A close examination of the mining industry of Tanzania reveals strongly negative impacts to quality of life, on economic conditions and environmental resources.

By Ashvin Ramasamy

Mining companies have been funneling considerable financial resources into African nations in the past 10 years, attracted by a welcoming economic climate, tax breaks and  mineral-rich deposits. Indeed, foreign direct investment (FDI) has been central to economic policies across many countries on the continent, particularly Tanzania which received USD 1.36 billion in 2016. Along with favourable privatisation measures, the government has attracted important mining companies to its buoyant mining industry. In particular, the implementation of the very liberal Mining Act of 1998, then the Mining Act of 2010, has generated much interest in its gold, uranium, copper, iron, sand and other high-demand mineral resources. The prospect of bettering the lives of the poor, especially rural communities, through community empowerment, job creation, infrastructure development support and healthcare support, among others is undoubtedly attractive to many African countries. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has a big role to play to meet those expectations, but mining development in the past 10 years has been a general letdown for the people of Tanzania. This position piece will draw attention to two symptoms underpinning the mining situation, of small- and large-scale, illegal and legal mines alike. A close examination of the realities in Tanzania reveals strongly negative impacts to quality of life, on economic conditions and environmental resources. The legal climate encompassing mining projects lacks the teeth to promote sustainable mining in the East African nation.

Small Scale Legal & Illegal Sand Mining

Tanzania and its islands attracts a large volume of small sand mine operations in its coastal areas and river beds. Operations have had significant environmental impacts on the sensitive natural resources and destabilizing local communities. The Unguja island of the Zanzibar archipelago is a case in point, where several illegal mine sites had disruptive effects on surrounding areas. The mining activity of Mwana Kwerekwe encroached upon Muslim and Christian cemeteries, with varying level of destruction of the environment. Trash was littered on two cemeteries, without plans to remediate the disorderly handling of waste. Moreover, sand pits were built dangerously close to graves, and mine workers removed stone plates part of the graves. One cemetery experienced significant downslope erosion and substantial vegetation removal. While the descresation of both burial sites generated public outcry, mine workers continued extracting sand against the wishes of the community. Worse, mine workers attacked cemetery guards hired to safeguard the cemeteries. On another site, Saateni, where mine workers extracted sand along a brackish river during the dry season, a surrounding, flourishing mangrove forest underwent erosion and damage. In-depth mining caused the disappearance of a sizeable sand dune while trash accumulated on site, according to observation and the testimonial of a government official. In addition, a small island nearby disappeared due to the intensity and the erosive effects of sand mining. The local people of Saateni endured the harsh side of the mining operations. Their settlement was disrupted by the flow of water incoming from the mine sites. Further, deforestation of coconut trees and mangroves disrupted the reliance the people had on these viable resources. Adverse to human safety was the holes left behind after sand is extracted. Infiltration of mud and water inevitably mixed, resulting in a substance resembling quicksand. Many women and children died or had injuries while crossing those “quicksand patches” towards the mangroves. The Kwarara sites showed yet another problematic situation, but this time the problem extended beyond aforementioned concerns. Excavation in the sand quarries grew substantially that an adjacent power line extending over 35 km became subject to stability issuesBeing an illegal operation, mine workers threatened affected residents should their behaviour be reported. While the community collectively protested the illegal mine to the government, authorities responded dubiously by dumping garbage on the sites. In turn, garbage helped the proliferation of insects, putting the locals at risk of disease. Moreover, residents noted the alarming spread of quarries: soil erosion brought about flooding, undermining the structural stability of many houses.

Though the illegal activities created an atmosphere of tension for the local communities and complete disregard for natural resource protection, a legal sand mining account in Donge paints a similar picture of poor control. During extraction, groundwater rose to the surface and mixed with standing water, creating a contamination risk for groundwater reserves. In addition, security measures were not put in place to prevent accidental injuries. Indeed, cases of children drowning in the quarries were reported in interviews. Loss of biodiversities, such as coconut trees and mangroves, were noted while residents were exposed to parasitic-related diseases and mosquito infestations, in addition to marked erosion. Unsurprisingly, mine operators did not engage in re-vegetation following project completion. With many of the deleterious impacts discussed above, several of the mining operations studied had relatively small spatial coverage but generated important environmental damage, a large portion of which is irreversible and disrupted the lives of many.

