MAC: Mines and Communities

Mali's parlous state of mining exposed by recent coup

Published by MAC on 2012-04-11
Source: Reuters, IRIN, Northern Miner

As we go to press, it seems the ECOWAS-brokered "peace agreement", between Mali's beleaguered government and leaders of the recent coup, is holding.

One of the movements implicated in the coup is the MNLA, which issued a communiqué arguing that the country's northern Azawad region had become a seat of conflict battled-over "by those who have an eye on their [own] interests and extremist groups".

That was a clear reference to mining companies, and to "Al Quaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI)".

The MNLA had called on "all the sons of Azawad" to side with a population in danger of being reduced to "a useless spectator".

It explicitly rejected all forms of violence and terrorism, but warned that the government must reverse fifty years of neglect and brutalization.

According to Canada's Northern Miner:

"[T]here is a risk that whatever transitional authority is put in place to rule ahead of elections could review or revoke contracts in the uranium, phosphate, gold and mining sectors that the government has concluded in recent years amidst allegations of corruption.

"A transitional authority is also likely to raise taxes - particularly on mining operations - to better support the military... There is a risk that more taxes will be put on mining because the industry is seen as the main source of revenue for the government. And raising taxes on mining companies wouldn't raise popular discontent."

A conference on mining was recently held in Mali's capital, Bamako, preceded by a trip to the Falea region which is threatened by uranium mining. See: Uranium a minefield for Malians

Gold miners meet Malian rebels


28 March 2012

Randgold Resources and other miners operating in Mali have met representatives of a military group that last week ousted the country's president, in an effort by coup leaders to reassure the industry that fuels the country's exports.

Randgold, which has some two-thirds of its production in Mali, has seen its shares drop almost 16 percent since news of a coup hit the market last Thursday. Its mines have continued to operate, but analysts have fretted over the impact of increased perceived risk on its appeal to investors.

Randgold said the junta, known as the National Committee for the Return of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (CNRDRE) had assured mining executives at the meeting in the Malian capital Bamako earlier this week that "the situation was under control and that the state was still functioning."

"The CNRDRE representatives also assured them that they were well aware of the importance of the mining industry to the Malian economy," Randgold said in a statement.

Mali is the third-largest gold producer in Africa, after Ghana and South Africa, and gold is one of the country's top exports. Miners are also a key source of tax revenue.

Randgold's Chief Executive, Mark Bristow, currently at the company's Loulo complex in Mali, said fuel supplies had been replenished and all of Randgold's operations in the country were operating.

Other miners with significant operations or exploration projects in Mali include Iamgold, Avion Gold and Cluff Gold. AngloGold and Gold Fields are also working in the country.

Analysis: Warriors and websites - a new kind of rebellion in Mali?


26 March 2012

In the wake of the coup that deposed Mali's President Amadou Toumani Touré, military junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo has stressed a willingness to negotiate with rebel groups reportedly surrounding the northern town of Kidal and reinforcing positions around Gao, 190 km further south. In a recent BBC interview Captain Sanogo said he was ready to talk: "I want all of them to come to the same table. My door is open. We can talk about and work through the peace process."

It will be interesting to see who comes through the door. The latest in a series of rebel movements, the MNLA (Mouvement National pour la liberation de l'Azawad), which is fighting to carve out an independent state encompassing the regions of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu in northern Mali, prides itself on its military sophistication. "We don't just hit once and run off into the bush."

Senior figures in the MNLA may include Chief of Staff Mohamed Ag Najem, recruited directly from Libya. There is also a strong intellectual fringe: Moussa Ag Assari, a Paris-based writer and author of the memoir, "Il n'y a pas d'embouteillage dans le desert", ["There isn't much traffic in the desert"] is a spokesman.

Coup-makers face the flak

It was the "incompetent" handling of the crisis in Mali's northern regions by the government and military that supposedly pushed Sanogo and his fellow soldiers in the Comité national pour le redressement de la démocratie et la restauration de l'état (CNRDRE) to move against President Amadou Toumani Touré, but establishing a dialogue with Mali's Tuareg rebels is only one of many priorities facing the coup-makers.

