A little over a month ago eight miners disappeared in a flood at a Canadian-run mine in Burkina Faso. The men’s deaths should elicit more discussion of Canadian mining policy in Africa.
On Tuesday four of their bodies were found. At this point it’s exceedingly unlikely the other miners working for Vancouver-owned Trevali remain alive.
As a result of racism and anti-Africanism, the eight miners’ disappearance received little international attention. The only reference to the tragedy from Canada’s ambassador in Burkina Faso, Lee-Anne Hermann, was after a refuge chamber 570 meters below ground was discovered empty last week. She tweeted, “on a most difficult day for Canadian mining companies in Burkina Faso on Tuesday, it was a pleasure to meet with Jorge Ganoza CEO of Canada’s Fortuna Silver to learn more about their Roxgold mine operations in Burkina Faso and commitment to Responsible Business Conduct.”
A “difficult day for Canadian mining” is a reference to the refuge chamber being reached but empty. Making her first mention of the eight African miners lost for a month by announcing a dinner hosted by a white CEO of a Canadian firm highlights how Canadian diplomats support mining profits irrespective of the social costs.
A few days before Hermann met Fortuna’s CEO, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, Arif Virani, launched the Canada-Africa networking reception at South Africa’s Mining Indaba conference. On Twitter Michael Bueckert noted, “it seems a bit insensitive for Canada to host a Canada-Africa mining industry event while eight miners are trapped in a Canadian-owned mine in Burkina Faso, and have been for over 3 weeks.”
Canada assisted Burkina Faso’s Chamber of Mines with its participation at Mining Indaba. Canadian officials meet regularly with the Chamber of Mines and, in fact, the head of Burkina Faso’s Chamber of Mines, Adama Soro, previously worked for Global Affairs Canada and was a trade commissioner in Burkina Faso (“where he facilitated the licensing process for many Canadian mining companies”, according to ModernGhana). Soro left his position at the Canadian embassy to become Superintendent of Corporate Affairs for Toronto-based IAMGOLD’s Essakane Mine in Burkina Faso. During his stint in that position Soro joined the board of the Chamber of Mines and subsequently became a Vice-President of TSX-listed Endeavour’s mining operations in Burkina Faso.
Soro met the country’s military rulers three days after President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, who was re-elected for a second term in November 2020, was ousted in January. The former Canadian diplomat has met the coup leaders on other occasions and Canada’s ambassador also visited the military officials recently. While there was no mention of the meeting on either Hermann or the official Canada in Burkina Faso Twitter accounts, local media reported that Hermann said that Canada would accompany the country on its transition. Making no mention of the military takeover, she reportedly boasted about the two country’s “60 years of friendship” and that Canada is the biggest investor in Burkina Faso.
Was the Canadian ambassador’s visit related to Trevali’s managers being blocked from leaving the country or the families of the eight disappeared miners seeking to charge the company?
With some $4 billion invested in Burkina Faso Canadian companies dominate the impoverished country’s main export industry. They also dominate mineral extraction in numerous other African countries. But Canada’s exploitation of the continent’s resources is often obscured even by those reporting on it.
In a recent The Northern Miner edition that devoted most its front page and a special section to Canadian mining in Africa the senior reporter asks an analyst about “China’s neocolonialism in Africa”, not “Canadian neocolonialism”. It’s a bit rich for an organ representing the Canadian mining industry to worry about “Chinese neocolonialism” when on a per capita basis Canadian firms control far more African natural resources than China.
Unlike China, Canada directly participated in and supported European colonialism in Africa. As I detail in Canada in Africa: 300 years of Aid and Exploitation hundreds of Canadian soldiers helped conquer Africa in the late 1800s and thousands of Canadian missionaries entrenched colonial rule. Ottawa supported European colonialism and opposed anticolonial struggles. Canada also supported apartheid South Africa and Idi Amin’s coup in Uganda as well as ousting independence leaders Patrice Lumumba and Kwame Nkrumah. In the 1980s and 1990s Ottawa pressed African countries to follow neoliberal economic prescriptions, which have benefited numerous Canadian corporations, including mining companies that have bought up much of the continent’s mineral resources, but are often bitterly resisted by local communities.
Over the past decade Canadian aid has been used to pacify local opposition to mining projects in Burkina Faso. Ottawa has also financed various mining initiatives and signed an undemocratic investment accord to protect Canadian mining companies.
All this proves Ottawa’s primary objective in Burkina Faso is to help Canadian firms profit from that country’s minerals. Both the government and Canadian diplomats care little about the welfare of African miners or improving the lives of ordinary people.