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Illegal gold mining, a profitable business for jihadists

Illegal gold mining in Sahel

The continued rise in world gold prices has been a boon to African states, particularly those in the Sahel, such as Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. But in the Sahelian band, jihadist groups are attempting to seize control of artisanal gold mining activities and profit from them. These groups are increasingly engaged in illegal gold mining in the Sahel, particularly by attacking certain gold mines. Gold mining, an essential activity for millions of Sahelians, could ultimately provide financial support for terrorism. It is well known that the sinews of war are based on money.

Sources of funding for the various trades

Irregular activities such as trafficking of all kinds (arms, drugs, motorcycles, and fuel), cattle rustling, illegal gold mining, and poaching largely finance terrorist groups. These activities facilitate not only their anchorage but also their development.
By participating in illicit activities, extremist groups are able to generate resources, secure livelihoods, and strengthen their place in the political and social landscape.

The illegal sale of gold has long been commonplace in Sahelian countries. Traders who buy gold, sometimes at a price even higher than the international market price, export this gold fraudulently, undeclared,” says an OECD expert. The gold is then resold in a border country in exchange for foreign currency, and it is with this foreign currency that consumer goods are purchased and then re-imported, usually by under-declaring the value of the imported goods, so that the operation makes a profit overall.”

Illegal gold, a manna for jihadist movements

In Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, terrorist groups are increasing their attacks and kidnappings in gold mines, a common phenomenon that replicates the raiding process. A source of terrorist financing, gold in the Sahel could facilitate the laundering of illegal revenues for these groups if gold mining activities are not better controlled.

Artisanal gold mining could support 10% of the population of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger combined. This is particularly true for young people, whom this source of income helps to keep away from terrorist groups in the Sahel. But this virtuous circle could turn into a vicious circle if terrorist groups continue to profit from this industry.

What are the impacts of illegal gold mining in the Sahel?

Gold mining sites play a key role in the financing of extremist groups. For example, groups in the gold mining areas of eastern Burkina Faso have taken control of mining sites and are working to open new ones.

In Mauritania, too, artisanal gold mining is said to feed a black market that indirectly finances armed terrorist groups.
While “legal” mining generates approximately $130 million in annual revenues for the Mauritanian state, nearly $300 million in revenues escape Mauritania. It is from this illegal windfall that the armed terrorist groups pay themselves by escorting convoys in cross-border regions or via rights of way in the territories they control.

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