Sternly criticized by the UN, the African Union, European Union, World Bank, and others, not to mention Mali's national assembly and an expanding bloc of civil society leaders and opinion-leaders, the CNRDRE presides over an economy in crisis while trying to rein in looters, offer some semblance of coherent leadership, and break out of its own isolation.

Sticking to their guns

The rebel movement that the soldiers in charge are looking to defeat in far-flung locations in the north is also a pariah, except for an impressive network of supportive websites and diaspora groups. If the MNLA has backers, they are in the shadows. Its insurgency has been widely denounced as illegitimate, sectarian and against the spirit of African unity, but the movement has remained unabashed by the criticism. Its reaction to the ousting of Touré steered clear of celebrations, simply using the occasion "to reaffirm the objective of its struggle, which remains the independence of Azawad, and to pursue it with determination".

Ironically, it was not the MNLA which gained immediate impetus and political capital from the coup, but a rival movement, "Ansar Dine", nominally led by veteran Tuareg leader Iyd Ag Ghali. Fighting for Sharia [Muslim] law rather than independence, Ansar Dine claimed to have Kidal encircled. The Malian military and the MNLA, which have firmly distanced themselves from Ag Ghali, quickly signalled that this was not true.

When the MNLA began hostilities with the attack on Ménaka on January 17, it announced its main targets as Kidal, Tombouctou and Gao, the three provincial capitals of the "septentrion", or far north, all of which would be part of a "liberated Azawad".

The movement is not above exaggerating its territorial gains, with communiqués often coming from Paris or the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, rather than the frontline, and much of the information, even in the digital age, difficult to verify.

But the MNLA has given pause for thought even to sceptics, who dismissed it initially as a "flash-in-the-pan". "What happens when they run out of ammunition, when they find they have no supply lines, no sanctuaries, Gaddafi no longer exists, and they need to treat their wounded?" asked El Hadji Baba Haidara, the parliamentary representative for Tombouctou and head of the National Assembly's Crisis Cell on the North.

Confidence that the military landscape would change once the national army regrouped and committed more resources to the north was eroding long before the CNRDRE moved against Touré.

The roots of a rebellion foretold

A common criticism of Touré, which went well beyond military dissidents, was his apparent failure to see a rebellion coming. It is still not clear how Touré's government handled the influx of returnees from Libya. Reports from northern Mali in late 2011 said two of the returning rebel contingents were seeking accommodation with the authorities and wanted integration into military and civilian structures, while a third wanted no part of this. Critics ask why the threat was not neutralized, and how neighbouring Niger avoided a similar crisis.

It has become common to portray the arrival of Libya-hardened warriors as the main catalyst for the MNLA's revolt, emboldening hard-liners and opportunists who would otherwise have confined themselves to marches and manifestos. But there had been mounting pessimism about the prospects for a durable, all-encompassing settlement in the north.

Ten years after the "Flamme de la Paix" [peace flame] ceremony in Tombouctou, the dissolution of armed rebel movements and the symbolic destruction of hundreds of firearms, much of the optimism and momentum from that time had burned out.

Coordinated attacks on garrisons in Kidal and Ménaka on 23 May 2006 signalled the start of a new chapter of violence. The raids were claimed by the Alliance Démocratique du 23 mai pour le changement (ADC), whose ranks included senior figures from past insurgencies. Algeria again acted as mediator and the government and ADC signed an agreement in Algiers in July 2006, aimed at tackling insecurity and underdevelopment in Kidal. Yet sporadic violence remained the norm in parts of the north, with the government fighting a bloody, draining war with the Alliance Nationale des Touareg du Mali (ANTM), led by Ibrahim Ag Bahanga, a seasoned senior rebel commander opposed to compromise with Bamako, who fought from bases in caves and hills.