Socioeconomic Impacts of Large Scale Gold Mining

Large scale gold mining and precious stone mining across Tanzania originally came with high expectations for social development, but the benefits experienced by the people were disappointingly low. About 10 years ago, the districts of Kahama, Tarime, and Geita welcomed big mines with the understanding that the companies would help finance critical social services. Indeed, central to the mining sector policy in Tanzania is to reduce poverty levels through strong job creation in the mineral sector and helping the people find alternative sources of income. In addition, the policy puts emphasis on environmental resource management. Despite well-intentioned government efforts, Tanzanians mainly benefited from spinoff business, like markets for food and drinks vendors and restaurant operators. From the late 90s to the early 2000s, an impact assessment study of large scale mining in Tanzania found that less than 15% of the investment made towards mining activities contributed to the national economy. Further, in many researched cases, poor landowners were expropriated and given meager compensation. Lacking influence and leverage, the poor communities could not defend their landowner rights. In response, mining companies have argued that by paying all required dues, the government must take responsibility in spending the revenue toward socieoconomic development.

Environmental impact studies included commitments by the mine operators to improve the socioeconomic conditions of surrounding communities. Clearly,  those commitments were largely neglected. A separate analysis of CSR effects in the Geita Gold Mine in the Geita District actually revealed significant social development activities, including employment, education, health and market support. However, the majority of locals surveyed believed that the many pollution sources encroaching nearby villages had a substantial impact on quality of life, despite the advantages of the CSR programme. This falls in line with known research about environmental impacts that have potentially adverse effects on socio-economic development within the nearby communities. Indeed, promoting and respecting the environment represents a central tenet to sustainable development. As the environmental impacts overshadowed the social benefits that CSR generated, this case presented a basis upon which community engagement had to be prioritized. By giving community representatives a stake in the decision-making process in project implementation — and integrating their needs in the same dialogue with government representatives — mining companies have the ability to internalize the environmental costs adequately and deliver more transparent CSR strategies.

Toxic Effluents and Heavy Metals: North Mara Gold Mine

Like many gold mines, the North Mara Gold mine generated undesirable chemical byproducts in the extraction and processing of gold. Critical to the safe operation of any gold mine is adherence to strict environmental control. The toxic waste management plan by which the mine operated was largely not up to par. Cyanide is a chemical compound utilized for the amalgamation of gold in the processing of gold-bearing sulfide rocks. The same sulfide minerals expose heavy metals through the exposure of water and air, and through chemical reactions create acid rock drainage — acidic water containing dissolved heavy metal compounds. Research into the negative health impacts and deleterious ecological effects of dissolved heavy metals is rich. Like heavy metals, cyanide also poses serious threats to aquatic life and threatens health of humans.

The Tarime district housed the North Mara Gold Mine, with all major stages of resource extraction and waste generation occuring on site. All effluents were directed to raw earth water and in tailing dams. An investigative study found higher than acceptable levels of the toxic substances in the environment of areas surrounding the site. In addition, the dams failed to contain the wastewater from leaching into water and soil. From the 27 sites studied, a total of 54 samples of cadmium, chromium, nickel, lead and cyanide were collected from tailing dams, waste rock as well as the Tighite River. The samples were measured against three recognized benchmarks of toxic concentration levels (EPA, WHO and Tanzanian government standards). With the exception of cyanide all heavy metal components had concentrations above acceptable levels in waste rocks and tailings by all three standards. Heavy metal samples collected from the river site also showed excessive concentration levels of the four heavy metals (cyanide was not detected). Finally, the soil samples were evaluated against an international metric of soil toxicity standard, which reflects “global soil” levels for the five substances. Cyanide, nickel and cadmium were above their tolerable ranges, making vegetation grown in the soil risky for animals or humans.

By and large the mine failed to contain harmful effluents on site. The trickling of these toxic substances in surrounding areas negatively impacted surface and groundwater resources; neighbouring pastures where cattle grazed freely were greatly exposed; acid rock drainage on the study sites registered low to very low ph ranges, worsening the survival conditions of plant life. In addition, acid rock drainage was shown to create a negative feedback loop starting with the release of minerals stored in rocks. Tellingly, toxic effluents lower a substance’s ph and thus create conditions for the release of more undesirable metal particles in the medium. The effect is captured and amplified in aquatic life and plant life, where high concentration amounts pose a risk to humans consuming those resources. A wide array of health problems and disorders have been attributed to polluted plants and fish, including increased risk of cancer and liver failure in humans. Toxicity studies have investigated the real link between intoxication and the breakdown of natural immune defences, leaving the host vulnerable to disease contraction. Moreover, the site of the mine concerned endangered species and red list species per CITES and IUCN registries. Thus the North Mara Gold Mine should have swiftly undergone more intensive environmental auditing by the Tanzanian government, let alone stricter control of the spread of toxic effluents in the adjoining environment.

