Mines Alumnus Benjamin Teschner was featured in the Hennebach-MIPER guest lecture series with his presentation surrounding the effects of large-scale geologic exploration efforts in undeveloped areas of the world. MIPER, or Master of International Political Economy of Resources, is a Colorado of School of Mines exclusive degree, and this degree focuses on offering engineers and scientists specialized knowledge surrounding an intricate global economy.
Teschner graduated from Mines in 2008, and achieved his masters in 2011. Since that time he has worked for the international mining and resources company, Gold Fields. The company has operations on nearly every continent, but Teschner was stationed in Mali as a geological consultant for the resources development program. “I use both of my degrees from Mines on a daily basis,” said Teschner. Part of his responsibilities as an expatriate in Mali included interactions and leases with the local village leaders and government officials. Gold Fields and Teschner worked to establish sustainable relationships with locals through community development and shared value. Sanitation and farming projects were initiated in the rural areas of southern Mali where Teschner worked.
Additionally, Teschner was involved with the building and renovation of schools for the Yanfolila Project of Southern Africa, which is explicitly an exploration endeavor at this current point in time (no mining). “Thousands of meters of testing samples have been drilled so far,” said Teschner. Despite this, the “infrastructure is pretty poor in this area. Medics in Mali are heroes—they do a lot with very little.”
Teschner refers to the time period of building the community and exploratory drilling as “the Good Old Days,” referring to the time beginning around June 2011. However, on March 23, 2012, everything changed. In Mali, there is a rebel group in the north known as the Tuareg, who have “wrestled for independence since the 1960s,” said Teschner. Rebellions of the Arab Spring and the fall of Muammar Qaddafi resulted in the Tuareg receiving armaments and thus some power. President Amadou Toumani Touré experienced a “non-violent, almost accidental coup d’état led by a low ranking Amadou Sanago of the Malian military. Sanago believed that the president was not adequately addressing or dealing with the Taureg. Touré left the country, and Sanago assumed full power, despite his inexperience.
The situation complicated even further as radical Islamic groups aligned with the Tuareg, and this rebellion, although highly unstable and factioned, gained some momentum and began taking over cities, such as Timbuktu. They declared their conquered land Azawad, and again there was very little bloodshed, as “the Malian military was seen removing their uniforms and fleeing in some cases,” said Teschner.
This turmoil was occurring in the Northern part of Mali, while the Gold Fields operation is situated in the very south of Mali, separated from Guinea by only a river. However, this turmoil and struggle for power did affect the project. “Safety of the employees, exploration licenses, in country capital, and new government all became major concerns,” said Teschner. Also, the withdrawal of international aid in the country stressed non-government organizations and local government officials. Hospitals and police stations were underfunded. The importance of mining was escalated to produce revenue to sustain the functionality in the area. At this point, “Gold Fields donated $50,000 to the End Fund, which combats tropical diseases,” said Teschner. And to prove their dedication to the community, Gold Fields continued their sustainable development programs, rather than fleeing in the fragile state of conditions. However, “there was a need to update crisis management plans and to evacuate expatriates” as the conditions are threatening for foreigners, as demonstrated by the fatal hostage event in Algeria, just north of Mali.
As the Tuareg and rebel groups advanced the borders of Azawad even further south, the French military began to intervene, and the French efforts pushed the Tuareg back north. The French managed to recapture Timbuktu, which drastically changed the perspective and long-term situation in Mali.
Despite all of the conflicts in Mali, Gold Fields was able to remain successful, and arguably flourish during these desperate times. None of their operations were adversely affected directly, with their keys to success being a large portion of the reason why. “We trained and hired local staff, maintained positive relationships and full transparency with our ethics policies,” said Teschner. He and the company now look to the future for Mali. There are many questions in play: “Will the Tuareg utilize guerilla tactics in the south? Will the French gain full control of the North? Will democratic elections continue in July? Will hostage events become common?” There is a lot of uncertainty and speculation, but Teschner’s delayed return to Mali suggests the country and the area still has many issues to address. However, positive efforts like those from Gold Fields and employees like Teschner work to enhance the state of affairs in this part of the world.