Oct 08 2007

Behind the Shining: Aluminum’s Dark Side


In August 2000, the governments and Malawi and Mozambique discussed a plan

to mine bauxite from Mulanje Mountain, refine it, and ship alumina to

Billiton’s Mozal smelter in Mozambique.

Malawi Vice President Justin Malewezi touted the deal. “This will be of

great benefit to both countries since Mozambique will cut expenses of

importing alumina from Australia while Malawi will benefit from job

creation.” (“Talks on bauxite venture,” ANN/IRIN, August 29, 2000)

A local conglomerate, Press Corporation Ltd., is seeking international

partners to build and operate the mine. In Sept. 2000, Malawi president Dr.

Bakili Muluzi said his government would send a delegation to the United

Kingdom to discuss a possible collaboration on mining the bauxite.

(“President Muluzi promises to sack corrupt ministers,” MBC radio, Sept.

23, 2000; “Outlet hope for bauxite,” Africa Energy & Mining, Oct. 11, 2000)

The government estimates that the mountain holds over 50 million tons of

bauxite. Charles Kaphwiyo, Malawi’s geological survey director, said the

bauxite would be dug out from a depth of 14 to 16 meters, and sent down the

mountain by rope and buckets. He estimated that “less than one-tenth” of

the mountain would be mined. (“Environmentalists Concerned Over Bauxite

Project,” Africa News, Nov. 26, 2000)

“We have huge untapped mineral resources in Mulanje while our neighbor

(Mozal) is importing alumina from far away like Australia,” said Leonard

Kalindekafe, mining director of the Ministry of Natural Resources. “This

is an opportunity the country cannot afford to lose.”..(Brian Ligomeka,

“Malawi Mines Peak For Mozambique Factory,” Africa News, Nov. 17, 2000)

Others, though, hold a different view. “While many people are just pegging

their thoughts on the economic aspect of mining bauxite on Mulanje,

consideration should be given to the devastation that the project would

have on natural resources and the people who live around the mountain,”

said Jones Njala, head of the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust, in Nov.

2000. (Africa News, Nov. 17, 2000)

Mulanje Mountain rises 3,000 meters above sea level and is the highest peak

in Centarl Africa. It spawns nine rivers upon which over 2 million people

depend. In 2000, UNESCO designated Mulanje Mountain as a biosphere reserve.

(“Four new biosphere reserves designated in Africa,” Africa News, Nov. 9,

2000; Africa News, Nov. 17, 2000)

Wildlife Society of Malawi director Daulosi Mauambeta said pollution from

the operation could impact water resources, small-scale farms, and tea

estates around the mountain. (Africa News, Nov. 26, 2000)

“The benefits in the form of job creation and the general creation of


from the mine are greater, so the mine will go ahead,” said President

Muluzi. (“Malawi’s Proposed Bauxite Mine Scales Environmental Hurdle,”

Africa News, Nov. 22, 2000)


For the time being, the Malaysian government has shelved a plan to build a

new 2,400 megawatt dam in Bakun, Sarawak. The dam would have fueled a

planned aluminum smelter and steel mill.

The Bakun dam, according to the head of the Coalition of Concerned NGOs,

could force the resettlement of 10,000 indigenous peoples.

“Why do we want toxic and energy-hungry industries such as Aluminium

smelters?,” asked Dr. Kua Kia Soong, head of the coalition. “The earliest

justification for the Bakun dam during the Eighties was the need for energy

to fuel an Aluminium smelter in Bintulu. Aluminium smelting is one industry

that the developed countries want to dump on suckers like us because it is

environmentally toxic and it consumes voracious amounts of energy.”

(Dr. Kua Kia Soong, Coalition of Concerned NGOs, press statement, June 10,


Sierra Leone

In 1995, civil war forced the closure of the Sieromco bauxite mine (owned

by Alcan subsidiary Alusuisse) in Sierra Leone. (Richard Carver, “Sierra

Leone after the ECOMOG intervention,” Feb. 1997-April 1998, Writenet, April


“The tragedy unfolding in Sierra Leone may have its roots – literally –

embedded in a treasure trove of valuable underground minerals,” wrote Kathy

Close in May 2000. The country hosts considerable natural resources,

including iron ore, gold, diamonds, and bauxite. (Kathy Close, “The Tragic

Treasure of Sierra Leone,” May 23, 2000, on


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