Extraction of Zircon at Niafrang
Niafrang is a village of several hundred inhabitants on the coast of Casamance in southern Senegal. The community is blessed with a rich natural environment, including healthy mangroves and a river that provides abundant fish and oysters. The residents of Niafrang mostly earn their livelihoods as rice farmers. But the existence of the community is threatened by a zircon extraction project proposed by Astron Ltd., an Australian company whose ultimate parent is registered in Hong Kong that specializes in the extraction and industrial processing of zircon. The Niafrang project is part of Astron’s attempt to develop a vertically integrated supply chain – the mine in Casamance (in addition to an existing project in Australia) will provide raw material for a processing plant that the corporate group has recently opened in China.
The proposed mining operations threaten the community in at least two ways. First, the zircon would be extracted from the protective sand dune that extends along the outer edge of the village and prevents the seawater from flooding their rice paddies. Astron has done little to reassure the community that its activities will not destabilize the dune, allowing saltwater intrusion that would destroy the fresh water supply and the residents’ traditional lifestyle. Second, the MFDC, a rebel guerrilla force in Casamance, has declared its opposition to the project, which it considers to be a pillage of Casamance’s natural resources. The MFDC has threatened that any move to start extracting zircon at Niafrang would lead to a new outbreak of violence. While the company could expect to be protected by the Senegalese government, it is the villagers who would be caught in the crossfire.
The company has tried to change the attitude of the locals by committing to implement local development projects, intimidating the residents of Niafrang (e.g., by visiting the extraction site accompanied by numerous security force personnel), falsifying the results of public consultations, and even sponsoring the extremely popular local football team, Casasport. But all these efforts have been in vain; the village of Niafrang remains completely opposed to the extraction project.
ACA first visited Niafrang at the invitation of the community’s Zircon Resistance Committee and the “Appeal of the Dune” Coalition in 2017 and conducted legal education activities in 2018.
In January and February 2020, the community voted to use the Senegalese legal system to peacefully resist the zircon project.
In July 2020, lawyers from Cabinet Welle & Thiakane filed a request in the High Court of Dakar, seeking documents related to the granting and renewal of Astron’s permits. The request was rejected because no litigation was underway at the time.
In November 2020, the community’s attorneys filed a request with the Ministry of Mines and Geology, requesting the same records that they had previously sought from the courts. They also identified important procedural gaps that had illegally denied the community opportunities to learn about the project’s impacts or raise their concerns with decision makers. The Ministry’s response to this letter is still pending. After 2 years of delays, our partner has routinely sought meetings to clarify the situation. In the meantime, ACA has launched a community-led science effort to measure the potential impacts of mining on the local environment.
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