“Development by dispossession?” A reappraisal of the Adola Gold Mine in southern Ethiopia
(life-peace)—–Extractive industries are perceived as pathways to accelerated development particularly in developing countries for their contribution to earning foreign currency. During the colonial period in Africa, these industries remained the bases of colonial economy and at the same time symbols of labor exploitation, displacement, and oppression of native people. While these industries were long established in central and southern Africa, it is an emerging sector in Eastern Africa. The discovery of oil in the Turkana region of Northern Kenya and the prospect of oil/gas in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo belt and Ogaden region in addition to the extensive gold mining, renders an analysis of the policy dimension of extractive industries critical. This paper, therefore, assesses some controversial dimensions of extractive industries by taking the case of Adola gold mining in southern Ethiopia. The data for this brief paper was mainly drawn from the personal observations and interviews with local communities and some online resources.
Adola gold mining and its exclusionist approaches
Adola gold mine that is currently owned by the MIDROC PLC through concession is the largest gold mine in Ethiopia with an average annual production of 4.5 tones of gold. After getting the concession from Ethiopian Mineral Resources Development Corporation (EMRDC) in 1997, the MIDROC Gold PLC has expanded at the expense of artisanal miners and local Guji Oromo through its ever-expanding enclosures. Enclosures often entail exclusion of certain group not only from physical access to resources but also by limiting their ability to use the resources. That means, enclosures disempower groups who previously been using the resources by disconnecting them from their economic, socio-cultural and spiritual ties to the land. Although the private conglomerate company operates the enclosure for the Adola gold mining, there are much in common with the previous regimes as far as exclusion and displacement of local communities is concerned.
According to local informants, the Adola gold mining belt, which consists of several mining sites was first discovered in 1930s but was not fully developed until the Italian invasion (1936-1941). The Italians pursued the exploration of new sites and expanded the existing mining sites during the five years period and laid a strong foundation for the imperial regime which aggressively embarked on gold mining as the main source of revenue after 1941.
Since its inception in the 1930s and continuing under the imperial and military regimes, the gold mine was operated through a harsh approach of labor conscription, displacement of local communities and expropriation of artisanal miners. In reminisces about the harshness of the work environment, elders in Shakiso refer to instances where people convicted of crimes and resistance against the imperial and military regimes were used as laborers in the mine as a form of punishment. Likewise, the indigenous Guji Oromo were displaced from the area and their lands would be claimed by the state and later the conglomerate company as a mining frontier.
Exclusion and grievances
As indicated earlier, the Adola gold mine was established in the absence of consultation of local communities and without any compensation for the loss of their livelihoods and their ancestral lands. Local communities complain that despite the change in regimes, Adola gold mine has functioned through coercive and exploitative methods with no significant difference between the Italian invaders and the successive Ethiopian regimes when it comes to exclusion and restriction of the people from their customary lands.
However, popular uprisings and protests were infrequent during the previous regimes perhaps for different reasons. First, the level of political consciousness of the local communities in claiming for their entitlement to the resources had not been strong until 1990s. The political transformation in the country in the post-1991 period coupled with the massive expansion of the gold mine following its transfer to the private company have raised the awareness and grievances of the local Guji Oromo on the basis of claim of entitlement to the natural resource and discontent towards the impacts of the mining industry.
Recently, the activities of the MIDROC Gold mine led to popular protests in Guji zone that became part of the large scale protests that broke out in 2015. Local communities claim that despite being the country’s largest gold mine, the contribution of MIDROC Gold in Adola (or commonly called Laga Dambi gold mine) has been insignificant to the economic and social developments of the local people. Rather, they claim that the toxic chemicals from the project pollute their water grounds and also the displacement of local people and artisanal miners is another aspect of local discontent. As a result, protest erupted in 2009 in few secondary schools in Guji zone and soon spread to many schools in the zone.
According to a report from US embassy leaked to Wikileaks, the protest initially erupted when residents of Shakiso district in Guji Zone accused Laga Dembi Mine, of releasing toxic chemical waste into a nearby river, causing illness to people and animals in the area. The local people tried to seek administrative solution to the problem by submitting petition to local government arguing that a second gold mine should not be given to MIDROC before it cleans the toxic waste that it has released from Lega Dembi, and the company compensates the community. Nevertheless, according to local informants and the source from Wikileaks, the local government authorities resorted to mass arrests of protesters and halted the ongoing investigation into the toxic dumping. The incident resulted in the detention of hundreds of students, and members of opposition parties.
The government and the conglomerate company used strategy of appeasement by promising different social services and financial gift to the local people. In January 2010, Sheikh Mohammed Al Amoudi, owner of MIDROC, Alemayehu Tegenu, Minister of Mines and Energy, and Aba Dula Gemeda, President of Oromiya Region visited Shakiso to appease the community. Sheikh Al Amoudi granted 15 million Birr (USD 1,125,000) for the 15 Weredas (districts) in Guji Zone to be used for community development. According to local residents, the meeting was not open to all residents of the area; rather, handpicked residents attended and thanked the visitors for the attention they gave to their community. Although the protest was put down through a combination of force and the promised remuneration from the owner of MIDROC Gold mine, the underlying grievances never went away and meshed into the protests that broke out in November 2015.
