Gold in Africa (III): a useful tool for violence and development

“The French want our gold.” This short sentence, which Abdoulaye said while sipping his coffee in Bamako (Mali), sitting unemployed and oblivious to the hustle and bustle on the street, could have come from his ancestors in the last six or said to have been seven generations. But the nuances that follow this accusation manage to place us in the current historical context, reassuring Malians of that The French sell guns to the jihadists of the Sahel to create the stability needed to capture the gold.”. And like him, millions of Africans believe they retain memories of the painful years of colonialism, when the French took gold and ruled it as their only payment.

And they also have reason to be excited considering that France, which does not have any gold mines on its territory, has the fourth largest gold reserves in the world; while Mali, a country known for its mines, barely has the precious metal in its coffers.

African gold, which was the source of wealth and fame in the days before colonialism, has since independence become a serious source of suffering for the African people, whether through external influences or at the initiative of their rulers and businessmen. At least four of Africa’s current conflicts (Mali, Burkina Faso, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) owe much of the violence stemming from gold to gold.

The gold to finance jihad

Mali and Burkina Faso are currently engaged in an ongoing conflict against jihadism, affecting millions of their residents (in Burkina Faso alone, 40% of the territory is in jihadist hands). The jihadists’ financing methods include collecting taxes from the occupied territories, drug, cigarette and human trafficking, kidnappings… and extracting gold from micro-mines manned by the AK-47s of the various groups. in action. UNDP early warning specialist José Luengo-Cabrera recently published a map showing the Burkinabe areas that suffered terrorist attacks between January 2017 and April 2023 and, looking at the north and east of the country, the relationship between one and the other can be clear be appreciated.

Ultimately, the Burkinabe jihadists are trying to control these relatively pure artisanal minesto levy an extraction tax on the miners and fill their coffers, albeit indirectly, thanks to the benefits the gold brings when sold to Switzerland and India.

Nor does this mean that there are no major mines in the Sahel, owned by large foreign multinationals and protected by both private security forces and state forces. These mines produce amounts of gold ranging from 200 to 600 million euros every year at market price, it has become common practice to give the state (either Mali or Burkina Faso) 20% ownership of the mine. A well-known case of cooperation between mining companies and the state could be found in the Komana mine in southern Mali, where Three young men were killed by Malian gendarmes during a day of protests in 2018.

The reason for her death: The young people belonged to the neighboring town of Bougoudale and were protesting because the British mining company Hummingbird Resources promised the village elders to build a hospital and school in exchange for their land, which they never built and they have promised , to educate the local population and to offer work, training and offers, which did not arrive either. They protested the mine and were murdered by the state.

repeating stories

Abuses against the African population began with colonization and continue to this day. The only difference might be that meanwhile the only partners are no longer in Europe, but also Asian and North American nations or even other African countries participate in the game. Such a case could be found in eastern DRC, a country rich in copper, coltan and gold, where soldiers from as many as 66 countries patrol villages. About 130 local armed groups, some funded by foreign powers (like the M23 and Rwanda), are also killing to get their share of the cut.

In order for the workings of the Congo to be understood in terms of mineral extraction, Perhaps suffice it to know that Chinese peacekeepers are deployed around the Twangiza mine, which is mined for gold by Chinese mining company Shomka Resources. Or that the Kenyan soldiers integrated into the CAO (East African Community) mission to stabilize the Congo are stationed in the gold and copper mining areas near Kibumba, in the Mwenga area, those of the Kamituga Mining Company are operated … whose headquarters are in Nairobi (Kenya).

Another interesting fact would emerge from checking that Rwanda, a country neighboring the Congo and financier of the M23 guerrilla group, owes 23% of its exports to gold despite not having a single mine on its territory from which to extract it. Interviews this journalist conducted with gold and coltan smugglers on the Congolese border revealed a convenient way of smuggling and selling to the United Arab Emirates, wherein the words of one of these traffickers“The greatest danger is that a tree falls on us.”

In previous deliveries On the subject of gold in Africa, the involvement of Arab countries in its trade in the centuries before colonialism was discussed, and how Europe usurped this position, taking advantage of the decline of the Arab world in the 18th and 19th centuries. This has changed in recent decades; and the golden glow returns to the Arabian ports, so many centuries after the disruption described. In 2021 alone, the UAE imported more than $26,000 million worth of gold from Africa (a value that exceeds the GDP of 82 countries).where Mali, Zimbabwe and Sudan are considered the main partners in this matter.

Among the operations linking the United Arab Emirates to the gold trade, its possible involvement in the current conflict in Sudan has grabbed the headlines in recent months. Although the reasons for the ongoing war go beyond economics, it is known that the struggle between the Arabs and Russia for the largest amount of metal is one of the most internationalized aspects of the conflict. CNN published a report in 2022 proving that Yevgueni Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group, had chartered up to 16 planes loaded with Sudanese gold not declared towards Russia.

A tool for development

But not everything is negative. In this mix of human rights violations and the pain caused by gold, southern Africa has managed to manage its vast wealth in a way that, through the elimination of political bribery or occasional waste, contributes significantly to the economic growth of the countries touched by the golden wand. which would be South Africa and Zimbabwe.

There is no doubt that both countries have an unequal distribution of wealth among their citizens (the minimum wage in South Africa is 224 euros per month), and there is also no doubt that the southernmost country on the continent is now a BRICS country and This has also been an economic benchmark in sub-Saharan Africa for decades. Just as Zimbabwe’s per capita income has quintupled since the 2010s, this economic rise has coincided with Zimbabwe increasing the value of its gold exports from US$118 million in 2006 to US$3.5 billion a year 2021 increased.

Gold is back in fashion in Africa. Countries like South Africa knew how to exploit their enormous economic potential and today owe 14% of their exports ($20,000 million) to gold, without this being the cause of wars or disputes that went beyond the socio-political level. Other nations like Burkina Faso and Mali suffer from its curse. DRC bleeds partly because of that, Sudan gets interesting when lives aren’t enough. Gold is now synonymous with conspiracies like the ones Abdoulaye speaks of, with murder and dream wealth; nothing new under the sun to burn the backs of those who promote it.

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