Behind the attack on Canadian Mining Convoy in Burkina Faso

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by Gary Porter

On November 6, 2019 a convoy of buses carrying 240 local workers, was attacked in Burkina Faso. 39 were killed and 60 wounded. The convoy was accompanied by a military escort; their deaths and injuries are unknown. The convoy was en route to a gold mine northeast of the capital, owned and operated by Canadian gold mining corporation, Semafo, based in Montreal and listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. None of the dead or wounded were Canadian. They fly in and out of the area.

At last count there were 14 companies searching for gold or operating gold mines in the impoverished, sub-Saharan, landlocked nation. Six are Australian or British, and 8 are Canadian. Canada is not widely known as a global player in the mining business, especially in the impoverished global south. In fact, over 75% of the global mining companies are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. On the TSE, compliance for mining firms is easy, and in Canada, taxes on such enterprises are low, and oversight lax.

The attack was immediately blamed on Muslim militants from northern neighbour Mali. Mali is currently the site of a Canadian military-staffed UN ‘peacekeeping’ operation. Canadian UN-sponsored troop placements often ‘coincide’ with the imperialist interests of Canadian resource extractors. Since many Burkinabe, with no job prospects in their own country head north to Mali, desperate and justifiably angry, such reports could be true. But there is more to the story.

None of the news coverage reported that, prior to the arrival of foreign miners and their geologists, an estimated 17,000 Burkinabe worked with hand tools in the gold fields eking out a living. The gold fields would have lasted decades at their rate of extraction. The foreign miners, mostly Canadian, drove them off, hired 2000 at near slave wages and set up an industrial mining operation which will likely extract all the gold by 2025. At that point the companies will leave a scarred and ruined landscape, with thousands of unemployed and destitute workers and, after depositing their very high profits in tax havens, head home to Canada.

The Burkinabe military is trying to protect these mining firms and their workers. In Central and South America, Canadians have turned to “mercs” to drive away native small gold diggers and to keep them off their licensed territories. Not infrequently, the local people, often indigenous, are simply murdered by mercenaries with virtually no consequences for the killers. Canadian operators plead that security has been sub-contracted and the subcontractor is responsible for actions of its staff.

Burkina Faso’s gold industry employs slave laborers and does not spare children. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that gold mining is becoming an even more fruitful industry. It has resulted in “an increased number of children working in gold mines and thousands of students leaving school.” A December 2014 report further corroborates the fact that child labor and forced labor are common practices in Burkina Faso’s mining industry. The mentioned DOL report contains a List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor and Burkina Faso is listed among 74 other countries where such labor conditions have been observed. Do Canadian mining firms use child labour or slave labour? They say no. But it is virtually impossible to get anywhere near a Canadian mine, where security is very tight. So, no one knows and their record of transparency is dismal.

Recently, another Canadian gold corp, Barrick, the biggest gold mining firm in the world, paid $300 million USD to Tanzania in settlement of unpaid taxes and fines for human rights violations and pollution violations. Canadian imperialists are no model citizens. The murder, starvation, overwork and underpayment of indigenous populations produces huge profits and high valuations on the TSE.

The activities of Canadian resource companies must be opposed. Canadian imperialist corporations should withdraw, after providing full compensation to their workers and to the national governments, full remediation of the environmental damage they caused, and compensation to the families of the dead and to the injured. Canada should offer long term, interest-free loans to countries of the global south, technology and skill-sharing as well. Follow the Cuban model for working with foreign countries.