A House photo


A House IS a House

April 19, 2013 by Madeleine Lesser

Houses differ in their materiality, aesthetics and construction depending on culture, environment, geographic location, etc.; but the core purpose of a house transcends boundaries. No house is more sacred than another.

A house is a house – or is it?

Recently, Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs featured an article by Shefa Siegel which questions the development of mining and its lack of ethics.  His story begins in the town of Essakane, Burkina Faso, where until the late 20th century inhabitants relied on agriculture to sustain their livelihoods.  Facing famine in the 1980s, the people discovered gold and transformed the town into a mining hub and a population of artisanal miners.  But now, foreign investment and construction have brought land conflicts and forced resettlement of local peoples to make way for large-scale mega-monster corporate mines.  A shocking quote from the article reveals a Canadian corporate director’s sentiments about the policies that burn local houses and violently remove inhabitants from their homes:  In addition to denying clearing the area for the mine, the director claimed that even if it had been cleared, it was “inaccurate to equate thatched-roof dwellings with houses made of concrete and metal.  In his words, ‘there are houses, and there are houses.’”[1]

Seriously?  What does that even mean?  Somehow, in the director’s eyes, the very material that constitutes a home is the basis for its legitimacy.  The director has convinced himself, and many others, that because thatched roof dwellings are not really homes, then burning them to the ground is of little effect.  So, what makes a home a real home?  To him, based on his statement, one may presume that a home would be a permanent, solid, brick/metal/concrete structure that fits his Western, stereotypical understanding of a home in a suburb, city, or even on a farm.  But, a thatched-roof dwelling in the forest is something he cannot make sense of.  To most, relatively moral people, a home is a place where a person or people find shelter, where they sustain their livelihoods through varying degrees and methods of cooking, bathing, resting, and in a deeper sense, establishing and perpetuating culture, tradition and happiness.  These real conditions for a home do not rest on its materiality, but rather its function.

The director’s sentiment illustrates the larger attitude that seems to have unfortunately become the status quo of certain corporate mining (and logging) operations, which might go something like, “Local people’s homes and lives are not as important as corporate missions.”  Such disregard is illustrated not only by the burning of homes in this context, but instances from across the world have become more and more common whereby local people lose their homes, lands, culture and human rights.

A possible explanation for the continuation of this kind of behavior may be found in Siegel’s article: as an international community, we have established environmental governing bodies through the UN, for example, but never include topics of minerals and mining.  Siegel poses that we are simply averse to discussing the ethics of mining as most people find it utterly boring or entirely contradictory.[2]  If this is true, that people just can’t be bothered by the ethics of mining – or logging, or bio piracy, or any other usurpation – then this disastrous status quo will continue.

Not only has a lack of adherence to ethics resulted in human rights violations, but these corporate mine establishments have caused a war.  One artisanal miner said to Siegel, “Every day of my life is a war…Can you set me free?”  Finding gold, miners dying, children dying, are all elements of a status quo that has been deemed “okay.” [3]  This, though, is far from “okay.”

[1] Siegel, Shefa. “The Missing Ethics of Mining.” Ethics and International Affairs. February 14, 2013. http://www.ethicsandinternationalaffairs.org/2013/the-missing-ethics-of-mining-full-text/ (accessed February 20, 2013).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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