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


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 CongrĂšs 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.



Tout sur MCM en 12 questions


1. Qui est MCM ?

L’exploitation du minerai de cuivre d’Akjoujt Ă©tait jusqu’en 2004 assurĂ© par la SAMIN et la GEMAK, date Ă  laquelle l’État mauritanien a cĂ©dĂ© l’ensemble de ses parts Ă  la Wadi Al Rawda Industrial Investments pour la misĂ©rable somme de 900 000 dollars.

En 2005, l’État  transfĂšre la concession de l’exploitation de la mine d’Akjoujt Ă  un conglomĂ©rat minier la MCM dont Wadi Al Rawda Industrial Investments dĂ©tient 19% du capital.

2. Qui sont les actionnaires de la MCM ?

La MCM est entiĂšrement dĂ©tenue par des capitaux Ă©trangers. Au dĂ©part, la sociĂ©tĂ© canadienne First Quantum Minerals Ltd disposait de 80%, la sociĂ©tĂ© Ă©miratie Wadi Rawda de 19% et la sociĂ©tĂ© australienne General Gold International de 1%. Mais ces actions ont Ă©tĂ© rachetĂ©es par La First Quantum Minerals lors d’une OPA sur les actions des autres entreprises. Lors de ce raid boursier, MCM a usĂ© de 63 millions de dollars pour parvenir Ă  ses fins. Pour information, l’Etat mauritanien n’a bĂ©nĂ©ficiĂ© d’aucun dollar de retombĂ©e de cette opĂ©ration

3. Qui est la First Quantum ?

La canadienne First Quantum qui dĂ©tient l’intĂ©gralitĂ© du capital de MCM est une sociĂ©tĂ© connue au niveau mondial par ses pratiques douteuses (exemple Zambie, RDC, Ghana, Sierra Leone
). Cette rĂ©putation repose sur son expertise en Ă©vasion fiscale et la transgression des lĂ©gislations nationales. A ce propos l’écrivain canadien Alain Deneault lui dĂ©cerne une couronne dans son ouvrage : «Noir Canada. Pillage, corruption et criminalitĂ© en Afrique».

4. Combien rapporte le contrat avec la MCM à l’État mauritanien ?

Le contrat avec MCM rapporte Ă  l’État mauritanien moins d’un milliard d’ouguiyas alors que la MCM engrange plus de 200 milliards d’ouguiyas. Cherchez l’erreur ! En somme, l’État reçoit 2 malheureux % de la production aprĂšs dĂ©duction de toutes les charges et autres coĂ»ts d’exploitation.

5. La MCM crée-t-elle des emplois ?

La MCM s’adresse Ă  des sous-traitants locaux, moins regardants sur les exigences en matiĂšre d’emploi. La MCM, en une pierre deux coups Ă©chappe aux charges patronales et sociales et dispose, abondamment, d’une main d’Ɠuvre discount sous payĂ©e et sur  exploitĂ©e.

Au demeurant, ceux qui y travaillent peuvent l’attester. Les conditions de travail ne sont accompagnĂ©es d’aucune mesure de prĂ©vention ou de prise en charge mĂ©dicale en cas d’accident malgrĂ© le maniement rĂ©current d’explosifs et l’usage plus qu’habituel de produits toxiques. Dans ces conditions le travailleur mauritanien de base peut trĂšs vite perdre la vie en essayant de la gagner.

6. L’État mauritanien peut il contrĂŽler les activitĂ©s de la MCM ?

C’est lĂ  oĂč le bas blesse. L’État mauritanien n’a aucun moyen lĂ©gal pour contrĂŽler MCM. Celle-ci est affranchie de tout contrĂŽle. Ses comptes ne sont ni vĂ©rifiĂ©s ni auditĂ©s. Ses activitĂ©s ne sont pas contrĂŽlĂ©es pour examiner leur conformitĂ© avec les exigences en matiĂšre de respect de l’environnement. La production de MCM n’est pas connue et l’on ne sait que peu de choses sur la quantitĂ© produite. L’entreprise opĂšre de maniĂšre mystĂ©rieuse et ses employĂ©s internationaux ne frĂ©quentent pas ces pestifĂ©rĂ©s d’ouvriers mauritaniens. Ils vivent en vase clos au point que tout ce qu’ils consomment est importĂ© d’Europe. Sans doute parce qu’ils en savent un rayon sur l’intoxication qu’ils infligent au milieu environnant. C’est en effet moins risquĂ© que d’ĂȘtre contaminĂ© par le cyanure ou l’amiante en consommant des produits locaux copieusement dopĂ©s par les nuages toxiques. Les informations dont disposent le gouvernement et sur la base desquelles sont indexĂ©es les royalties sont communiquĂ©es par MCM elle-mĂȘme. Les quantitĂ©s, la composition de l’or, les risques sur l’environnement
circulez y a rien Ă  voir. PriĂšre de se renseigner auprĂšs de MCM. Le gouvernement mauritanien   n’a pas accĂšs aux containers envoyĂ©s via le port de Nouakchott, ils sont scellĂ©s Ă  Akjoujt en prĂ©sence des expatriĂ©s exclusivement, aucun national n’est admis Ă  assister Ă  cette opĂ©ration. Le gouvernement ne connaĂźt mĂȘme pas destination finale des prĂ©cieuses cargaisons. De mĂȘme, certains secteurs des sites sont absolument interdits d’accĂšs aux  curieux mauritaniens.

