SUNDAY April 2, 2023
By Deus Bugaywa
The Tranquility News Correspondent, Tanzania
The visit by Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) team to North Mara Gold Mine last January though has opened the door for dialogue between the two institutions that have been in a longstanding disagreement on human rights, it has shown a serious concern on credibility issues.
The visit allowed RAID to discuss security and human rights state at the mine and gave them an opportunity for seeing some of the Barrick’s community projects and a conversation on issues that kept them apart.
“We hope the important dialogue with Barrick on human rights and security challenges will continue,” said a RAID report after the visit, adding:
“As part of the visit, Barrick arranged for RAID to observe its meeting at the mine with village leaders and the local Member of Parliament.
In RAID’s view, this meeting, in which at least seven Barrick staff participated, was not an appropriate forum for local leaders to express human rights concerns relating to the mine.
“A number of the views articulated during the meeting contradicted previous concerns and criticisms local leaders expressed during confidential interviews with RAID, and were at odds with views voiced during the fora not convened by Barrick.”
The denial by 11 village leaders surrounding North Mara Gold Mine to have been working or collaborating with RAID has raised a serious concern on the authenticity of the organisation’s reports.
The organisation has been using unnamed village leaders as sources with some referred to as victims of abuse to generate human rights violations reports that have put Tanzanian gold at risk of not being certified by the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA).
A law suit by a UK law firm, Leigh Day, filed against LBMA claims that the latter is wrongfully certifying gold from Tanzania North Mara Gold Mine, largely basing on allegations in the RAID reports.
Village leaders and the Member of Parliament representing the area, Mr Mwita Waitara, who are key sources in the RAID reports, denied working with the organisation before its Executive Director Anneke Van Woudenberg, who led the team during the visit.
The denial by village leaders poses a serious concern about the authenticity and credibility of the reports. Naming sources in news stories and reports is the general rule, as information attached to a specific person is more credible and can be easily verified, unlike an anonymous source with vested interest in the reports.
Asked as to why anyone should trust their reports, given the compromised credibility arising from over reliance on anonymous sources, Anneke said they regularly consult and interview local leaders and authorities.
“Since Barrick assumed operational control of the North Mara mine in September 2019, we have conducted numerous interviews with current and former local leaders to gather their views and perspectives concerning the human rights situation. Many of those we interviewed requested that we keep their identities confidential as they feared reprisals for speaking out,” she said.
When asked to explain on the meeting she held with the village leaders who denied before her to have ever worked with her she said: “Local leaders claiming in a public meeting organised and observed by senior members of Barrick that they do not know RAID or its human rights work, is not surprising, especially in light of the fears expressed to us privately that speaking out against the mine is tantamount to speaking out against the Tanzanian Government.”
According to The Des Moines Register, the daily morning newspaper of Des Moines, Iowa, anonymously quoting people can erode credibility when overused or done for no justifiable reason, and for that reason, they give anonymity a serious consideration before granting it.
The Des Moines Register queries: “We consider the motive of the sources and the reasoning for the request to be unnamed. Is it someone who is not authorised to speak and would be fired for providing information? Is it a witness to a crime who could be targeted? Or is it someone with an ax to grind or who simply does not want to be held responsible for what he or she says?”
The complexity of the environs and the nature of the North Mara Gold Mine hosting a community leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to giving accurate account of what has been happening in their community in relationship to mining activities.
The RAID reports on human rights allegations against North Mara Gold Mine are mostly based on the treatment of invaders of the mine, who in organised groups armed with local weapons, enter by force into the mining sites to steal gold ores.
Most of the reports by the London-based Rights and Accountability in Development organisation have been in favour of the invaders, always pointing an accusing finger at police officers’ attempts to stop them from violating the law.
Chapter 29 Section 285(2) of the Tanzanian Penal Code Act on robbery and extortion states: “Where two or more persons steal anything, and at or immediately before or immediately after stealing, use or threaten to use actual violence to any person or property in order to obtain or retain the thing stolen commits an offence of gang robbery”.
The dubiousness of the reports is anchored on the fact that they are based on narrations and opinions from invaders and unnamed village leaders. In the journalism field, anonymity of sources has been sparking a hot debate regarding the credibility of stories whose foundation is unidentified sources.
For responsible media houses, unnamed sources are reserved only for information believed to be newsworthy, credible and that cannot be reported in any other way.
Critics and scholars have long pointed at the overuse of unnamed sources as a vexing problem in journalism, as they erode credibility. Over the last decade, these complaints have reached a fever pitch.
In the fallout from their Iraq War coverage, the New York Times’ former public editor offers a critical assessment of their coverage, focusing on the overreliance of information from anonymous sources.
Daniel Okrent (2004) writes: “There is nothing more toxic to responsible journalism than an anonymous source. There is often nothing more necessary, too; crucial stories might never see print if a name had to be attached to every piece of information. But a newspaper has an obligation to convince readers why it believes the sources it does not identify are telling the truth.”
Transparency is critical to credibility with the public and subscribers for any serious organisation. The Associated Press (AP) has set a strict set of guidelines to be enforced by its news managers when a newsmaker insists on background or off-the-record ground.
With AP, anonymous sources are to be used only when “the material is information and not opinion or speculation, is vital to the report, the information is not available except under the conditions of anonymity imposed by the source and the source is reliable, and in a position to have direct knowledge of the information.”
For the credible reports and the graveness of the allegations raised by RAID, reliability and authenticity of sources is vital. The use of anonymous sources that have vested interest in the subject denies the reports the much-needed transparency which is critical for the credibility of the reports.
This was revealed in the recent Komarera Village compensation saga where some people, who appeared on social media complaining of ill-treatment and evictions, were impostors from other villages and others were fully paid and compensated.
Remedy, no justice
While RAID works to pursue justice and remedy for the victims of abuse, its decision to evade appropriate local prosecuting authorities denies the victims of justice, as bringing culprits to justice becomes impossible if remedy is sought from outside the country.
In most of their reports, RAID maintains that it holds corroborated evidence of alleged personal injuries involving the Tanzania Police Force, but it has never shared it with relevant prosecuting authorities which, according to Tanzanian laws, are the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Responding to their hesitation to share the evidence with Tanzanian authorities and pursue justice internally, Anneke said they have been trying to reach them in vain, explaining: “As for cases, this is for the law firms to answer, but as a journalist, you know how difficult it is to get justice internally, given the powerful influence multinationals command.”Ω