The Week in ‎Mauritania – 6 July 2013

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Roundup of news and images from Mauritania during the week ending 6 July 2013

4 July 7 Ndb youth march to Nkt again
7 youth who set out on foot from Nouadhibou almost 2 weeks ago are within 50km of the presidential palace in Nouakchott. They are marching to protest the marginalisation of youth, and have the support of their peers back home in the nation’s economic capital. 

Scandals are plentiful in Mauritania, and the past week yielded a bumper harvest, from the Minister of Culture being dismissed after a fraud investigation opened into her husband’s affairs, to the resignation of a director of the mining company SNIM. One which almost escaped attention occurred the previous week; a meeting between the president, one of his lawyers, and a former French judge who was himself embroiled in scandal. This meeting (pictured below) led to much speculation about the “Mamere Case” and “GhanaGate”: Aziz was described in a TV interview with French journalist and politician Noël Mamère last year as a “drug lord”. The Mamère statement came to light at the start of 2013 and eventually – after certain damaging recordings allegedly between Aziz, one of his ministers, and an individual in Ghana were released by local media – Aziz decided to sue Mamère for slander, according to news reports.

27-06-2013-Aziz meets former French judge

An officer on his way to work at Dar Naim prison in Nouakchott was reportedly the victim of an attempted kidnapping by a group of people thought to be friends or relatives of one or more jailed Salafists.

A talented high school student put on a one man show to draw attention to the visual arts.

A young visually impaired man with a verbal agreement to work for Radio Mauritania was dropped at the last minute because of the political views he shared on Facebook.

Ministers have agreed a draft agreement to finance a school in Mauritania for specialist training in mining and metals in a partnership agreement between national mining entities, foreign mining companies, and the World Bank. The timing of this decision is interesting because on 30 November 2010, Kinross Gold announced a $10 million budget to be spent over a period of 3 years on this project, saying at the time:

“The Mauritania Mining School will have two campuses, located in Nouakchott and Akjoujt, and will focus on developing both technicians and engineers for careers in the mining industry. The three-year technician program will focus on mineral technology, and will be based in Akjoujt.

The five-year engineering programs will focus on management of mineral resources and on electro-mechanics, and will be based in Nouakchott. At full capacity, the school is expected to host a total of 340 students and to graduate 50 engineers and 30 technicians annually. The school is scheduled to start up in 2013-2014.

Planning for the school is being coordinated by the Mauritanian Mining School Implementation Unit, under the direction of an Orientation Committee comprising all major stakeholders in the project, including government, mining companies, and other project contributors, and overseen by the Mauritanian Ministry of Mines.”

President Aziz has been touring the country in what is widely considered an early start to campaigning ahead of the long overdue parliamentary elections, currently rumoured to be in planning for October. The media has obediently trotted behind the Aziz entourage, yet few journalists have noted the low turnout compared to previous outings. They have also avoided mentioning the president’s health issues, which this tour has made glaringly evident. Arriving late to scheduled appearances is nothing new, but when he does finally show Aziz is visibly pale, his movements slow and hesitant, and there are occasional delays as he appears to adjust what is assumed to be a colostomy bag under his garments. At every location, requests for an audience have been refused and other arrangements cancelled as the exhausted head of state is whisked away without explanation.

On the link below, blogger Moulay Abdallah concludes that Aziz is risking his life for political gain.

It is worth noting that the voter registration process which started in 2011 is still incomplete, and there seems little likelihood of establishing a legitimate election within the next few months.

Demands for drinking water and electrical power erupt wherever Aziz plans to visit, but gendarmes were dispatched to remove protest banners and empty water containers placed along the road near Rosso. This is the same route Aziz took on his last visit to Rosso in 2012, when activists from the 25 February movement famously created a string of graffiti images saying simply “Leave”. The group has since established branches in different regional capitals, which manifested in protest during the current presidential tour.

كثبان اترارزة تقول "ارحل" وستقولها هضاب تكانت والعصابة وغيرهم .. ارحل تلاحق عزيز أينما حل وارتحل

Some news oddities from last week include self-promoting script kiddie “Mauritania Hacker” (aka @An0nGhost) being interviewed. I have seen tweets of the link with text describing his antics as a global “cyberwar” defending Islam against the West, which is laughable considering he is an indiscriminate defacer of random websites who occasionally posts information from previous hacking claims lifted from pastebins etc, and edited or photoshopped to look current.

