Academic journal article Refuge

Colonial Walls: Psychic Strategies in Contemporary Mining-Related Displacement

Academic journal article Refuge

Colonial Walls: Psychic Strategies in Contemporary Mining-Related Displacement

Article excerpt


In May 2011, African Barrick Gold, owner of the North Mara Gold Mine in northern Tanzania, announced a plan to erect a three-metre-high concrete wall to enhance security against incursions from local (displaced) populations. Taking this wall as both metaphorical and material, this paper questions the psychological impact of displacement on "displacers." How does this subject avoid psychic implosion? My review identifies legal infrastructure, mythologies of Canadian benevolence, CSR discourses, and community consultations as operating to provide psychic scaffolding for this dominant subject, who is thus inured against psychic distress and implosion in response to conditions of what can be deemed routine structural violence.


En mai 2011, l'African Barrick Gold, proprietaire de la mine d'or du nord du Mara, au nord de la Tanzanie, a annonce le projet de construire un mur de beton de trois metres de haut afin d'augmenter la securite face aux incursions des populations locales (deplacees). En considerant ce mur de fagon materielle et metaphorique, cet article souleve la question de ses impacts psychologiques sur ces populations de << deplaces >>, et demande comment les individus concernes eviteront <>. Cette etude identifie les infrastructures legates, les mythologies de la bienfaisance canadienne, les discours de RSE et les consultations communautaires en tant que moyens pour fournir le soutien necessaire pour aguerrir les sujets contre la detresse psychique et l'implosion en reponse a des conditions pouvant etre considerees comme une violence structurelle continue.


Following the shooting in May 2011 of five Tanzanians at the perimeter of a largely Canadian-owned gold mine in northern Tanzania, the company announced a plan to construct around the mine site a 12-kilometre-long, three-meter-high concrete wall, (1) topped with electrified barbed wire and studded with closed-circuit security cameras. This decision was a response to repeated confrontations between community residents--often artisanal miners--and the mine security. Effectively, a Canadian-financed and majority-owned gold mine was established on Tanzanian soil from which local Tanzanian citizens and miners had been successively displaced, and who were now to be more definitively walled out.

While much "displacement literature" focuses on the impact of displacement on displaced populations, the questions I want to explore pertain to the subjects inside the wall, both literally and figuratively: the expatriates, senior managers, shareholders, and investors. Casting the "walled mine" as a type of gated community with historical links to colonial-era walled forts, I draw on post-colonial and critical race theory to analyze "the displacer" as a neo-liberal subject who operates in a contemporary zone of neocolonialist power relations. Psychologically, what is required of this subject? What psychic gymnastics does this subject engage in to "live with" complicity regarding conditions of racialized structural violence in the form of large-scale displacement, loss, death, dispossession, and impoverishment (or exclusion from wealth) as it affects those living in the vicinity of the mine? How does or can the "displacer" relate to "the displaced"?

This study, which draws specifically on the experiences at the North Mara Gold Mine, owned by African Barrick Gold (ABG), in northern Tanzania, builds on previous research with Canadian mining professionals who had worked in numerous African countries. With reference to the North Mara gold mine, I have had no direct access to the Canadian, expatriate, or other managerial employees at the mine in question. (2) I characterize this lack of access as, in itself, part of the psychic shielding offered to these subjects, just as the wall is placed around the mine's valuable resources. Methodologically, I am left to peruse the assemblage of corporate discourses, legal tactics, social technologies such as community consultations, and the installation of security and surveillance systems as a collection of mirrors through which something of the psychology of the displacer is reflected, can be discerned, and is tentatively theorized. …

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