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Anquan Boldin, NFL wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl Champion, has traveled with Oxfam to visit poverty-fighting programs in Ethiopia and Senegal.
Hearing that President Obama is heading to Senegal this week reminded me of my own trip to the country just a few months ago—and the promises I made to the people I met.
In March, I traveled to Senegal with Oxfam and heard about the fierce challenges community members face each day on account of large scale gold-mining operations in their backyards. Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White joined me on the trip.
In Kedougou, in the southeastern part of the country, we met many warm and wonderful people. We were greeted by singing and dancing when we arrived to the village of Sabodala. I was overwhelmed by how many people showed up to meet us, and soon enough I was dancing, too! But that warm welcome was overshadowed when I heard about the injustices facing the people of Sabodala.
Sadly, these rural communities have been devastated by large scale gold-mining operations. Despite the riches found in their soil, none of it has been returned to their community. Many have lost access to the agricultural land that sustained their families. Worse yet, many did not even receive adequate compensation when they were forced off their lands. Without any other source of income, they now pan for gold just to feed their families, with little payoff. Just a few years ago, panning for gold was a pastime rather than a necessity.
While the nearby mining operation uses the latest extractive technologies, the villagers use their bare hands to separate specks of gold from sand with toxic mercury. Almost everywhere you look in the village, people are hunched over, grinding rocks into sand, squinting for gold. They crush the rocks with heavy wood sticks, then filter and wash out the remains to search for gold. With any luck, they may find a small nugget. But mostly it’s nothing more than specks of dust.
While other people are making millions off the riches found in their lands, the people of Sabodala were never even consulted about the large-scale mining operation in their community, and receive no benefits from it. Their livelihoods and human rights have been trampled. I promised the people of Kedougou that I would bring their stories back to the United States, and I am sharing them with anyone who will listen.
I doubt President Obama will travel the unpaved and dusty roads of Kedougou while in Senegal, but I do hope he recognizes this problem and takes action to help the region address the injustices felt by thousands on account of large-scale mining.
I hope President Obama urges his Senegalese counterpart, President Sall, and other African leaders to ensure that mining companies respect human rights, that mining revenue gets managed in a transparent way, and that communities receive adequate compensation and have a meaningful voice in deciding where mining takes place. He should encourage them to push the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) to finalize and implement the ECOWAS mining code, which helps protect the basic rights of local communities to express their free, prior and informed consent. This will allow communities to decide if mining is the right path to developing their futures, and help protect the human rights of the affected communities.
As the leader of our nation, an athlete, and an avid sports fan, I know President Obama cares deeply about fair play. As a veteran NFL player, I also know how important it is to play by the rules. I hope that before he leaves Senegal, he will do everything he can to make sure communities in Kedougou are treated fairly and that rules protecting their basic rights are respected. The people of Kedougou deserve nothing less.
What else should President Obama do when he visits Africa this week? Read about 5 actions to make his trip to Africa a huge success.