This story is about the choices and consequences of artisanal mining next to a large mine. But I have to change the names, places, minerals.
In the country of Wakanda, there was a rich body of vibranium. A multinational company took out a mineral lease, backed by the King of Wakanda.
In the past, the ancestors of local people had done some hand-tool mining in the area. They had sold handfuls of vibranium to make a living. The countryside was pockmarked with little holes. After eking out the obvious bits of ore near the surface, the practice had stopped.
Learning of this company that was to spend billions of dollars on mining, some local folk dug a bit deeper. They found more vibranium. Word spread, and soon a few thousand people were working the hills. Children and smaller adults would be sent down holes, armed with a crowbar, a small digging tool and a sack. There were some deaths, as this practice was not safe.
The mining company asked the King of Wakanda to remove the artisanal miners. The King of Wakanda obliged with his army.
The local people were unhappy about this.
Eventually the mining started, with big machines. The army kept the local people at bay for a while. But more and more people came to the region. They squatted around the mine and snuck in under cover of darkness to dig for vibranium with their crowbars and picks. The ore taken did not amount to much, but there were legitimate safety concerns. So security was increased to stop this.
Steven Rogers, a consultant, recommended in year 2 that the problem should be considered as a socio economic one rather than a security problem. He suggested, the mining company ought to consider alternative livelihoods for the several thousand people in the area, and enable these livelihoods to grow as a viable option to the troublesome artisanal mining.
Instead a sports complex was built, together with some roads and schools. Some of these were worthy initiatives but they missed the point. Look, we are benefactors, let us mine in peace, these icons proclaimed.
The problem worsened. More people came in from further afield to become artisanal miners. Shanty towns of artisanal miners developed.
Anthony Stark, another consultant, recommended in year 3 that agriculture could provide an alternative means of living. The soil, climate, topography and access to markets were all attractive. An agronomist, agricultural expertise, a co-operative mechanism and access to markets was required. A land banking scheme on the mining lease could be used to harness the potential. It was estimated that the income potential from agriculture would surpass the income potential from artisanal mining by a significant margin, potentially reducing the artisanal mining problem.
The residual artisanal mining activity might have been small enough to police, or small enough to set up a community mine with modest equipment and training, run by villagers and assisted by the mining company.
Instead, a fence was built around the perimeter, and security increased.
More community investments occurred to try and improve relationships. Some were successful initiatives, others were white elephants, but none addressed the socio economic issue at the heart of artisanal mining. They barely stemmed the tide. Sporadic violence commenced. The artisanal mining activities became more organized, and were financially backed by armed warlords from the neighbouring province as the scale of activity increased to enterprise levels. Prostitution and alcohol sales flourished in the shanty towns, some artisanal miners were armed, and peaceful members of the community began to leave the area.
A third consultant, Samuel Wilson, warned in year 6 that the situation was now at a tipping point.
The fence was cut every night in two or three places and the artisanal mining influx continued barely abated. Razor wire was cut down from the fence and used to blockade security patrols.
The problem continued to grow steadily for a couple more years. Eventually, in year 8, the mining company invested in an alternative livelihoods program around agriculture.
But the violence was now frequent and persistent. The amount of money being spent on security was greater than the artisanal mining economy. And the agricultural program would take a year or to provide income at the scale required.
It was too late.
Artisanal miners picked up arms and overran the mine site. People were killed in the skirmishes between the army and the artisanal miners.
The mining company decided to sell the mine. It was too difficult to run, and the incidents were tarnishing the company’s reputation.
The choices and consequences only had two main branches. A win-win branch and a lose-lose branch. The choice depended on executive mindset.
Lose-lose: The mining company insisted they had the rights to the minerals, and because of those rights, the artisanal miners were illegal. In fact, the term “illegal miners” was deliberately used, rather than “artisanal miners”, to support that culture. Giving the artisanal miners illegitimacy propagated a policing and security approach. The management mindset that emerged was arrogant, not compassionate. And so it was legally righteous but socially short-sighted.
Win-win: A different, and more constructive mindset might have been to acknowledge that the artisanal miners were simply people seeking to make a living. They were poor, and artisanal mining provided a means of survival and a promise of modest prosperity. The mining company had the assets, knowhow and time to create a sustainable, coexistent living for the artisanal miners. The artisanal mining problem may not have been eliminated, but it could have been substantially reduced. It could have been kept below the tipping point.
However, now we will never know.