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Documents show how Ottawa intervened in Tanzania to benefit Canadian mining firms

Canada is a leading foreign investor in Africa, with mining investment valued at $36.5 billion

Canadian PoliticsAfricaCanadian Business

Miners working underground at Acacia Mining’s North Mara site, Tanzania. Photo supplied by Acacia Mining.

In May 2022, Ottawa-based researcher Ken Rubin obtained a collection of internal government emails detailing the Trudeau government’s response to a potential ban on gold concentrate exports in Tanzania. The proposed ban would have cut into the profits of Canada-based mining company Barrick Gold, whose subsidiary Acacia Mining is the largest foreign investor in the East African country. In addition to the ban, the Tanzanian government also accused Barrick of the “theft” of billions in “unpaid taxes, penalties, and interest.” The emails show that Barrick went to Ottawa for “emergency help” regarding the ban and the tax issue, and that Ottawa responded to their pleas by entering negotiations with the Tanzanian government—negotiations which included reference to Canada’s foreign aid budget in Tanzania.

During the dispute, Barrick Vice President Dave Forestell spoke with the Canadian high commissioner, who provided “very useful suggestions” (Forestell’s words) on the tax issue. He said that the government official “advised Barrick to collect evidence to cast doubt on the accuracy of Tanzania’s tax assessment.” The next day, Barrick President Kevin Dushnisky met with Deputy Trade Minister Timothy Sargent. Prior to the meeting, “Canadian officials said Mr. Sargent could suggest that Barrick should ‘spell out’ to Tanzania that the dispute might cause a loss of jobs and revenue and could damage Tanzania’s reputation as an investment destination.” In another email, government officials claimed that they were seeking a meeting with Tanzania’s president at the time, John Magufuli, “to advocate on Acacia’s behalf.”

In November 2017, the Canadian high commissioner met with the Tanzanian mining minister and “urged the minister to lift the export ban” on gold concentrate. During the meeting, the Canadian officials “also emphasized Canada’s foreign aid to Tanzania.” In the context of the Canadian government’s plan to “advocate on Acacia’s behalf,” it is hard to read this reference to foreign aid as anything other than an attempt at leveraging Tanzania to adopt an economic position more suitable to Canada.

The tax dispute was resolved when Barrick paid the Tanzanian government $300 million to settle the tax dispute and remove the export ban (it was ultimately lifted in January 2020). In May, the Globe and Mail asked Global Affairs Canada (GAC) spokesperson Sabrina Williams whether Canada “used [foreign] aid as leverage during the tax dispute,” but she did not respond.

Canada is a leading foreign investor in Africa, with mining investment alone valued at $36.5 billion. Tanzania is the second largest site of Canadian mining capital in Eastern Africa, and the third largest in total when one excludes the lucrative gold-producing nations of West Africa, where Canadian investment is primarily concentrated. Barrick Gold’s Tanzania subsidiary, Acacia, accounts for most of the Canadian mining investment in the country.

Acacia Mining has been accused of complicity in a number of appalling crimes beyond the grimly routine bounds of low pay and brutal working conditions usually imposed on African workers by outside investors. In addition to allegations of bribery and tax evasion and threats to journalists reporting on their activities in Tanzania (Canadian Journalists for Free Expression noted that Barrick Gold may be “endangering the safety and freedom of expression of Tanzanian journalists who aim to report in the public interest and hold the company to account for a litany of abuses”), security guards hired by Acacia have shot and killed dozens of people in the vicinity of the company’s North Mara mine, many of them poor artisanal miners.

In 2015, Acacia settled out of court with nine villagers who accused them of excessive force resulting in injury or death. The company did not disclose the details of the settlement. Barrick was also pressured into compensating fourteen women who were raped by Acacia’s security forces in Tanzania. As part of the compensation, the women had to agree not to pursue “any other claim” or “assist other complainants” in the future (these and subsequent details concerning Barrick Gold, Acacia, and Sutton Resources are taken from Canada in Africa by Yves Engler).

The abuses of foreign, primarily Global North-based, capital throughout Africa are enabled by the pre-eminence of neoliberal capital on the continent, which places the property rights of international investors above any other consideration. This economic paradigm was imposed on the continent against the wishes of most Africans as part of what Susan Williams has termed the “covert recolonization” of Africa by the United States in conjunction with many of its Western allies, including Canada.

During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the Canadian government backed IMF-World Bank privatization measures in Tanzania and other African countries, which gave Canadian capitalists greater opportunity to invest in and profit from the continent’s immense resource wealth. Development aid was and continues to be a tool by which the Canadian government seeks to implement this investor-friendly climate across Africa, often by making aid contingent on the adoption of economic reforms that return decision-making power to European and North American states and thereby relegate these postcolonial countries to a condition of neocolonialism.

The recently acquired documents concerning the relationship between the Canadian government, Canadian mining companies, and the government of Tanzania provide a window into this dynamic, but the problems go far beyond Barrick Gold. They are a systemic feature of the Canadian capitalist state and the global order that it supports through its pro-business actions across the Global South.

