Cyanide accident at Djibo dam in Burkina Faso: will the gold mines kill us before they save us? (Part 3)

On 29 July 2011 a truck carrying 40 tonnes of cyanide heading for the Inata gold mine overturned at Djibo dam. Some of the cyanide got out. The only casualties so far have been fish, but my burning question is this: could it happen again? If Avocet Mining (London), Samsung (Korea) and Vehrad (Ghana) do not change their ways, then the answer to this is yes.

Thank you to all of you who have been tweeting, blogging and FB-ing about this incident. Please keep it up. Use the Share this buttons at the bottom of each post. I have to admit I had never used a Share button on a website until very recently – I did not know how, and was a little bit nervous of it. But it’s extremely easy: you just click on the button (either Facebook or Twitter), enter your FB or Twitter password (don’t worry, this part is secure) and you’re done.

Welcome to Part Three of my exposé of the recent cyanide spill at the Djibo dam. Here are Part One and Part Two in case you missed them: Part One is a news story explaining what happened when. Part Two is a little bit spicier.

I ended Part Two with an open letter to Brett Richards, CEO of Avocet Mining Ltd. I appealed to him to do four things:

  1. Take responsibility for the effects of his company’s activities
  2. Listen to the voices of local people
  3. Consider alternatives to cyanide
  4. Tarmac the road between Kongoussi and Djibo

Under the heading Listen to the voices of local people I supplied links to news forums in Burkina Faso where locals have been commenting on the cyanide scandal. I am sure that Mr Richards speaks French, but for the sake of those who don’t, I have translated a large selection of these comments into English and pasted them below. I agree with most but not all of the opinions expressed.

Comments posted at L’observateur

12 August 2011 06.14 by Ouedraogo Y
“The driver lost control of his vehicle whilst crossing the wall of the dam.”
In theory there are transport norms for these kinds of products; the lorry should not have crossed there. No prolongation of journey time is too much in this kind of transport.

12 August 2011 08.45 by Loroum
Hello everyone! It is regrettable, but it is a sad reality: faced with the crisis, the director of the mine drew back from his responsibility and accused the company Samsung, the manufacturer [Ed. Samsung was not the manufacturer but the courier] of the product. The latter is based in Korea, so what can they do for our poor ignorant population? Our people are left to pick up the bill for the [gold] exploitation; they have to collect the broken pots of Ghanaian transport company VEHRAD. In the end the containers were taken out of the water by a Burkinabe company BLMS. So why seek contractors outside of Burkina when we have the requisite professionals right here? The government does not seem well informed about this accident because it has still not reacted. Where is the Minister of the Environment?

12 August 2011, 09.27 , by Djelgoji
Certainly SMB is responsible for this catastrophic situation, but don’t let the tree hide the forest, I think that the Burkina Faso State has not played its role. It has not built proper roads in this part of Burkina, which is neglected in spite of the presence of the mine. It is up to local people to defend themselves, and why should we not make a complaint to the International Criminal Court against the Burkina government and SMB?

12 August 2011 10.20, by unouagalais
This reminds me of the theory of our ex-Prime Minister Mr Tertius Zongo who declared hand on heart that gold mining could not develop a country. Unfortunately he must since have been lured in by the corruption of those raptors who do not care at all about the development of Burkina! We are engaged in an exploitation of our gold in the worst possible way – it’s not surprising that our lakes are polluted.

12 August 2011 13.12, by Bari Leon
I think that the mining company of Belahouro (SMB) is most to blame, if we remember that it pretended not even to be using toxic products like cyanide. That is the truth but we always end up being taken in by lies. Meanwhile the local authorities surpassed themselves in their dereliction of their duty of information and awareness during the crisis which followed the events of 29 July 2011 at Djibo dam.

Comments posted at

2 August 12:34 by Anon
If what is written here is true, the situation is too serious for our national authorities to remain silent. It is not enough to deplore or condemn; this situation deserves particular action, in order to save the courageous poor people, the animals and especially the environment which this generation must leave to the next. Meanwhile, people must mobilize themselves to make their complaint to the Djibo magistrate who must in turn order an inquiry to determine the responsibilities of each party.

