‘Unprecedented’ developments for Sudanese gold, but critics warn of the links between the mineral and the deadly conflict in the country
On July 29th the Sudanese government and Russian counterparts signed an “unprecedented” gold exploration agreement between the Sudanese Ministry of Minerals and the Russian Siberian Mining Company Limited. The contract covers nine blocks in Red Sea and River Nile states, which will equate to some 8,000 ton of Gold; “these quantities will contribute to an economic boom and change the status of the country,” said Minister of Minerals Dr. Ahmed Mohamed Sadiq al-Karouri, reported Radio Dabanga (30/7).
Al-Karouri explained that the agreement would give the Sudanese government 75% of the production while the company would take 25%. Gold extraction has been one of the important economic alternatives for Sudan after losing oil revenues by South Sudanese secession and the new deals are hoped to contribute further to this; Sudan currently stands third behind South Africa and Ghana in African gold production.
Earlier last February, Sudan granted nine Russian companies permission to explore gold and other minerals. Many other foreign companies are engaged in the gold investment field; the Ministry of Minerals recently signed an agreement with the French Gold Mines Company for a block in Al-Burgaig locality in the Northern state, reported the Sudan News Agency on July 27th.
Until 2012, 74% of the country’s proven gold reserves were being managed through two companies: the Canadian–Egyptian-Sudanese joint venture Ariab 10 and the Moroccan-Sudanese venture Managem. While these mines attracted criticism for poor labour conditions and environmental adversities, the gold production was less connected with internal and regional wars.
In 2012 the situation changed with the discovery of deposits in North Darfur; in Jebel Amer locality the discoveries attracted at least 100,000 artisanal miners to the area; artisanal gold has since surpassed industrial production. With the loss of oil revenues from the South Sudanese secession, gold has become the lifeline for foreign exchange and efforts to rebuild and stabilise the economy; President Omar al-Bashir himself saying “we lost oil, we got gold.”
However a recent report by ‘the Enough Project‘, entitled ‘Fools Gold: The case for scrutinising the Sudanese conflict gold trade‘ (available here), provides a critical analysis of the gold industry in Sudan, highlighting how it is helping to destabilize Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan; often mining areas see significant rates of violence and revenues that benefit rebel groups such as the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in South Kordofan.
In Darfur, revenues in the Jebel Amer region are benefiting Musa Hilal, a Janjaweed leader blacklisted by both the United Nations (UN) and United States; the report recommends that this should be used as a precedent to investigate the role of the gold trade in driving violence in the region; however it also recognises that it is almost impossible to distinguish between gold from conflict areas and from other legitimate sources.
Julien Harneis 2011
Over the last three years multiple gold rushes have taken place and Sudan’s Central Bank pays more than gold is worth on the world market to spur production – which currently accounts for 70% of exports and is worth US$ 2.5 billion. With the gold trade came criminals carrying “arms of every calibre,” a unnamed local said that “you could find any weapon in Jebel Amir, as well as imported alcohol, drugs, prostitutes.”, reported the International Crisis Group (ICG) last year.
On July 23rd Radio Dabanga reported that the Revolutionary Awakening Council (RAC), headed by Musa Hilal had declared that it was in control of the mining area of Jebel Amer in North Darfur. Hilal established the RAC, together with North Darfuri tribal leaders, at the beginning of 2014 and in December last year, the RAC announced the formation of a new management board for the Jebel ‘Amer gold mining area.
In January 2013, a dig in Jebel Amir — where “each bag of 50 kg of sand contained 1 kg of gold,” according to miners — became the source of fighting between members of the Beni Husein tribe, which has held the land since colonial times, and the Rizeigat tribe, which is made up of nomads without traditional land rights in North Darfur who have increasingly started to settle on others’ territory. Both tribes have members in the Haras-al-Hodud (Border Guard), a government paramilitary body initially designed to patrol Sudan’s frontiers, explained the ICG.
Officially, Sudan has deployed 30,000 army troops and 20,000 Haras-al-Hodud to Darfur although there is difficulty in telling how many of those troops are still fighting in their official role rather than according to their tribal affiliations; there are presumed to be as many as 200,000 militiamen in Darfur.
“More than a decade into the Darfur conflict, it would be reductive to simply blame the government’s militia strategy. There is plenty of blame to go around. The government, the rebels, and all the other players need to work together to stop the violence in all Sudan’s peripheries. Uneasy concessions are needed. The government will have to send clear signals that it is bringing to an end an increasingly costly counterinsurgency strategy and that it will start allocating resources to peaceful activities instead. And rebels will have to show that they are loyal to more than their own tribes”, said the ICG report.
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