Friday, April 20, 2007

Tanzania’s mineral wealth

We hear so much about diamond mines in South Africa and Australia (fabulous pink Argyle diamonds), that we never find out that diamonds are one of Tanzania’s main resources. Mining for diamonds and other precious gems, including Tanzanite which is unique to Tanzania is an important local industry. Unlike South Africa and Australia, diamond mining in Tanzania is dominated by lots of small scale informal miners who are more akin to fossickers than industrial workers.

The industry refers to this as “informal (artisanal) alluvial diamond digging”. Sounds almost quaint doesn’t it? It doesn't look so quaint.

In the past, little of the wealth from this industry has stayed in the country, so the Tanzanian government is taking steps to improve the way the industry is run, starting with a pilot project at the Williamson mine at Mwadui.

The Mwadui Community Diamond Partnership (MCDP) pilot project was initiated in Tanzania in August 2006. Its overarching goal is to alleviate poverty and improve the health and wellbeing of small-scale informal diamond mining communities around the Williamson mine at Mwadui, which is operated by Williamson Diamonds Limited. The partners in the project are De Beers, Williamson Diamonds Limited, the government of Tanzania – represented at national, regional and district level – the local communities, the UN and NGO organisations.

The Mwadui Community Diamond Partnership will address its goal through socio-economic development partnerships, the identification of sustainable alternative livelihoods, organisational and technical support to help formalise sustainable small-scale mining activities, and the design and implementation of innovative technology.

De Beers is contributing US$2mill and the project is expected to run for 3-5 years.

Key deliverables from this project are –

  • 1. Small scale, viable, regulated mining industry supported by government valuation expertise
  • 2. Fair prices paid directly to miners, facilitated by a 'smart card'and verified by a third party
  • 3. Sustainable business model for small scale diamond mining with innovative project finance
  • 4. Sustainable alternative livelihoods focusing on farming productivity and business supplies
  • 5. Health needs in the region met, specifically preventing and managing HIV/AIDS, malaria
  • 6. Education and training needs met, particularly school feeding and skills transfer for miners
The project began in September 2006 and is on track to a multi stakeholder meeting at the end of April to agree on the final implementation plan.

In very poor countries, these matters of governance and systems need to be addressed and supported through wide partnerships that bring skills and funding to the table. The government alone does not have the money to fund projects like this. So it is very appropriate that large companies that benefit from business in the country should contribute towards improving the economic conditions.

In the Tanzanian education sector, privately run schools make a huge contribution to the education system overall. Of course, most private schools serve students who can afford to pay the fees. It is only the rare school like St Jude’s that provides free education to bright children from the poorest homes who would otherwise be lucky to scrape a few years in an over-crowded, under-resourced community school.

With your help, these children can get an excellent education. Projects like the Mwadui Community Diamond Partnership will help to ensure that they grow up in a country that has more effective systems for managing industries and the economy.

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