Let’s bear this in mind as we see increased claims about the activities of an Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) franchise in Mauritania.

For good measure, we can add bold assertions that Ansar al-Sharia is also now mobilising people to demand the application of Sharia law. As @HannahHaniya put it “Ansar al Sharia in Mauritania and mosques call for sharia. I don’t see how Mauritania could be any more Sharia-compliant than it already is.”

In other news

  • A woman with a degree in International Law was appointed to head the national TV station, prompting her to resign from the ruling political party.
  • Ramadan is almost upon us, and some poor families have been given charitable aid, while all families are now seeing prices of food and other goods increase in the markets.
  • There has been some good rainfall in rural areas, bringing hopes of a second consecutive year with a good agricultural harvest, and encouraging herders about grazing and watering their livestock.
  • The first batch of Malian refugees has returned to Goundam, near Timbuktu. About 100 people from 20 families left Mauritania, with assistance from UNHCR.
  • The Aziz tour sparked a series of competing political meetings and rallies all over the place. There’s a larger rally planned for Sunday 7 July by the Coordination of Democratic Opposition parties (COD). It will beinteresting to see what kind of turnout they get.
  • All of the above has been somewhat overshadowed by the consistently high level of interest within Mauritania for events in Egypt this past week, which has seen several protests – the largest in favour of Morsi, and the usual ream of statements commending or condemning the actions of the military.

#Mauritania’s MCM: Digging for minerals, burying the truth

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High on the very long list of taboo subjects in Mauritania is any shadow of doubt or suspicion concerning the cash cows of the mining industry. A recent post highlighted just some of the issues with Canada’s Kinross Gold. Now it’s time to put First Quantum Minerals‘ subsidiary Mauritania Copper Mines (MCM) under the spotlight. The Guelb Moghrein copper-gold operation near the town of Akjoujt in Mauritania, 250 kilometres north-east of the nation’s capital, Nouakchott,  is 100% owned by MCM.

Buried Truth

Friends transport murdered mining worker Mohammed Ould Machdhoufi’s shrouded body

The problem is not that no one dares to speak out about the unfair recruitment practices, inadequate labour conditions, low rates of pay, corrupt financial dealings or environmental pollution; it is that whenever anyone does try to confront these issues, they are ignored or silenced. And that includes being killed in cold blood, which is what happened to Mohamed Ould Machdhoufi, when the national guard staged a dawn raid on a peaceful sit-in by MCM copper mining workers, killing Ould Machdhoufi and wounding several others. The authorities infuriated people by declaring the cause of death to be “unknown”.

Mining workers’ union rep Ethmane Ould Kreivit

First Quantum Minerals of Canada, then aggravated the situation by issuing a press release that made no mention of the death or injuries, and claiming the strike was illegal. Several workers, including union leader Ethmane Ould Kreivit, were attacked in a subsequent protest, and jailed for several days. On his release, the union leader was prevented from entering the workplace. When agreement to return to work was finally reached, MCM deducted more days’ pay than had been lost. Mr Krevit was then sidelined from official meetings and unfairly dismissed. He is now in the process of taking legal action against MCM and remains one the most active and engaged union leaders in the country.

Health Scares

Injured MCM mine worker Mohamed Ould Khatari

A general and persistent lack of concern for worker health and safety is illustrated by the case of MCM mine worker Mohamed Ould Khatari, who developed painful skin lesions after being exposed to a powdered chemical at work, and was told to take a couple of painkillers. Additional risks to the environment and the health of the local population and livestock can not be ignored. There are reports of elevated incidence of maternal and child heath problems, including miscarriages, infant deaths, asthma, headaches and other debilitating illness, among the population close enough to the mine to be affected by soil, water or air-borne toxins. Several herds of camel have been wiped out by sudden and mysterious fatal diseases. The typical response to these problems is to repeat benevolent-sounding statements reminding us that MCM has built a hospital or that the government has plans for veterinary care provision. But the hospital stands empty, and the sparse veterinary care is restricted to vaccination programs against cattle disease, not treatment for arsenic, cyanide or other chemical poisoning.