Governance of Mining in Tanzania

The governance structure overseeing legal mining in Tanzania has considerable institutional gaps, while access to mineral exploration rights by informal miners is fraught with intractable, bureaucratic processes. First, the policy upon which mineral development rests does not integrate stakeholder participation in determining impacts on the livelihood and quality of life of affected communities. As discussed in the Geita Mine case above, consideration of the community voice was non-existent, and mining companies have been content with just striking an agreement with the government. In parallel, Ghanaian policies on national mining development from 1983 to the early 2000s underwent remarkable growth, but the boon to the sector did not spillover into nearby communities, and national progress did not accrue benefits from mining output. Second, the political measures for FDI activities lack the institutional strength to promote real economic benefits in many areas of the country, namely in rural communities. The state perceives the local community as net beneficiaires of mineral development, and so deliberations for mining projects have been taking place almost solely between state authorities and company representatives. This misguided approach also reflects a fundamental need for legal provisions in the impact assessment process. By creating a platform for consultation with concerned stakeholders, project developers will have the obligation to integrate community needs in amended project objectives. Third, that the federal government has absolute jurisdiction over the mining industry poses constraints to tackle child labour in mines operating informally. As with the inability to manage the rather exponential growth of mining development, government workers lack the information tools and the inspection capacity to perform due diligence in the area of informal mining. A considerable proportion of more than four million child labourers in Tanzania perform dangerous jobs, most notably in the mining sector. While the government has active laws that strictly prohibit the employment of children, the inspection and prosecution of informal mines in violation are not carried out. The reason is largely due to lack of personnel and resources. As such, total control of federal authorities bears part of the blame. That downloading of responsibilities to lower administrative levels has merit on the basis of political will: sub-national progress of environmental control of mining project has had more progress than at the national level. Fourth, while small, or artisanal miners, can apply for licenses to formalize their operations, many often face exclusionary application processes when seeking a legal title to their informal claim. Historically, the advent of a so-called shared holding system of rights to land paved the way for small, individual miners to obtain mining rights. However, the institutional arrangement was such that any license request would be granted in the form of a deed to prospect under the authority of an informal group of shareholders. 50% of the mine produce would go to the major licence (share) holder of the site, leaving the worker with very little revenue. More recently, the formation of an association of artisanal, informal diamond miners had enabled prospecting for short duration before government intervention relocated the association to a barren land, in an attempt to rationalize diamond blocks. Past research remarked a similar outcome: little government involvement on the local, institutional arrangement of artisanal miners versus larger, wealthier stakeholders revealed formalization attempts that favoured the wealthier parties. Artisinal miners thus face an uphill battle when requesting licenses, and often it is unclear if alternative approaches are available. Poor Institutional frameworks have shown to create confusion for informal miners, and the breadth and depth of the regulatory environment clearly has to curb the overzealous & selfish behaviour of mining companies.


The purpose of this examination is to analyse the socioeconomic conditions and environmental impacts that the overall mining industry created recently, in Tanzania. The industry has taken advantage of a liberal market landscape to invest heavily in precious metals, gemstones, sand and uranium, among others. Indeed, mining revenue has had sustained growth. In 2009, mining contributed to 2.5% of GDP; in 2013, that figure rose to 3.3%; and in 2015 it climbed to 4%.Moreover, sectoral data points to mining having one of the fastest growing industries in the past few years, namely from 2016 to 2017. Mining companies establishing operations in Tanzania have the vested responsibility to ensure protection for the environment in the project planning process by listening to the concerns of affected citizens and community groups beforehand. In addition, a participative platform enables communications of efforts within the scope of CSR to promote support of socioeconomic development. Without the elaboration of an EIA process — along with environmental management plans — robust in scope and the development of clear guidelines for implementation, many enterprises will choose the path with limited commitments towards safeguarding natural resources and safety of people. Decentralization of authority over the mining sector may have more advantages than disadvantages. Being a state-level jurisdiction, the Ministry of Energy and Minerals exerts both law-making and regulatory control over all of the mining activities, including permit requests and royalty collection. As argued, absolute control may actually lead to poor environmental control. Further, the existing statecraft requires additional support to manage the revenue obtained from the sudden growth of mining companies. Local and regional economic development agencies — boasting expertise in directing tax & royalty revenue towards effective social programmes — should be the focus of follow-up studies. Areas to address include the efficacy of empowering local government with autonomous powers and financial resources for expenditures on education, health, employment, infrastructure and small loans among others. The nefarious ills and symptomatic issues associated with illegal sand mining must take precedence in debates on unemployment and poverty. Government has to take affirmative action on streamlining policies for fully open labour markets as well as creating fiscal rebates for targeted employers to facilitate employment. Other measures include the state-sponsored research into safe and viable alternatives to sand, which can replace the high-demand commodity in the construction industry and other sectors of the economy.