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Response to missing miners proves real Canadian motives in Africa

Over the past decade Canadian aid has been used to pacify local opposition to mining projects in Burkina Faso

Canadian PoliticsAfricaCanadian Business

Burkina Faso Prime Minister Albert Ouédraogo (centre, in blue hat) visits Perkoa Mine on May 1, where eight miners were trapped following a flood more than 520 metres beneath the surface. Photo courtesy the Government of Burkina Faso/Twitter.

In late April, eight miners disappeared in an underground flood at a Canadian-run mine in Burkina Faso. The men’s probable death should elicit more discussion of Canadian mining policy in Africa.

Last week searchers for Vancouver-owned Trevali reached a refuge chamber 520 metres below ground. Unfortunately, there was no one inside, which means it’s exceedingly unlikely the eight miners remain alive after a month underground.

Unsurprisingly, 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 the refuge chamber was discovered empty. 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 found 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 in Cape Town. 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. according to ModernGhana he also served as a trade commissioner in Burkina Faso “where he facilitated the licensing process for many Canadian mining companies.”

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 military officials recently.

While there was no mention of the meeting on either Hermann’s or the official Canada in Burkina Faso Twitter accounts, local media reported that Hermann said that Canada would accompany the country during 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 edition of Northern Miner that devoted most its front page and a special section to Canadian mining in Africa, a 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 detailed 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 anti-colonial 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 suggests that Ottawa’s primary objective in the small Western African nation is to help Canadian firms profit from Burkina Faso’s vast mineral wealth. Both the government and Canadian diplomats care little about the welfare of African miners or improving the lives of ordinary people.

Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), and “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire). He has published nine books.


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