Killed in a mysterious car accident in August 2011, Bahanga is now revered by the MNLA as "a pillar of the Tuareg community", but the tributes ignore longstanding reports of a major trafficking empire. Bahanga was reportedly instrumental in consolidating ties with fighters in Libya, persuading officers and ordinary soldiers to cross the Sahara.

The quest for Azawad

Well before Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's demise was being talked about, a meeting of mainly Tuareg representatives finished in Tombouctou on 1 November 2010 with the announcement that the Mouvement National de l'Azawad (MNA) would be formed to fight against the militarization and marginalization of the north.

The communiqué argued that 'Azawad' had become a place of conflict battled over "by those who have an eye on their interests and extremist groups", a clear reference to mining companies and terrorist group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI). The MNA called on "all the sons of Azawad" to come to the side of a population in danger of being reduced to "a useless spectator". It explicitly rejected all forms of violence and terrorism but warned that the government had to reverse fifty years of neglect and brutalization.

Less than a year later, the MNA formally merged with the ANTM. The communiqué posted on the internet on 16 October 2011 suggested that the last window of opportunity was closing on the government. The new MNLA defined its main objective as "freeing the people of Azawad from the illegal occupation of their territory by Mali, which has been the cause of decades of insecurity in the region".

Many of the MNLA's main grievances draw on the memories of past atrocities committed by national armies, the failure of peace agreements to deliver security and release from poverty, and the squandering or misappropriation of funds by national and local authorities. Added to this has been a very explicit resentment of the government's alleged accommodation with AQMI and its attempts to smear Tuaregs as terrorist accomplices.

What is more novel is the explicit focus on Azawad as a realizable project, a historic homeland for the "Kel Tamasheq", or Tamasheq-speaking people. While arguing that its own support base extends across all communities in the north, including Songhai, Peuls and Arabs, the MNLA has also presented itself as fighting for the survival of Tamasheq culture in the face of vicious state repression. The theme has been taken up by website support groups in North Africa, the United States and Europe. The organizers of a demonstration 'for Azawad' in Paris in April, argue that: "fifty years of forced cohabitation with Mali are too much. This cohabitation imposed by colonial France has produced a number of damaging effects in the country most of all the destruction of values and the Tuareg identity".

The MPs go north

Part of the government's response to the MNLA's emergence was to send a delegation of MPs representing northern regions to Timbuktu, Gao, Kidal and elsewhere to find out what was happening. Haidara, the representative from Timbuktu, was on the mission in late 2011. "We went right into the MNLA's bases and talked to them for two days, trying to work out what they were doing and what was their motivation."

Haidara said it was difficult to take the new movement seriously. "For me, this doesn't count as a proper 'rebellion'. What you had there were 200 youngsters, mainly from Kidal. They said they represented the whole of the north and wanted self-determination. I realized very quickly that this was a minority phenomenon and they represented nothing. I told them if they wanted independence they should hold a referendum". Haidara was presented with a flag of Azawad, but was not impressed. "I told them I was from the north of Mali and proud to be so."

Zeïdan Ag Sidalamine, once the Secretary-General of the rebel Front populaire pour la libération de l'Azaoud (FPLA), who became heavily involved in peace campaigning and delivered the keynote speech at the Flamme de la Paix ceremony in Timbuktu in March 1996, also believes the quest for an independent Azawad is a pipedream. "The MNLA is a politico-military movement with its own vocabulary and its own way of looking at things," Zeïdan said. "But going for separatism or independence cannot work. A country's diplomacy is dictated by its geography. All of Mali's seven neighbours have said they will defend the country's unity and territorial integrity," he told IRIN. "I don't believe in a state that is 'parachuted in', a state that has no integrity. I am a citizen of the Republic of Mali, democratic and indivisible."

* This is part of a series of reports on the crisis in northern Mali exploring the MNLA rebellion, and the impact of AQIM

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

Mali coup puts investors on edge

Northern Miner

22 March 2012 

Businesses operating in Mali should expect a hike in mining taxes and an increase in terrorism risk in the wake of a coup attempt in the West African nation, warns Exclusive Analysis, a London-based specialist intelligence company that forecasts commercial and political risks worldwide.

