Local villagers had high hopes when they first heard that foreign and domestic companies would start mining in their hometown of Kayelekera on the northwestern shores of Lake Malawi. The government and the companies promised jobs, better schools and improved access to healthcare for the village.
What the villagers did not realize, and the government and companies failed to inform them, was the risks and dangers involved in developing and operating the mines. They were only told that it would involve relocation when representatives of a coal mining company ordered them to leave their homes.
"We only heard about the relocation when we saw the bulldozer coming," one villager said. "I did not know anything. They made me move at noon when they came to demolish our houses. They just left me outside," she wailed. Such stories of atrocities by resource mining companies are widespread throughout the resource-rich continent
Over the past 10 years, the government of Malawi has promoted private investment in resource extraction as a way to diversify its economy. The Karonga district, in which Kayelekera falls, is the country's test case. Malawi's only uranium mine opened there in 2009 and two of the country's four biggest coal mines are there.
Villagers say that in September 2013 the coal mining company forced at least 10 other households to move from their homes, which were near the company's office building. The mining company disputes this. Today, three years later, many of the villagers still do not have a roof over their heads.
As multinational companies, including those from Australia and Cyprus, start to prospect and mine in the Karonga and neighboring districts of Malawi, residents and non-governmental organizations have voiced serious concerns about potential environmental damage and the effect on their health, water, food and housing.
The government and companies operating in the Karonga district say they monitor the effects of mining on the environment and water sources. But villagers say they have never seen any results of any water testing. And they also do not have adequate access to healthcare facilities that were promised to them or where they could be assessed and treated for any mining-related health conditions.
Malawi is still new to mining, it should be especially careful not to repeat the mistakes made by resource mining in other countries in Southern Africa, including in neighboring Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is not enough to create a fertile investment climate for mining companies. Previous empirical experience shows how important it is for the government, investors and mining companies to develop their industry in a way that benefits the country and respects the rights of the people.