MEIGANGA, CAMEROON - Villagers near Meiganga, a town in northern Cameroon, are protesting against Chinese gold miners for allegedly ruining their land. The villagers say they are poorer than before the Chinese arrived, with their farms and forests now destroyed.
Area cattle ranchers and farmers say that if nothing is done to save them from Chinese miners, famine may strike their locality soon.
Their spokesman, rancher Mamoudu Poro, 54, says the miners destroy farms and do not bother to cover holes and trenches they dig on roads and ranches before leaving. He says they want the Chinese to build the roads they destroyed and fill the trenches they dug, give them electricity and at least a school and a market before leaving.
Until 2014, Meiganga and surrounding villages cultivated maize, beans and groundnuts and produced cattle for markets in Cameroon, Nigeria and the Central African Republic.
Then, 300 new mining sites producing gold, zinc, nickel and other materials were discovered in the region. Among the explorers were Chinese companies.
More than a hundred of the companies' miners work in and around Meiganga. They use tractors and equipment that clean stones and sift soil, allowing them to detect gold faster than locals who use manual tools. Locals are paid about $2 per day to work at the Chinese mining sites.
Cameroon's minister of mines, Gabriel Dodo Ndoke, says the complaints of the villagers are legitimate. He says he has asked the companies to respect the terms of their contract with the government.
Ndoke says the population suffers as a result of environmental degradation and does not benefit as expected because their mineral resources are exploited in a disorganized manner. He says he has given instructions to all exploitation companies to make sure they respect environmental laws and stop destroying farms and cattle ranches, which for now are the only sources of earnings for the people of the area.
Officials with the China Mining Company in Meiganga declined to be interviewed about the allegations. However, company official Hu Long said the firm has assisted communities by providing aid to hospitals and building or refurbishing schools when solicited. He says the company also employs about 100 youths.
This is not the first time Cameroonian villagers have protested against alleged exploitation by the Chinese. In 2016, residents of eastern Cameroon had conflicts with small-scale Chinese gold miners who had been there for six years. The local miners said the Chinese had taken away their livelihoods and were not living up to promises to develop the area.
Cameroon has not officially announced how much it gains from the mining business but says it contributes a significant amount to the country's gross domestic product.