CYRIL BENSIMON / “THE WORLD”
InvestigationIllegal gold mining has gained considerable momentum in this West African country and is causing environmental upheavals and community tensions.
Suddenly, in the middle of a clearing, a hole is discovered where beings animated by dreams of fortune dive. A pit of brown earth and rockeries of about fifty meters in diameter, which loves dozens of men, women and children carried by the hope of discovering the vein, the nugget likely to change their destiny . Armed with a pick or shovel, some dig on the surface, dripping with sweat. Others plunge at the risk of their life into underground galleries. According to legend, gold is a living material which, in order to offer itself to the daring, requires certain sacrifices.
Leaving the town of Oumé (50,000 inhabitants), in the center of Côte d’Ivoire, you only have to drive a few kilometers and then walk for half an hour through a copiously cut forest to come across this mine of ‘underground gold.
This nameless place looks like an inverted tower of Babel. In the bowels of the earth are engulfed migrants from Ghana, Guinea, but especially from Mali and even more from Burkina Faso. The two northern neighbors of Côte d’Ivoire have the longest experience and the best performing networks in the gold sector.
Digging, digging, grinding, sorting, washing, crushing, sorting out so as to often only collect a pinch of golden dust is the daily life of these convicts, paid in proportion to their discoveries. The dreams of wealth are the best magnet for the recruitment fields or for those who are simply carried by the adventure of the moment. But the confrontation with reality can be cruel. Seydou, a Guinean who arrived three years ago, says he still hasn’t found anything in the basements of the region. Therefore, it is in front of bars and restaurants that he begs his loot.
The illicit gold mining fever has hit the entire Sahel and beyond a large part of West Africa for ten years. In Côte d’Ivoire, in parallel with constantly increasing industrial production, the phenomenon has grown to such an extent that the economic and environmental balances of certain regions are in danger. The upheavals engendered aroused in several places community tensions, always quick to spill over into the political field.
These risks, Idrissa – all first names have been changed – doesn’t care as much. “Four months after opening, we have already pulled more than 10 kg from the mine”, claims the young “site manager”. Site manager on behalf of an outside investor whose name he prefers to withhold, this alert thirty-something is responsible for paying the right of access to land to local chiefs, remunerating gold washers, buying equipment, reselling the gold extracted, to bribe the officials so that they close their eyes, as he closed his own on certain techniques intended to lose no particle of yellow metal.
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