2 August 10.55, by kab
If the people [of Djibo] themselves do not take action, no one will come to their aid, and both people and animals will die in silence. Everywhere in the country people are struggling for a better life, but in Djibo [they do] nothing! Even though it’s there that the worst problems exist, in my opinion, and this poison in the reservoir is just another consequence of the passivity of [Burkinabe] people who watch their local authorities doing what they want instead of [those authorities] working for the good of all.

2 August 11.01 by Guiti

This is really worrying. Yesterday I crossed the dam to go to Aribinda and I noticed a lot of dead fish. Something must be done to limit the damage.

2 August 11.38 by Bi Neere
This is negligence on the part of the authorities. In the face of these sad realities, it is our poor parents who will once again pay dearly. Do not fold your arms, sons and daughters of Soum and the Sahel, our parents are all going to die

2 August 13.00 by yeral dicko
Your article is spot on! I was in Djibo at that time and I took lots of photos. It is a real shame that people don’t wake up to the seriousness of the situation!!! It’s time the State did something about this part of the country.

2 August 14.25 by Eric
We should have expected this! All that is a problem with the regime! When you are drunk on the inside as well as the outside it becomes impossible to raise your head and say no to these rapacious westerners who treat us with less consideration than their dogs. Eat and drink, for tomorrow we will all die! Unless a little Jesus comes out of nowhere and saves us from our current leaders as quickly as possible. Oops, not just our own leaders but also those vultures of Western Presidents, from Sarko to Obama via David and Merkel… they are more terrorist than Al Quaida. Believe me: the end of the world is very close.

2 August 14.42 par Taretare

This is terrible news. Thank you for having brought it to the attention of the world. I hope that an immediate solution will be found before the worst happens. I do not think it is enough to write; the youth must once more mobilize, but this time our key demands must be satisfied. Our leaders always need a push in the right direction.

6 August 22.25 by Mariam SERI SIDIBE
Hello dear brothers and sisters. After the spill of toxic chemicals in Abidjan, where several thousand fell victim, the horror goes on…
I am a Sister of the Order of Guadeloupe living in France, but I once lived in Africa. I will share this article in ‘Africa’s Struggle’, an anti-capitalist newsletter, to raise awareness of this situation.

Comments posted at

2 August 00.15 by Tapsoba
We are waiting for the reaction of the government – or will they react too late, like a doctor arriving after a death? They refused to take this danger seriously when we called them to action back in May. It’s so sad you could cry.

2 August 12.08 by Salowmoon
I almost have tears in my eyes! It’s just like in the Westerns:

They come and take your land by force ;
They remove gold and they make off with it ;
They corrupt your sons and daughters ;
They degrade the roads ;
They decimate cattle and wildlife, and all the while they are poisoning the land and the water for decades to come.
They don’t care about us locals who did not ask for anything and did not expect anything.

2 August 10.05 by I.SAD
Thank you, brother, for your update. If these miners get away with everything, it is for the simple reason that they have the blessing of our authorities, who ignore the interests of their people and the wellbeing of these poor areas in exchange for ‘envelopes’. I live in [Djibo] province and it makes my heart ache to see the discrimination in this place which has no tarmacked roads. The economic potential of Soum [Ed. Soum is the province of which Djibo is the capital] is enormous: just take the example of Soum’s cattle, which are Burkina Faso’s second biggest import.

When the gold mine at Belahouro [Inata] opened, the people of Soum saw this as another compelling reason for the road to be surfaced. Besides, back in 2005, Blaise had announced during his presidential campaign that the tarmacked road which stops at Kongoussi ‘is crazy to stop there.’ But alas, our hopes have been dashed once again by the irresponsibility and bad governance of our leaders. And not content with all that, they are poisoning us and consigning us to an inhabitable environment. Nevertheless, people are on high alert more than ever now and they will continue to organize themselves to show these demagogue leaders that they are not slaves.

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Stephen Davies

Children's author: picture books, chapter books and YA novels

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