In the mid-1980s, the Canadian government allegedly threatened to withhold food aid to Tanzania if it did not adopt a suite of IMF privatization measures. A.S.Z. Kiondo writes that:

by 1985, [Canada’s] attitude towards Tanzania had become openly harder, complaining that its development assistance was being jeopardized by Tanzania’s ‘stubbornness’ in undertaking proper reforms. In February 1986, during annual meetings between CIDA [the Canadian International Development Agency] and Tanzania, CIDA issued a very strong statement to the effect that no further development assistance would be considered for Tanzania if an agreement with the IMF was not reached.


Throughout the 1990s, Canadian companies and government officials were active in attempting to influence Tanzanian mining codes to promote the expatriation of profits. In the words of Tanzanian activist Evans Rubara and Canadian writer Paula Butler (quoted in Engler’s work), the development of the East African country’s economy in the late twentieth century was greatly influenced by the “aggressive role played by Canadian mining companies, Canadian lawyers and Canadian diplomats,” who have sought to “establish the pro-foreign-investor content of Tanzanian mining codes since the mid-1990s.”

In the mid-1990s, the Canadian High Commissioner in Tanzania lobbied the Tanzanian government to accept Vancouver-based Sutton Resources’ plan to evict up to ten thousand artisanal—or “illegal,” in the high commissioner words—miners from its concession in Bulyanhulu in the country’s north (the mine was later purchased by Barrick). In a report to Foreign Affairs in December 1995, heavily censored upon release, the high commissioner wrote that “Sutton [censored word] is ready to go…but cannot / not do so in absence of Tanz govt action to remove 7,000/10,000 illegal miners.” Sutton asked a court for permission to go forward with the evictions, but the judge refused, stating that “I found no provision made for compensation and/or resettlement of the indigenous people.”

Despite the court ruling, Canadian officials continued to pressure the Tanzanian government to proceed with the evictions on behalf of Sutton Resources. The high commissioner sent a memo to the Tanzanian president in which he stated: “Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto stock exchanges have become the leading sources of exploration capital in the resource sector…It will be important, therefore, that outstanding problems relating to title and to illegal activities [i.e., the artisanal miners who had been working the area for decades] be quickly removed.”

The high commission wrote to Ottawa, stating that through Canadian government action, “the decision makers [in Tanzania] will be fully aware of how important this mining sector, Cdn participation, and rule of law is to their economy.” He also offered to increase Canadian development aid to Tanzania if they accepted Sutton’s plans in Bulyanhulu, writing that he had:

…advised Pres Mwinyi that Tanzania has been reinstated as Cdn development assistance partner, and mentioned a few projects whose further development cld now be pursued, including perhaps, development of mining training centre in mining belt in conjunction with Sutton and other mining [companies], assuming current problems cld be and wld be resolved?


Shortly thereafter, artisanal miners on the land that was granted to Sutton were forcibly evicted, against the wishes of a Tanzanian High Court. The evictions were accompanied by reports of violence and killings. A 2001 mission to Tanzania consisting of the Council of Canadians, MiningWatch Canada, and Amnesty International wrote that “the intensity and seriousness in the telling of the stories of the alleged evictions, violence and brutality of the police and mining officials, the level of detail, as well as the willingness of the Bulyanhulu resident to take significant risks…to come and speak with us, impressed the members of the mission.”

The Tanzanian government blocked two international groups from investigating the alleged massacre at Bulyanhulu. The Canadian government did not voice its concerns about the allegations of violence and murder. Instead, it continued to lobby for greater concessions for the Canadian mining sector in subsequent years. In 2014, Canada and Tanzania signed a Foreign Investment Protection Act (FIPA), which allows Canadian companies to sue the Tanzanian government if they feel that their investments are being unfairly interfered with. In 2017, Barrick and the Canadian government considered invoking the FIPA during the mining company’s conflict with Tanzania over unpaid taxes and the export ban.

GAC emails acquired by Ken Rubin in 2019 show that the Trudeau government is well aware of Canadian mining abuses in Tanzania, even though it has made no public statements about the matter and has certainly not empowered Tanzanian activists protesting against the companies’ actions. The emails note that “Africa Barrick Gold (Acacia Mining since 2014) has had a history of clashes with intruders from local villages,” and references a July 2016 report by the Tanzanian government that found that Tanzanian police had killed 65 people and injured 270 at the North Mara mine. GAC also remarked that Acacia “made a statement fully refuting the reported allegations” of violence committed by their private security teams and did not reference them again.

By 2015, Canadian mining assets in Tanzania valued around $2 billion. Acacia had become the largest mining investor, with four profitable operations in the country.

The documents obtained by Rubin reveal that Ottawa still goes to bat for Canadian-based transnationals, ensuring that states in the Global South tow the line of the “international rules-based order” and don’t move too close to the perils of what industry figures often call “resource nationalism.” It seems not to matter what abuse is committed—the primacy of capital wins out for the Canadian state.

“We have no problems with investors,” a Tanzanian villager named Esther Mugusuhi told a local newspaper following a toxic spill at Barrick’s North Mara mine that killed over 40 people and 1,000 livestock. “But the investors must respect and treat us like human beings. These Canadians are killing us.”

Owen Schalk is a writer based in Winnipeg. He is primarily interested in applying theories of imperialism, neocolonialism, and underdevelopment to global capitalism and Canada’s role therein. Visit his website at www.owenschalk.com.

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