Communities affected by First Quantum Minerals’ massive Sentinel copper mine project in Northwest Zambia have been resisting the project for more than three years. The company has been throwing its weight around with the community as well as the Zambian government, making liberal promises of jobs and money as well as thinly-veiled threats that opponents would not only lose their struggle to stop the mine (or at least reign in its most destructive aspects) but be blacklisted from jobs and contracts.
First Quantum (FQM) has been given considerable freedom in Zambia despite its history in the region – including being fingered (and then mysteriously absolved) by a UN panel of experts for violating OECD norms during the conflict in the Congo in the late 1990s, getting the Canadian government to try to hold the people of the DRC hostage to regain its mining leases there, continuous environmental and human health problems around its Zambian operations, and documentation of tax evasion in Zambia.
In Musele Kingdom, North Western Province, FQM got the regional Chief, His Royal Highness Chief Musele, to sign over 50,000 hectares of land for the project. Chief Musele has said he was pressured to sign, and subsequently sought support and legal advice to protect his people and their land and water supplies. The surrender was subsequently overturned by the Zambian government, but the environmental assessment for the project had already been approved, and there has subsequently been a series of legal and regulatory actions that have thrown the project into question. The situation is summarized in a press statement issued July 27, 2013 by eighteen civil society organisations, including MiningWatch.
In light of the continuing failure of Zambian authorities to respond to community and civil society demands for a fair and transparent process, we wrote to His Excellency Ambassador Bobby Mbunji Samakai, High Commissioner of the Republic of Zambia to Canada, on November 7 to express our grave concerns over the project and to urge the Zambian government “to give the greatest consideration to the predicament of the people of Musele Kingdom and to proceed with the fullest precaution in considering this development project that has already caused considerable discord and stands to cause serious, extensive, and irreversible harm to the environment and the people of Musele Kingdom.”
The letter is available below.