By Lake Zone Watch staff writer
Relations between Barrick North Mara Gold Mine and neighbouring villages have improved tremendously in the past decade or so, whereas each party sees the other as a strategic partner in social and economic development. It is heartening to note that Barrick is linked to the destiny of the villagers due to the opportunities it offers in expanding economic cooperation.
By its virtue of existence, the gold mine has become part and parcel of good neighbourliness and has thus intensified interaction with the locals, which is yet another dimension of mutual coexistence.
The partnership between Barrick North Mara and its surrounding villages has today reinforced the ideal of unity in diversity, and belief in and respect for pluralism and variety in human kind.
“We strongly need to uphold these values today as we face the challenges of the 21st century,” says Paul Bageni, the Mjini Kati village government chairman in Nyamongo. “The forces of unity and good neighbourliness will hasten the socio-economic development of our villages. We must create a friendly environment for the mine to embark on increased gold production.”
Barrick Company has a partnership agreement with the Tanzania Government to run the North Mara Gold Mine through Twiga Minerals.
The village government chairpersons from 11 villages surrounding the gold mine have admitted on various occasions that relations between the locals and Barrick have tremendously improved in recent years.
The holding of regular meetings between community leaders and Barrick North Mara officials, through its community relations department to discuss development issues has strengthened cooperation between the two sides, say government authorities.
“In the past, we had no meetings. Today, we sit together and talk to resolve our differences,” Bageni says.
He told Lake Zone Watch in an interview recently that the regular meetings involve village chairmen, village executive officers, ward executive officers and councilors from five wards, including three special seats councilors.
“We normally hold meetings on a monthly basis or when there is an urgent issue to be discussed,” says Bageni, who also doubles as chairman of Barrick North Mara Community Development Committee(CDC).
The monthly meetings specifically discuss projects funded by Barrick North Mara as part of its Community Social Responsibility (CRS) role.
Since 2019, Barrick has been pouring billions of shillings to finance various projects in the social sectors as part of its CSR role in 11 villages close to the North Mara Gold Mine. In 2019, alone the mine allocated 2.5million US dollars to implement projects in such sectors as health, water, education, just to mention few.
The Gold Mine recently sponsored the launch of ambitious economic development projects, one of which involved agri- business established at Matongo village.
“We are trying to select sustainable projects depending on the opportunities available in every village. The Matongo village project deals with horticultural produce. We are now extending the base of our sustainable income generating projects to other villages,” Bageni noted.
Currently, there are plans to set up poultry, fish and dairy farming. “Our focus is moving from village to village to exploit these opportunities,” he emphasized.
Mariam Mkono, a special seat councilor, is upbeat that there is noticeable change for all the 88 villages in Tarime District Council to “start enjoying the cake” brought by Barrick North Mara.
“Apart from CSR project meetings, another thing worth noting is that about 30 percent of the money goes to other villages which were initially not included in the programme,” she says, adding, now all 26 wards and 88 villages enjoy the fruits of Barrick Gold investment and 70 percent of the proceeds remain in the 11 villages surrounding the mine.
She adds: “In the past, things would not move. Now all is well as we enjoy cordial relations. We hold meetings to discuss development projects for the benefit of the villagers.”
However, Magabe Muniko, chairman of Kerende village, is of the view that the gold mine should provide employment to the youth and engage local contractors as a solution to a looming labour crisis.
“Local companies will help build the economy of Nyamongo by offering employment opportunities to the youth loitering in the streets,” he said.
Similarly, the chairman of Nyangoto village, MwalimuMwitaMsegi, says there are cordial relations between his village and Barrick after the latter implemented all mutual agreements to the letter.
Currently, there are major projects being implemented at Nyangoto village by Barrick North Mara under the CSR umbrella. The projects include water supply, construction of classrooms and living quarters for teachers.
“Generally, we are happy with everything. Even the promise I made to lessen the burden on women, of fetching water from afar has been realized,” Msegi says.
He says other projects which would change the face of Nyamongo upon completion include the construction of a Vocational Education Training Authority (VETA) centre and the launch of the Nyamongo Secondary School fecnce project.
”We were elated by the meeting with the President and Chief Executive Officerof Barrick,Mr Mark Bristow,” Msegi says, adding, “this has resulted in the rehabilitation of our roads and we will have a modern football pitch. Of particular importance, too, is the transparency in the recruitment process of the mine workers.”
On his part, Bageni appeals to fellow villagers to refrain from criminality against workers of the gold mine, to enable them reap its benefits. “It is important to enable the mine continue with production so that we can enjoy its proceeds as citizens of this area,” he says.
Available reports show that invasions of the gold mine by suspected criminals have now stopped because of the prevailing friendly environment between villagers and the management of Barrick North Mara gold mine.