7. Les activités de la MCM sont-elles dangereuses ?

Dangereuse, c’est peu dire pour qualifier MCM. Akjoujt est sans doute la ville la plus sinistrĂ©e de la Mauritanie, abandonnĂ©e par les siens, un lieu de passage express pour les autres, personne ne veut y rester plus d’une heure. Le climat et l’environnement sont peu hospitaliers, les braves habitants de ce bourg  en savent quelque chose, eux qui inhalent un air lourdement plombĂ©. MĂȘme l’eau est infectĂ©e. Si ce ne sont pas les employĂ©s morts de maniĂšre subite et suite Ă  des fiĂšvres mystĂ©rieuses, ce sont les populations qui souffrent de dĂ©mangeaisons et de troubles inexpliquĂ©s, ou bien les camelins qui sont dĂ©cimĂ©s par troupeaux entiers et de maniĂšre inexpliquĂ©e.

Il est aujourd’hui avĂ©rĂ© que MCM utilise des produits hautement nocifs dans l’exploitation des mines. Pire encore, elle dĂ©verse, Ă  ciel ouvert, les dĂ©chets toxiques dans des zones Ă  proximitĂ© de Nouakchott. MĂȘme les nappes phrĂ©atiques sont contaminĂ©es par le cyanure ou l’arsenic et autres  poisons aux noms exotiques. Il faut dire que MCM ne respecte aucun cahier de charges en matiĂšre de respect de l’environnement et agit en toute impunitĂ©, avec la complicitĂ© des plus hautes autoritĂ©s du pays, notamment le ministĂšre de l’environnement (sic) qui ne trouve rien Ă  redire. Au contraire, ses col-blancs d’experts s’évertuent Ă  vanter la qualitĂ© du respect scrupuleux par MCM de l’écosystĂšme.

8. La MCM a-t-elle contribuĂ© au dĂ©veloppement de la rĂ©gion d’Inchiri ?

Les principales victimes de l’exploitation forcenĂ©e des mines sont les habitants de l’Inchiri et la ville-fantĂŽme d’Akjoujt. Ce qui vous frappe Ă  votre arrivĂ©e dans cette ville c’est l’absence de signes extĂ©rieurs de la prospĂ©ritĂ©. Les retombĂ©es financiĂšres sont captĂ©es Ă  Nouakchott par la meute de courtiers et  intermĂ©diaires vĂ©reux..

MĂȘme la trĂšs longue et monotone route Nouakchott-Akjoujt qui devait ĂȘtre rĂ©habilitĂ©e au terme de la premiĂšre convention n’a bĂ©nĂ©ficiĂ© que d’un lifting, un vrai ravalement de façade. La convention stipulait que la MCM verserait une contrepartie financiĂšre de 1,5 millions de dollars par an Ă  l’ATTM. Celle-ci se chargera de rĂ©habiliter et d’entretenir la route. C’en est trop pour la MCM et il n’ya pas de petits profits. Pour se dĂ©sengager et ne pas payer cette contrepartie la MCM a mobilisĂ© ses redoutables rĂ©seaux Ă  Nouakchott. La convention est abandonnĂ©e au profit d’un accord signĂ© le 22 fĂ©vrier 2009 entre la Mauritanie et MCM prĂ©cisant que celle-ci devrait rĂ©habiliter 30 km par an, avec Ă  la clef la crĂ©ation de 140 emplois.

Mais la MCM se dĂ©robe et propose de rĂ©habiliter la route en utilisant un revĂȘtement (bicouche) de qualitĂ© mĂ©diocre et surtout pas cher du tout alors que l’accord Ă©tait Ă©tabli sur la base d’un revĂȘtement qu’on appelle « enrobé », plus cher, plus rĂ©sistant et surtout adaptĂ© aux tempĂ©ratures Ă©levĂ©es et Ă  un usage frĂ©quent tel que celui que les camions de la MCM infligent Ă  la route. Le ministĂšre de l’équipement Ă©tait dans un premier temps montĂ© au crĂ©neau en s’opposant Ă  cette modification. LĂ  aussi, MCM a su frapper aux bonnes portes et le mĂȘme ministĂšre a fini par se dĂ©juger, toute honte bue, et accepter comme par enchantement la solution « technique » proposĂ©e par MCM. Cela donne le rĂ©sultat que vous connaissez. Une route ennuyeuse qui ne ressemble Ă  rien, plus colmatĂ©e que rĂ©habilitĂ©e.

