They say that mining companies go to corrupt countries and therefore can’t help but play the corruption game. However, the reality is that mining companies corrupt countries. The modern mining industry is a neo-colonialist entity if ever there was one.
The history of mining over the last five hundred years has been directly tied to colonialism and imperialism. The miners come with the scientists, the soldiers, and the priests. The soldiers break the people’s bones and the priests break the people’s spirits, then the miners start mining and extracting. For a mining company to maximize the return for its investors it must keep its target country at a perfect equilibrium: stable enough to allow for the easy extraction of its minerals but not stable enough to be able to demand fair prices.
In poorer countries, mining companies arrive like occupation forces. The Wagner Group learned its skills protecting Russian mining interests in Africa. Forts are often set up with high security fences, with the mining staff living a life of relative luxury compared to the local community outside the fences. Many of the skilled staff come from the ‘mother’ country. Only menial jobs are left to the local community. It’s a 10–15-year occupation, and when they leave—every single time—they leave a devastated environment.
I asked Perk Pomeyie, a Ghanaian environmental activist, what happens when the bauxite mining companies leave. (Aluminum is made from bauxite.) “The sites are left bare,” Perk told me. “They are not regenerated. The lands are left bare and they just produce a red dust which pollutes the community, and leaves people’s properties and everything within the community coated with red dust, which has serious health implications, and impacts people’s livelihoods.”
But mining brings infrastructure, they say. No, it doesn’t. In poor countries, mining destroys infrastructure, destroys the roads, destroys the rivers, destroys the soil. The toxic dust is horrendous. “Red dust can travel far, considering the huge trucks that move the bauxite from the mining sites all the way to where they are stored and exported,” Perk explains. “You can see that they leave particles on the trail. The communities along the way are always covered in red dust. The heavy trucks are ploughing the roads and leaving behind the red dust particles. You find red dust covering parts of the vegetation that have not been mined yet, and this hinders the plants’ growth. The red dust covers the infrastructure. People’s homes are always full of red dust. People’s businesses are always covered in red dust. The dust makes it harder to keep to hygienic practices. Every time you open your mouth you have red dust, you are inhaling red dust, which may not even be visible to your own eyes.”
“The roads are very bad and you still see these companies with their heavy trucks ploughing the roads,” Perk explains. “There are so many potholes. The companies and their workers have big trucks and the best of cars. The communities have to rely on public transport, which is already in poor condition. In the Tarkwa mining community they have very terrible road networks. One road of about 10 kilometres, which shouldn’t take you more than 15 or 20 minutes to drive, takes you more than an hour, because the road is very bad. If you’re a student who uses the road to school, you have to cut down on sleep to be able to leave enough time to commute to school.”