Mining operations typically require large amounts of land, making land disputes one of the sector’s most pressing challenges. In countries characterised by widespread corruption, administrative structures related to the granting of concession rights to mining companies are often shadowy. Many governments are accused of enabling land theft. In many parts of Africa south of the Sahara, local populations lack formal rights to land on which they have lived for generations. This makes them vulnerable to companies applying for mining licences.

In many areas forced relocations of villagers or entire villages in the way of the expansion of mining operations or other extraction projects. Forced relocations are often characterised by extreme violence, poor compensation, relocation to new areas with poor housing and limited opportunities. Forced relocations linked to mining and oil extraction occur in many cases indirectly, for example as the result of environmental destruction and water shortages caused by extraction activities.

Some examples

  • The construction of a new mine in a remote area of north western Zambia required the relocation of 4,000 people. According to Canadian mining company, the relocation went smoothly. However, a survey conducted by Swedwatch in 2018 revealed that villagers faced much longer journeys to a market making it harder for them to sell their cereals and vegetables. Furthermore, they no longer had access to forests to pick mushrooms and other forest products. After the relocation, it was harder for the villagers to support themselves and their families. 
  • The Mtwara-Dar es Salaam natural gas pipeline passes through 113 villages in Tanzania and was completed in 2015 after several years of violent protests. Relocated families accuse companies and the government of breaking off dialogue with affected households, and of failing to respect ancestral burial grounds that form a key element of their culture.
  • According to Amnesty International, mining activities in India led by state-owned mining company Coal India has resulted in the relocation of some 87,000 people in the past 40 years. A large proportion of those who have been moved are Adivasi, a people with strong bonds to their land and forests. The affected Adivasi groups report that they have been excluded from decision making related to the land that, according to tradition, belongs to them. Many have waited for decades for promised compensation.