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Justice at last for Tanzania villagers owed money by gold mine

Maimuna Said in Mwime village. Photo: Kisuma Mapunda/Oxfam
Maimuna Said

For the past four years, villagers in Mwime in northwest Tanzania have been waiting for payments promised to them after a new gold mine opened up on their land. Oxfam’s Chukua Hatua project has been supporting their campaign, and the village has finally received their money. They are now planning how to spend it.

“I feel so happy inside, you know. Is this really happening? We have been tirelessly chasing this money for almost four years,” says Maimuna Said, one of the leading figures behind the village’s campaign. Maimuna was one of the first citizens to start asking questions about where the money owed to the village had gone.

Back in 2007 the village of Mwime owned land and licences for two nearby gold mining sites. When Barrick Gold Corporation moved into the area, it entered an agreement with the village and set up the Buzwagi Mine on that land.

The company agreed to pay the village 60 million Tanzanian shillings (currently about $37,000) annually for five years, after which both parties would review the agreement depending on the mine’s production levels. The yearly payment was supposed to start in 2009 – but it never did.

Villagers blamed the delay on weak local leaders who failed to follow up on the payments. In most parts of Tanzania people rarely challenge authority or make demands of their leadership – even when the matter concerns the entire community. But in Mwime a group of villagers, including Maimuna, started campaigning for the payments to be made.

A press conference organised with the local council in nearby Kahama town. Photo: Kisuma Mapunda/Oxfam
A press conference organised with the local council

Working with Oxfam’s Chukua Hatua (“Take Action”) project – which supports citizens to demand their basic rights and hold leaders accountable – the villagers lobbied local councillors, held press conferences, pressured the local leadership, and got a parliamentary committee to visit the site and mediate talks between the parties.

The contract with the company stipulated that the money should be paid through a Board of Trustees. But the villagers found the Board was appointed in secrecy and they did not even know their representatives.   After much pressure the Board was suspended and a new 10-member Mwime Community Trust Fund (MCTF) committee was selected in its place. Each of the three hamlets that make up Mwime village was represented on the committee, and its membership was approved by the village general assembly.

“Citizens needed to have their own body, as the Board was not of their favour,” says George Kingi, the village’s Executive Officer. “We amended the contract, removing the ‘Board of Trustees’ and replacing it with ‘Mwime Community Trust Fund.’”

With the new MCTF committee set up and engaging the company, Barrick now deposited TShs 300 million (about $185,000) – equal to the full five years of payments up to 2014 – into a new village bank account set up with the help of local councillors.

With the money finally in their hands, the village now face the next big challenge: What to do with it?

Mzee Charles Mihayo, the MCTF Secretary, says that given the past experience it was important to be transparent and participatory in making decisions: “We called a general assembly (village meeting) and informed people that the money had now been received from Barrick. We asked for suggestions from each hamlet on how it should be spent, before it was approved by the assembly.”

The committee invited technical staff from the District Council to help the villagers with preparing budgets. Planning officers and officials from the health, education and land departments worked closely with the citizens for several days.

“The whole process was participatory,” says Mihayo. “If you go out there and ask anybody what is happening, they all know the plan to spend the money.”

The village came up with five key priority areas for investment – water, health, education, the economy, and agriculture.

“We have a water problem here,” says George Kingi. “So we want to connect our village with water from Lake Victoria, which means we will have to dig a trench from the main pipe to our village. We will also build four houses for teachers and nurses and connect our dispensary with electricity. The school also needs two new classrooms, 300 desks and 31 toilets.

“Our area has not been surveyed, so we want to carry out that exercise so that citizens can officially get ownership certificates for their land. Lastly, we want to buy a power tiller to ensure our food security and improve the quality of our products, such as rice.”

The village finally has its money – but the whole process and lessons learned along the way will benefit the village governance in future. Now the villagers have to make sure that they are participating in the money being spent.

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Written by Kisuma Mapunda

Kisuma works on Oxfam's governance programmes in Tanzania, supporting communities to campaign for their rights as citizens and hold decision-makers accountable

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