Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Battle of the Johns: The Struggle for Tanzania's Mineral Wealth

Before there was a John Thornton, Executive Director of Acacia, the man trying to negotiate with President John Magufuli a deal after a company he leads exported well over $50 billion in minerals from the country in a period of 17 years; there was John Thoburn Williamson, a man who made millions from mining diamonds in Tanganyika starting in the 1940s; lastly, there is John Magufuli, the President of Tanzania. The three Johns: two of them took millions, billions worth of minerals out of Tanzania and one is trying to make sure that laws are followed and appropriate taxes are paid. Let us look at the first John, John Williamson; he gave the queen of England a 23. 6 carat pink diamond present as a wedding gift in 1947; this was the "finest pink diamond in existence" at the time. The story goes that the diamond was discovered by a group of children under a tree outside a mine owned by Williamson. The uncut diamond weighed 54 carats. What came out of the children who found the diamond? Well that is another fascinating story. There is a prominent wealthy Tanzanian family who became rich when their grandfather/great grandfather discovered a big diamond while playing in the region. Is this story connected to the diamond John Williamson gave to the Queen of England? It is not clear at this point, although there seems to be a connection. Northern Tanzania has been producing large quantities of diamonds and gold. Long before either of the Johns came into play in the mining industry in Tanzania, there was a South African company that made millions out of mining in the same northern regions of Tanzania. A South African company owned the diamond mine in Mwanza region in 1925; the territory was then known as Tanganyika. Here we are 2017, Acacia, a foreign company has mined tens of billions of dollars worth of gold and other minerals and paid little to nothing in taxes. This story is not new or unique to Tanzania. Tanzania, like other African countries, do not benefit from the exploitation of minerals found in their countries. The current battle of the Johns will have a significant impact on the future of Tanzania. Will the foreign companies be allowed to continue exploiting Tanzania's wealth or not? The final chapter on this saga is yet to be written. I am hopeful. We shall see...

© Azaria Mbughuni

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