Environmental pollution was not the only source of discontent of the local communities. Since its inception in 1930s, the bulk of the employees of the gold mine are from other regions. While lack of education was used as pretext for exclusion of the Guji Oromo from employment under the previous regimes, the MIDROC gold mine uses “security” to rationalize its preference for non-indigenous labour. In any case however, the exclusion of local communities from different levels of employment is evident.
Moreover, discontent also arose from unfulfilled promises from the government and the MIRDOC Gold Mine owner in terms of provision of social services such as road, schools, hospitals and drinking water for the community. In over 80 years of gold mining in the region, no investments in significant social services have been made to either compensate locals for the loss of their livelihoods or as a trickledown effect of the revenue from mining activities, the figure that is not very clear to many stakeholders. The town of Adola, which the imperial regime re-named as Kibre-Mengist for its source of gold, did not have tap water and electricity until a few years ago. Still today, the town and its surrounding community suffer from access to basic social services such as hospitals.
The continued displacement and encroachment on the livelihoods of artisanal miners is also another source of discontent that has fed into recent protests. For example, the MIDROC Gold mine “discovered” new gold deposit in Sakaro area, only 3km from Laga Dambi site in 2009. In the same year, it signed a ten-years concession agreement with the Ministry of Mines and Energy to utilize the deposit and continued further explorations. MIDROC’s concessions for further exploration led to the increased enclosure of grazing lands, farmlands and artisanal mining sites leading to displacement and restriction of access rights for local communities. Accordingly, the massive land appropriation by the company, lack of transparency in the revenue, absence of clear corporate social responsibility, continued environmental pollution from the toxic dumping into rivers, and exclusion of local community from employment became rallying points in the protests that broke out here in 2015.
Ethiopia has recently embarked on a program of economic diversification to transform itself into a middle-income economy. In this regard, extractive industries such as gold and other minerals, and gas and oil explorations have received growing attention from the government. The privatization of gold mining, particularly the transfer of the Laga Dambi (Adola) gold mine to the MIDROC Gold Mine could be viewed as a component of the economic liberalization since the 1990s. However, there are concerns on the part of local government authorities, members of opposition and the local community at large that the right to mine gold has been granted to MIDROC without clearly stipulating corporate social responsibility guidelines. In addition, the company’s mining activities have led to the dumping of toxic chemicals and the lack of compensation for the local community. Therefore, the existing pattern of resource extraction, exclusion of local communities and absence of positive trickledown effects is potentially conflict prone and bodes ill for the future, unless appropriate policy frameworks are put in place and genuinely implemented.
The following policy recommendations can be used as entry points:
- Institutionalizing corporate social responsibility: Ethiopia lacks clear policy and guidelines for holding investors accountable with regards to what they ought to provide to local communities who might be directly or indirectly affected by their companies. Investors often promise some social services as a form of humanitarian or charity provision rather than as part of their responsibility. Therefore, the government should make it clear that the MIDROC Gold Mine has such social responsibilities and the company should be held accountable. For example, the 15 million birr promised (“given”) to the 15 districts was only a symbolic gesture probably intended to appease the people, and was not a fulfillment company’s social responsibility.
- Participatory approaches: The Adola gold mine was exclusionist from its inception. Nominal participation that involves the cooptation of local elites will not guarantee sustainable peace and harmonious co-existence between the company and local communities. The youth is much more conscious of its rights and not easily coopted. Therefore consultations and participation of the affected communities should be taken seriously.
- Transparency in revenue: The federal government should work towards formulating and implementing clear and transparent guidelines governing how revenue from mining operations are to be shared between different tiers of government. These policies should ensure that a part of the revenue is utilized to provide social services to local communities.
- MIDROC Gold Mine should prioritize employment opportunities of local communities and also empower them through trainings so that they would be competent enough to work in the company.
- Environmental protection protocol: Environmental pollution is emerging as a major issue in the country. The MIDROC Gold Mine is not an exception. There are reports that its toxic chemicals have polluted rivers and claimed the lives of hundreds of cattle and caused health problems to humans. Therefore, the federal government, Oromia regional state and MIDROC should work together to alleviate pollution effects.
- Compensation: The establishment of Adola Gold mining has led to the displacement of local communities, restriction of access to their ancestral lands and changes in their livelihoods. Affected people were not compensated. Therefore, proper compensation mechanism should be put in place for the affected people. These mechanisms should be implemented before providing further concessions to MIDR.
Asebe Regassa Debelo is Assistant Professor of Development Studies at Institute of Indigenous Studies, Dilla University, Ethiopia. He may be reached at email@example.com
 The fieldwork which this article draws on was carried out between October 2014 and June 2015. Interviews and observations were carried out in this period of time.
 Oromia-Ethiopia: Wikileaks – Govt’s Crackdown on Oromo on Behalf of MIDROC Gold During Shakiso/Guji Protests of 2009 (first posted on Finfinne Tribune and Gadaa.com on September 15, 2011).
— Kichuu (@kichuu24) May 1, 2018