Conspiratorial Cover-up

Typical scene from the MCM mining dump near Akjoujt

As an example of the system’s obvious compliance in covering up valid concerns, I cite the example of an unresolved court case brought against MCM five years ago for creating an environmental hazard. The court ordered an investigation by three experts but mandated the plaintiff to bear the entire cost – an unprecedented situation. According to the lawyer for the case [ar], Ahmed Ould Mohamed Lemine, the medical expert refused to prepare a report at all, and was openly supportive of the defendant,  MCM. However, the agricultural expert presented his findings, which established the presence of contamination in the region, and negligence on MCM’s part to enact safeguards to limit the spread of toxins, but his report was ignored by the authorities. The lawyer points out that this report also reveals that there is no environmental strategy or plan in place, despite claims that US$925,000 has been allocated to post-operation restoration.

The third expert identified risks from industrial wastes but required further laboratory analysis which is not available in Mauritania. No further action was taken because no one is willing to bear the costs. The president of MCM, Philippe Pascal, had promised in June 2012 that an environmental study would be published within two months. The report has not materialised. As I write, the 2nd Mauritanian Mining & Oil and Gas Conference & Exhibition opens at the Palais des Congrès in Nouakchott. I hope the delegates from MCM and Kinross will attend Wednesday’s sessions on the importance of health and environmental safety.

Silenced Voices

Consider the current campaign initiated by activists wishing to bring these issues to the attention of the country, the region, and the world. They devised a week-long “blogathon” which has received numerous mentions from certain news sites in Mauritania, but not in the sites that carry advertising paid for by MCM or Kinross, and none from sites owned or operated by the “big tent” elites who also benefit from patronage of these major foreign companies.

Al Jazeera, Radio France International and Reuters have all confided in Mr Lemine that the state refused to grant them permission to visit either MCM in Akjoujt or Kinross Gold in Tasiast. He regards this as significant and potential proof, not only of the existence of problems and scandals, but of collusion between the mining companies and the state.  As for rest of the international media, it’s the same as any other week. If it doesn’t concern a terrorist threat or a Libyan fugitive from justice like Al Senussi, no one is interested. But from an ecology, environment, or labour activist standpoint, these mining companies are also terrorists and fugitives from justice in their own way.

 

Disturbing Mining Sector News from #Mauritania

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Some news stories caught my attention today, each relating to mining in Mauritania, which is a major source of income for the country, although only a tiny fraction of the revenue finds its way to the impoverished population.

First, a report [ar] that there are hundreds of unexploited areas of mining potential which have been discovered by surveys – as many as 900 – with less than 300 licences granted so far. The report also claims that contributions from mining have increased by 16%

The next story [ar] is of SAMIA gypsum mine workers appealing to an industry watchdog to investigate the reports made by their employers of profits, which the workers say are inaccurate. The workers believe the joint operation, which is 50% owned by an investor in Kuwait, has made a loss, and that this is attributable to fraudulent practices. They say the Q1 reports were based on erroneous data supporting a 20 million MRO profit when in fact it should register a 60 million MRO loss, and that they have documented evidence of these allegations. Sahara Medias adds that the reporters wanted to contact the company for comment but were unable to find a telephone contact. By common accounts, this is a fairly typical situation for notoriously corrupt Mauritanian commercial dealings: it was described to me as “business as usual”.

These stories brought to mind Kinross Gold’s claims that the strike action which ended a few days ago was causing them to lose vast sums of money, amounts which would transform Tasiast into a far more valuable operation than it is in reality. Interestingly enough, Kinross shares nudged up a little on the news. We know that Kinross was in difficulties after it’s takeover of the Tasiast mine and has written off part of the purchase, which included a massive payout to at least one former director, who was retained as consultant. The $11 billion Canadian company has lost some $3 billion of its worth since the start of 2012 and is embroiled in alleged violations of securities laws, leading analysts to speculate the company may succumb to hostile takeover bids.

Injured MCM mine worker Mohamed Ould Khatari

Finally, there is the sad case of a worker from the Akjoujt mine operated by MCM who was exposed to toxic chemical powder at work and was given only rudimentary treatment (the exposed skin was washed with water). He eventually reported MCM to the gendarmerie for negligence after they refused to send him for a spcialist consultation. He was then sent for medical treatment, but the doctor just prescribed a topical antibiotic and told him to take Paracetamol for the agonising burning pain still affecting his arm, which is covered in irregular lesions.

