platforms between Acacia and the community itself are also strengthening.

Although the training workshops take time and dedication, the Inspector says that in addition to improving operations within the police, they have also created positive change in his social life on a personal level. “I take into consideration the rights of every individual,” he adds proudly.

Inspector Munyaigara knows that despite the tremendous progress made in the last year, there is more work to be done in his community at large. He wants to extend the police training from those deployed in the mines to others throughout North Mara. Every officer, he says, must protect civilians, be an example for others, and become an advocate against human rights abuse at work and at home.

Richard Omanya is a Program Manager at Search for Common Ground, based in Tanzania.
Natalie Rowthorn is a New Media Intern at Search for Common Ground, based in Washington, D.C.