Despite the prime minister's show of visiting a place where thousands of people were sold as commodities, the point of his trip was not to acknowledge the great wrong done to Africa during the slave trade but rather for Canadian companies to get their hands on Senegal's resources.
During Justin Trudeau's expedition to Senegal last month foreign minister François-Philippe Champagne "attended the issuance of operating licenses for Teranga and Barrick Gold alongside the minister of mines and geology, the minister of economy, planning & cooperation as well as the minister of environment of Senegal."
Barrick Gold is Canada's most controversial mining firm. Pick a continent and you will find a Barrick-run mine that has ravaged the environment and spurred social tension.
But, in Senegal Teranga Gold is the dominant player, operating the first industrial scale gold mine in the country. Taking its name from the Wolof word for "hospitality", Teranga markets itself well. A search online generated a series of short videos and corporate social responsibility reports detailing the Toronto company's purported good deeds and local support. But reality is more complicated. In 2010 a hundred soldiers were deployed to Teranga's mine site to drive off long-standing artisanal miners whose digging helped the company determine where to prospect. One small-scale miner told Allo Dakar that "we prefer to die here rather than give the land to the company." Despite the security presence, many continued to dig with the police periodically tear-gassing and arresting the artisanal miners.
According to Amnesty International's "Mining and Human Rights in Senegal: Closing the Gaps in Protection", a half-dozen families were displaced to make way for a Teranga waste disposal pond. They were given new homes a few kilometres away but felt their situation had significantly deteriorated. Amnesty documented another small community unhappy with Teranga and worried they would also be displaced as the mine expanded.
The mayor of a larger town, Sabadola, claimed the company misled the community. "At first we thought that we'd benefit from many things: electricity, housing and infrastructure," said Mamadou Cissokho. "But we received none of that." Instead, Cissokho decried the pulmonary infections caused by dust from the mine and the company's encroachment on their land. "Even our fields, they took them. We do not know where to go. Certainly, they do this to suffocate us and to clear us off."
In 2014 the director of Teranga's Senegalese subsidiary, Macoumba Diop, was fired. His supporters told the press that Diop was let go because he protected Senegalese workers, largely confined to subordinate positions, from mistreatment by the foreign managers who were described as "colonialist". In 2017 an employee died from an injury while working in the process plant of Teranga's Sabodala mine.
Senegalese tax authorities accused Teranga of diverting funds to an offshore bank. In 2011 they claimed the Toronto-based company skipped out on $24 million in payments and then again failed to pay $2 million more in 2015.
Claiming the royalties mandated by Senegal were above the agreed upon rate, Teranga employed the services of former Que'bec Premier Jean Charest to navigate the issue with this active member of la Francophonie. "With his credibility and contacts, he was the right person to get the attention of the government and a fair deal for both sides," Teranga CEO Richard Young told La Presse in 2013.
The controversy surrounding Teranga has failed to deter Canadian officials from backing the company. In early 2014 Canadian Ambassador Philippe Beaulne visited its mine with Senegalese president Macky Sall and Beaulne spoke during the public release of Teranga's 2013 corporate social responsibility policy. In 2012 Prime Minister Stephen Harper met Teranga's CEO and some other Canadian mining officials in Dakar. During the part of the meeting open to reporters the prime minister suggested, reported Canada.com, that Canadian companies' "ethical practices gave them an edge over the competition." Harper also told the press that Senegal "really has the opportunity to become the hub for Canadian investment in this entire region of Africa." To prepare for an expansion in Canadian mining, Ottawa signed a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement (FIPA) with Senegal in 2014.
Canada has funded various mining projects in Senegal. Millions of dollars in Canadian aid has gone to a Senegalese school for geomatics (combining geography and information technology to map natural resources). In 2014 the federal government announced the launch of branch offices of a professional society, the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum, in Senegal and Burkina Faso. A press release stated: "The opening of a second office [in West Africa] allows Canada to further share best practices with the region and will make the knowledge and experience of Canadian miners, geologists and managers more available to their African counterparts." Supported by the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum created the Institut Minier Ouest Africain. A series of other aid projects such as the 2016 "West Africa Governance and Economic Sustainability in Extractive Areas" supported mining initiatives in Senegal.
As with other countries in Africa, Ottawa is helping Canadian companies exploit Senegal's minerals.
The PM's trip to House of Slaves was a sideshow, what they want is the gold.