Rebel troops ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure on Mar. 21 claiming his government has mishandled an insurgency by Tuareg militia groups in the Saharan north of Mali.

The move comes one month before the president was expected to step down after ten years in office in national elections slated for April 29.

Valerie Arnould, Senior Africa forecaster at Exclusive Analysis, says the rebel soldiers are frustrated that the government has not given them the proper arms and equipment necessary to wage a successful campaign against the Tuareg. At the same time, the families of soldiers who have died in battle have not been compensated adequately and soldiers have had to fight in difficult conditions with little pay.

Disgruntled soldiers in Mali's armed forces are also upset that after fleeing Tuareg advances in the north earlier this year and escaping across the border into neighbouring countries such as Algeria and Niger, they were repatriated to the capital of Bamako and then ordered to rejoin their barracks and resume fighting in the north. In addition, many soldiers view the president and even members of the senior military command as being corrupt and having embezzled foreign aid rather than giving the much-needed funds to the military.

Tuareg attacks have increased since January when hundreds of Tuareg fighters, who had left Mali to join the better-paid ranks of the Libyan army under Muammar Gaddafi, returned home after the dictator was killed last October.

The Tuareg have led uprisings in the 1960s, 1990s, early 2000, and between 2006 and 2009, all of which focused on the nomadic people demanding recognition of their identity and an independent state, according to the Aljazeera news agency. The Tuareg are semi-nomadic herders and traders living in northern Mali and across its borders in Niger, Burkina Faso, Algeria and Libya, are descended from Berbers of North Africa and practice Sunni Islam.

Looking ahead, Arnould believes fighting in the north is likely to escalate. "Tuareg rebels are likely to take advantage of the situation to consolidate their positions in the north, particularly in the Kidal region, but are unlikely to move to capture Bamako," she says. "Northern uranium mining operations and oil exploration will be at heightened risk from Tuareg rebels and, to a less extent, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Most gold mines are far away in the south and will be at a much lower risk."

At this point it remains unknown what percentage of the armed forces in Mali are behind the insurrection and Arnould doesn't believe there is any one person among the coup plotters that has the military or political authority to step in and take leadership.

"It's not clear whether this was a premeditated coup or whether it was a mutiny that escalated into a coup because the coup doesn't seem to have the support of any senior commanders in the military," she says in a telephone interview.

What is clear, however, is that political opposition groups in the country will latch on to the coup and use it to advance their own agenda. "Some members of the political opposition are likely to back the coup and push for the formation of a government of national unity and the postponement of the April presidential elections."

In the meantime, she says, "there is a risk that whatever transitional authority is put in place to rule ahead of elections could review or revoke contracts in the uranium, phosphate, gold and mining sectors that the government has concluded in recent years amidst allegations of corruption."

A transitional authority is also likely to raise taxes-particularly on mining operations- to better support the military, she claims. "There is a risk that more taxes will be put on mining because the industry is seen as the main source of revenue for the government. And raising taxes on mining companies wouldn't raise popular discontent."

Karl Kottmeier, president of Rockgate Capital, a Vancouver-based mining company whose Falea uranium silver copper deposit is in southwestern Mali, 350 km from Bamako, could not be reached for comment because he was on a plane headed to Burkina Faso.

Michael Nikiforuk, president and chief executive of African Gold Group, a junior exploring for gold at its Kobada project about 125 km south of Bamako, declined to comment until the situation is "more clear and better understood."

In a press release Randgold Resources, whose chief executive Mark Bristow is at the company's Loulo complex in western Mali, about 350 km from Bamako, says it is keeping a close watch on developments.

The gold producer described the current state of affairs in the country as "calm" although it said "exact details were unclear.""Malians respect laws and I don't believe this will come with a high-handed change in political direction," Bristow said in a statement. "We don't expect any subsequent governments to disregard proper and due process."

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