Mauritania Mining Secrets – Grave Excavations

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Mcm

Mauritanian Copper Mines (MCM) says that the need for expansion of operations in Akjoujt requires excavation of new areas to act as a dumping ground for chemical waste products: scrap metals that have been processed with chemicals, including arsenic.

This situation caused MCM to expand on the west side of the plant, a region where scattered groups of graves are located, according to a survey.

The desecration of graves during an excavation project by a mining company in Mauritania has caused a great deal of controversy and ill will towards the company. (Al Arabiya)

The desecration of graves during an excavation project by a mining company in Mauritania has caused a great deal of controversy and ill will towards the company. (Al Arabiya)

The desecration of graves during excavation operations by MCM in Mauritania has infuriated locals and placed the company between a rock and a hard place as rights organizations threatened the exposure of health and environment violations.

Residents of the Inchiri region in western Mauritania have recently opened fire on Mauritanian Copper Mines after it dug into several graves and moved their contents without their knowledge.

In response to the accusations, the company stated that surveys and studies revealed that several parts in the Inchiri region are rich in copper and gold. These parts, they added, had several scattered graves ─ mostly of nomads and shepherds who died on the way to another destination ─ which is why it is difficult to find their families and obtain their approval.

The company then submitted an official request to the Ministry of Oil and Mining to excavate in this area and dig into the graves. The ministry referred the request to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs for religious advice regarding the desecration of the graves and which, in turn, referred the issue to the Mauritanian Islamic Scholars Union. The final verdict was that digging the graves was permissible as long as it will be done for the sake of public interest.

Despite getting official permission, the company started its excavation in absolute secrecy for fear of infuriating the residents in the area or in case any of the deceased’s families are still around.

Local authorities formed a committee made up of a representative of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, a doctor, a clerk, and manual laborers. Since the beginning of November, the committee has been overseeing the transfer of the contents of the graves in the area in which the company will start its excavations. The company was also planning to pay compensations for any of the families of those buried in the graves in case they still live in the area after the transfer was over.

However, the committee’s hopes to accomplish the mission discreetly were dashed when the media got wind of the grave digging process and Mauritanian public opinion was outraged by such an unprecedented action.

The desecration of graves is new to Mauritania even though it is quite common in other Arab countries, said researcher Mohamed Olu Adomo.

“Some countries allow construction operations at grave sites to solve population problems and make new lands available to people who have nowhere else to go, but this is not the case in Mauritania,” he said.

Olu Adomo explained that Mauritania is full of sites that are rich in several kinds of metals, so there was no necessity in choosing regions that house graves for excavation. Mauritania is an Islamic Republic over a million square kilometers in area and has one of the lowest population densities of any inhabited country in the world.

“Graves are sacred and they are the property of those buried in them. They should never be desecrated and their contents cannot be transferred unless it is an emergency.”

Olu Adomo pointed out the difference between bodies that have turned into dust and those whose remains still exist and said that only in the first case can digging be done, and then too, only if cause for necessity is established.

“Digging into graves with remains will terribly hurt the feelings of the deceased’s family and will violate the sanctity of the dead body.”

The grave digging incident opened a Pandora’s Box for the copper company and other mining companies as activists and non-governmental organizations launched a campaign to expose the violations committed by those companies.

Campaigns focused on the chemicals and toxins those companies use or leave behind and which have serious, sometimes fatal, effects on the people, the environment, and livestock.

Activists who led the campaigns referred to reports issued by several mining and environment experts and which accused mining companies of violating international standards. This, they said, especially applies to the methods those companies use to dispense of their waste and the way they turn areas of land to open waste dumps. These practices, researchers point out, have detrimental effects on arable land and potable water.

Mauritania is known for the abundance of metals in its land. Last year alone, 11.1 million tons of iron, 330,000 tons of copper, and 7.311 tons of gold were excavated.

The number of companies working in mining in Mauritania has reached 55, granted a total of 197 excavation permits.

Main story translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid for Alarabiya

Additional information tranlsated by lissnup from original article by Mohamed Abdel-Kader, Akjoujit in ani.mr