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Towards an empowered community

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By 1981, Malawi was mostly interested in coal mining to help move locomotives and other machinery.

Thus, in the 1981 Mining Act, government reserves all the rights to control minerals and mines without consulting locals from the areas where the resources are located.

This was the practice. But now things have changed such that there is a renewed interest to commercialise the mining industry in order to generate more revenue as tobacco, the country’s mainstay of the economy, seems to be facing more challenges on the global market.

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But mining industry transformation has brought some challenges.

Despite operating on the 1981 Mining Act, people are now empowered such that they want to make sure that their areas are benefiting from mining companies through corporate social responsibility (CSR) and other means.

The idea of supporting the communities through CSR, however, has been sticky in most parts of the country such that it has occasioned more differences between communities and companies in the respective areas.

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Most communities accuse companies of being stingy while the companies complain that the communities demand a lot from them such that if all their demands are met, most companies can be out of business. All this has been a result of lack of proper legislation guiding the benefits which communities can get from mining companies within their areas.

For instance, in Mangochi’s area of Njereza and Mayera in Traditional (T/A) Mponda where Cement Products Limited (CPL) operates, the situation was initially not different to most areas where mining is taking place. There had been running battles between the two parties.

Although CPL is yet to start mining in the area, their coexistence and cooperation in regards to development initiatives taking place in the area is a clear demonstration of knowledge management among the two parties.

Both the chiefs, Community Action Groups (Cags) and local people are able to monitor the activities that are undertaken and are able to present their views on the same.

The community, for example, has managed to influence the decision that Cags should be part of the compensation processes taking place in the area, a thing which demonstrates that people understand their roles and rights on mining activities happening in their area.

Group Village Head John Sawadi of T/A Mponda says the communities are now working in harmony with CPL because both sides are aware of the roles they have to undertake to ensure that they coexist.

“Initially, the situation was not good because we were just informed that the company will be helping us because it is using our stones here. There was a lot of agitation from the communities because they thought they will be sharing profits with the company,” Sawadi says.

The traditional leader says it was difficult for the company to operate in the area because villagers used to go to the company and ask for assistance.

“When the company fails to provide, people used to call them all sorts of names. This was the case because people got wrong information when the company was settling here. Officials from the district council were sketchy with information on how the company will be operating.

“But now we are happy because we have seen that people from the area are benefiting more than before. We are selling sand and quarry stones to the company. With the money, people are building good houses and we hope that we will benefit more once the company completes constructing its factory,” he says.

Quadiria Muslim Association of Malawi (Qmam) is finalising implementation of a mining and governance project called Tonse Tipindule which is aimed at empowering the communities with knowledge about mining industry.

Among other things, the project has been supporting Cags with capacity building and Njereza Cag Chairperson Kenneth Chimgangira Mbewe says Cags have been instrumental in negotiations between the people and the company.

He says by the time CPL was constructing its plant in the area, a lot of people expected more unrealistic support from the company. People thought the company solely exists to support their daily needs.

With this, Mbewe says there was tension between communities and CPL officials in regards to how the two were supposed to share their proceeds from the company.

“But after careful training under the Tonse Tipindule project, we got knowledge about how things operate. We are now empowered with knowledge such that we are now able to consolidate our efforts to ensure that we coexist as the company continues working in our area,” he says.

CPL General Manager Humphrey Nkalo says the company is now happy to work with people who are well informed on what is expected of them.

He says initially it was difficult to work with the communities because of lack of knowledge on how CSR works.

CPL is yet to start mining in the area as it is constructing its state-of-the-art clinker factory. Despite this, Nkalo says CPL has been pivotal in assisting the area in order for the communities to appreciate the benefits of having a company in their area.

He says since the company started manufacturing of cement, CPL has so far managed to construct two school blocks, mosques and boreholes. The company has also distributed learning materials to pupils in schools around the area.

Nkalo says the company has also been empowering the locals with some income-generating activities to stop them from depending on charcoal production.

“As a mining company, we strive at working in an environment that is conducive for both our company and the people that surround us. As such, we have been distributing tree seedlings to the communities to restore the environment around us,” he says.

For the people to be economically stable, Nkalo says his company managed to provide them with machines for production of cooking oil. People were also provided with sewing machines and bicycles.

“The journey has not been easy. But we are happy that now we are going into the right direction where we will all be able to walk with a purpose. Companies exist to make profits. But with some good guidelines, we believe people can also benefit from these companies,” he adds.

Qmam Programmes Officer Ishmael Bisiwasi says as the project winds up, there is need to consolidate the gains which have been made through trainings for Cag members so that the people can continue engaging duty bearers in pursuit of benefits from the mining companies.

He says the involvement of Cags has proved to be vital in addressing disagreements that are there between the mining companies and communities on CSR.

Bisiwasi, however, says there is need to engage chiefs so that they understand the importance of giving room to Cags to mediate between communities and mining companies.

“Much as the community action groups are playing an active role, some chiefs are trying to jeopardise the groups’ efforts in the same. This has been the case in both Mayera and Njereza where Cags were sidelined when dealing with compensation issues,” he says.

Going forward, Bismwasi says there is also need to continue building the capacity of the communities so that they are well informed about their rights and responsibilities.

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