Linda McQuaig – Canada mines African discontent

Linda McQuaigTanzanian uprising against Barrick Gold leaves seven villagers shot dead

Originally published in The Toronto Star
 

While Canadians may think of ourselves as best known for owning the Olympic podium, among Africans we may actually be better known – and not particularly liked – for owning their natural resources.

Once beloved on the continent, Canada is no longer so fondly regarded in Africa.

The new, less enthusiastic view of Canada was vividly illustrated last month when more than 1,500 desperately poor Tanzanian villagers picked up machetes, rocks and hammers and stormed the mining compound of Canadian-owned African Barrick Gold.

The uprising – leading to the shooting deaths of seven of the villagers by police and security forces at the mine – is a startling reminder that theories widely held in the West about the benefits of foreign investment for the developing world are not always shared by people on the receiving end.

In theory, Barrick’s arrival in the 1990s has been a boon to the Tanzanian economy, pushing it toward development.

In reality, Tanzania has collected only a pittance in taxes and royalties from Barrick and other foreign multinationals through contracts that are shrouded in secrecy. So, although it sits on massive gold reserves worth more than $40 billion, Tanzania remains one of world’s 10 poorest countries.

A 2008 investigation funded by Norwegian church groups concluded that Tanzania collected an average of only $21.7 million US a year in royalty and taxes on more than $2.5 billion worth of gold exported over the previous five years. The investigation also estimated some 400,000 Tanzanians, who formerly mined for gold with nothing but their own picks, shovels and ropes, have been left unemployed by the giant mining operations.

Two months after that report, a government-appointed commission headed by retired Tanzanian judge Mark Bomani strongly urged imposing higher royalties and taxes on the foreign mining companies.

With growing popular pressure for tougher legislation, the Canadian government intervened on the side of the multinationals, pressuring the Tanzanian government and parliament to oppose Bomani’s proposed reforms. Continue reading “Linda McQuaig – Canada mines African discontent”

Janice Williamson writes “the turquoise sea”: a personal essay on suicide and survivors

(First  published in AlbertaViews Jan/Feb 2010, this won a Silver Medal in the 2011 National Magazine Awards and was a finalist for the Jon Whyte Memorial Essay Prize in Alberta. This is a slightly revised version of the original publication.)
 

The Turquoise Sea


What are we whole or beautiful or good for
but to be absolutely broken.
                                           Phyllis Webb


As though nostalgic for his Manitoba boyhood, my father points to his beloved hunting rifle. Transforming his fingers into a silent trigger, he touches his temple and says, “Sometimes I want to take that gun off the wall and blow my brains out.”

My father’s eyes are hooded and dark as he shows me how the skin peels off the back of his hands. “Stress,” he explains modestly, his face lined with sleepless fatigue. I feel awkward in an unfamiliar living room. On this my first visit to the suburban house where my father lives with his new love and her two children, I enter his new domestic life like a visitor to a foreign country. Lost in the limbo of in-between, my father is caught in a long look back. It has been two years since my parents’ separation after decades of intermittent misery. Confused and ambivalent, he refuses to grant my mother a divorce.

Later he’ll call to tell me he loves me, but this morning he’s enmeshed in what ails him. New American owners have bought out the Quebec manufacturer that supplies snowmobiles to his Ontario distribution company. He predicts this change will shut down his business since local distributors become redundant when ownership is transferred south of the border. My father doesn’t tell me he has become a useless middleman. But I’ve studied political economy and know he’s another statistic in branch-plant Canada. Continue reading “Janice Williamson writes “the turquoise sea”: a personal essay on suicide and survivors”

writing the i in oil

the pomegranate Writes the “I” in Oil

Why “oil”?

This site and blog are based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, where the economy pivots on oil. I encourage contributors to reflect on the oil economy. How does it impact your everyday life? How do you think through sustainability in an oil economy?

This category “oil” slides into issues around the environment. But to write “oil” is to think about how we live and work. Who profits? How is our economy tied to it whether we live and work in Fort McMurray’s Tar Sands  or bicycle to work in Vancouver. Oil is what we take for granted. How does oil impact our lives? How we are implicated in it?  How do our workplaces benefit from it? The oil industry contributes millions to the workplace that puts a roof over my head.

How do we write ourselves in the oil economy. What is accomplished when bring this network of connections into the light?

How might things might be different? Continue reading “writing the i in oil”