9. La MCM bĂ©nĂ©fice-t-elle d’avantages indus et injustifiĂ©s de la part de l’État mauritanien ?

La liste des « petits arrangements entre amis » est loin d’ĂȘtre exhaustive. Elle donne un tout petit aperçu des privilĂšges dont bĂ©nĂ©ficie MCM. Elle est exonĂ©rĂ©e d’impĂŽts sur le revenu des sociĂ©tĂ©s jusqu’au 20 fĂ©vrier 2012. Elle peut utiliser gratuitement le Port de Nouakchott, peut importer des Ă©quipements en franchise, exonĂ©rĂ©s de taxes douaniĂšres. La gĂ©nĂ©rositĂ© des nĂ©gociateurs de la convention n’a pas de limites

Par ailleurs, la MCM n’est pas tenue pour responsable de la dĂ©gradation de l’environnement rĂ©sultant des « travaux antĂ©rieurs ». Cette formule fumeuse figurant dans la convention permet de mettre tout sur le dos des  sociĂ©tĂ©s qui exploitaient les mines avant la MCM.  Et vous me direz qu’entre le passĂ©, le prĂ©sent et le futur, en termes de dĂ©gradation environnementales la frontiĂšre est difficile Ă  tracer. Allez « dater » le poison dans le sang d’un pauvre ouvrier et amusez-vous Ă  remonter Ă  l’auteur du crime.

Aussi, le nouveau code minier impose aux sociĂ©tĂ©s exploitantes de cĂ©der au moins 7 % de leur capital Ă  des nationaux ou Ă  l’État mais cette disposition ne s’applique pas Ă  MCM.

Certains experts considĂšrent la convention qui lie notre pays Ă  la MCM comme la plus avantageuse au monde pour une sociĂ©tĂ© de mines. Normal, que la MCM met les bouchĂ©es double et impose un rythme infernal de production et d’acheminement de containers  MCM comme si elle voulait Ă©puiser la mine sous la convention actuelle considĂ©rĂ©e par

10. Existe-t-il un lobby qui protÚge MCM ?

Il existe bel et bien aujourd’hui un lobby puissant qui protĂšge MCM ; On retrouve ses tentacules Ă  tous les niveaux de l’administration. Les rapports complaisants des ministĂšres des mines, de l’environnement, de l’équipement
 permettent d’apposer un label de respectabilitĂ© sur les activitĂ©s de la MCM. Des autoritĂ©s rĂ©gionales, en passant par les « pĂ©ages de police aux douaniers du port ainsi que les hauts fonctionnaires de l’État
toute cette armada est mobilisĂ©e pour protĂ©ger MCM qui sait se montrer trĂšs gĂ©nĂ©reuse dĂšs que le besoin s’en ressent.

11. La grÚve actuelle annonce-t-elle un tournant ?

Les travailleurs de la sociĂ©tĂ© d’exploitation des mines du cuivre d’Akjoujt (MCM) sont entrĂ©s dans une grĂšve dure le 21 dĂ©cembre 2011 pour exiger la satisfaction de leur plateforme revendicative en 21 points. La MCM ne veut pas ouvrir de nĂ©gociations et affiche un mĂ©pris ostentatoire pour les demandes sociales des travailleurs. Des consignes venant du sommet de l’État auraient Ă©tĂ© donnĂ©es aux autoritĂ©s locales pour faire Ă©chouer le mouvement et contraindre les travailleurs Ă  renoncer Ă  leur action. Autorisation de faire usage de tous les moyens : un peu la carotte et copieusement le bĂąton. Face Ă  ces manƓuvres pour les dĂ©mobiliser, les grĂ©vistes semblent dĂ©terminĂ©s ce qui peut constituer un tournant fatal pour MCM.

12. MCM  menace de quitter le pays, est-ce grave ?

Pour 2012 en guise de cadeau de dĂ©but d’annĂ©e, MCM agite l’étendard du chĂŽmage massif et menace de quitter le pays si l’on continue Ă  la contrarier. Ses dirigeants font du chantage en espĂ©rant plier les grĂ©vistes et pousser le gouvernement Ă  intervenir. Ils cherchent parallĂšlement Ă  discrĂ©diter le mouvement de grĂšve auprĂšs de l’opinion et que celle-ci se mobilise pour supplier MCM de rester, au nom des intĂ©rĂȘts vitaux du pays.

Eh bien non. Au revoir MCM, Dégage et surtout Merci. Merci de donner un peu de répit à notre sous-sol, notre biodiversité, notre santé.

MCM la porte de sortie, c’est par là !

فى ŰłŰȘين ŰŻŰ§Ù‡ÙŠŰ©

ۄ۰ۧ Ű°Ù‡Űš Ű§Ù„Ű­Ù…Ű§Ű± ŰšŰŁÙ… ŰčÙ…Ű± ÙÙ„Ű§ ۱ۏŰčŰȘ ÙˆÙ„Ű§ ۱ۏŰč Ű§Ù„Ű­Ù…Ű§Ű±

via 11 Tout sur MCM en 12 questions.

Mauritania Mining Secrets – Grave Excavations


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