Their presence around artisanal mining sites is often inadequate or non-existent, despite the riches extracted there. Armed groups of all stripes benefit from this scant state presence, forcing Sahelian states to tolerate, or even encourage, arrangements whereby local actors secure these sites themselves.
These local actors appear as a necessary and inexpensive expedient as long as they do not challenge the authority of the state. This fuels a private security economy, further stimulated by sub-regional arms trafficking. In southern Mali, security at artisanal gold mines largely depends on the Dozo, hunting confraternities that are usually equipped with homemade rifles.
For several decades, they have been called upon by the Tomboloma, an unofficial mining police that site owners employ and pay through taxes collected from miners.
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The Tomboloma represent village chiefs at mining sites, and their mission of securing mines in the Kayes, Sikasso and Koulikoro regions has not been challenged at either the local or national level. In recent years, securing these sites has become more difficult due to the increasing number of artisanal gold miners, prompting the government to deploy security forces at certain locations.
In Burkina Faso, security arrangements are comparable to those observed in Mali, but less structured and with more local variation. Niger, for its part, appears to be hesitating between several approaches. In the Agadez region, home to recent rebellions, the state is keen to assert its authority.
It is a hub of trafficking in the Sahara and remains under threat from jihadist groups.
The state is therefore mobilising specific means in the vicinity of gold sites that are of interest to these three categories of actors. Whether a deliberate strategy or not, delegating security to private actors has limitations. As states in the central Sahel become progressively weaker, there is a real risk that these actors will become autonomous of the authorities and even end up challenging them.
In the Kangaba gold mining zone Koulikoro region in Mali, for example, Dozo take on policing and judicial duties outside of any legal framework; in early , they killed individuals suspected of banditry near a mining site. They carry out intelligence-gathering missions and patrol various areas to identify and, in some cases, arrest suspects.
Getting a Grip on Central Sahel’s Gold Rush
In taking part in counter-terrorism efforts, these actors take on a role for which they are not prepared and become the target of jihadist attacks. They risk behaving less like a private police force responsible for securing gold mines, and more like a militarised group acting outside state control, likely to develop its own agenda and seize mineral resources.
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Some politico-military groups that have opposed or still oppose the state are seeking to seize gold resources. By taking control of gold mines or securing ore transfer sites and routes, these groups or affiliated members can access a source of financing. This is already the case in the Kidal region Mali , the stronghold of the Coordination of Azawad Movements CMA , an alliance of rebel groups with several thousand members formed in October , and to a lesser degree in the Djado area Niger , home to rebel groups and traffickers moving between Niger, Chad and Libya.
In the Kidal region of Mali, most artisanal gold mines are controlled by members of the CMA or, to a lesser degree, the Algiers Platform of 14 June , an alliance of several dozen pro-government armed groups. In northern Niger, artisanal gold mining, which began in the spring of in the Djado area, was quickly seized by networks of several hundreds of armed men, mostly Chadians suspected of links to Zaghawa or Toubou rebel groups from southern Libya. Artisanal gold mining also has a positive impact in these regions, offering lucrative employment opportunities, which can encourage fighters to lay down their arms.
Crisis Group phone interviews, inhabitants of Kidal, August It nevertheless remains possible that armed groups may summon these combatants-turned-miners back into service when necessary. Sahelian states and international organisations, such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development OECD , are worried about the risk of jihadists seizing gold resources in areas where state institutions are weak or absent.
This risk is increased by the fact that gold miners sometimes do not consider the presence of jihadists a threat but rather see it in a positive light. The main jihadist groups in the Sahel benefit financially from gold extraction — an activity that they consider halal lawful — in their areas of influence. They do so in ways that vary from region to region. The third pillar of Islam, zakat is the alms that must be paid regularly by Muslims in an amount that varies according to their means.
In areas under jihadist influence, their groups levy the zakat. The Islamic State accepted its allegiance in October Crisis Group interview, actor in the governance of the gold sector, Ouagadougou, May Some miners cooperate with jihadist groups for reasons of pragmatism more than conviction: they side with those who hold power at the local level and determine gold mining conditions, or ally themselves with jihadist groups to regain control of disputed mining sites.
Crisis Group interview, high-standing local figure from Soum, Ouagadougou, September In the Soum province, communities appear to have been brought closer to jihadists following counter-terrorism operations in early , during which gold mining equipment, and even gold, was seized. Consequently, disgruntled miners turned toward jihadists, who reopened certain mines, like the one at Kabonga. For the time being, gold sites largely remain a secondary source of funding for jihadist groups in the Sahel.
Their reliance on gold could, however, increase as they expand into other mineral-rich areas, and as they appear to face financing difficulties. The gold sites also seem to be a recruiting ground for jihadist groups. In the East region of Burkina Faso and in the Torodi department of Niger, jihadists have reportedly preached about the need to respect Islamic law at extraction sites. Mining sites can also become training grounds, notably with regard to the manipulation of explosives, since these are also used in gold mining. Given the security risks associated with gold mining, Sahelian states should take steps to regulate and secure artisanal sites.
Faced with many other challenges, they would be wise to set their priorities: as a first step, expand their presence, and where possible, better supervise local security actors. Strengthening sub-regional and international regulations and improving due diligence mechanisms could also limit the influence of violent armed groups and help Sahelian states to better regulate gold production.
Before redeploying public services in gold mining areas, Sahelian states need to secure artisanal gold mines.
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Elsewhere, however, the state can and should secure mines either by sending its own forces or by collaborating with local private actors who are already present but should be better supervised. Defence and security forces are needed around gold sites that hostile armed groups may attempt to seize.
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Thus, in the East region of Burkina Faso, the state should deploy its forces to certain mining sites deserted by jihadists during Operation Otapuanu last May. This increased state presence should go hand in hand with an effort to promote good governance. This goal is not unrealistic: at various sensitive sites in the Agadez region of Niger, the state has shown miners that its presence rendered their activity safer.
By securing artisanal sites in the same manner, Burkina Faso would help rebuild trust between its armed forces and civilians. Once security is assured, governments should strive to withdraw their armed forces from the mines, while keeping mobile police forces nearby. Under certain conditions, the state will have to rely on non-state actors already conducting security operations at gold sites. The large number of sites to be secured poses a major challenge for defence and security forces that lack resources and are committed on several other fronts.
It is not a question of delegating mine security to militarised groups that could escape state control and commit crimes against civilians. Rather, it is about recognising the role of local security actors, who already de facto police the mines and their surroundings, and supervising them better. But the CCS are not yet operational, and there are worries regarding the excessive powers that mayors may be granted within them.
There are plans to revise Decree Crisis Group interview, actor involved in the implementation of this reform, Ouagadougou, July Associating with these actors instead of replacing them with defence and security forces offers a twofold advantage: it would induce them to collaborate with authorities and avoid alienating them by depriving them of a profitable activity; and it would relieve defence and security forces, who are increasingly busy with the fight against jihadist groups.
In the longer term, Sahelian states should consider integrating these local private actors into territorial police forces or local police — which they have been trying to establish for several years — provided that they display discipline, efficiency and integrity. Whatever actors are involved in security defence and security forces or private actors , the authorities must ensure that they refrain from predatory behaviour at mining sites.
Here again, there is a need for monitoring mechanisms involving local actors — miners but also nearby communities — including local political and traditional elites, but also local civil society organisations. The creation of inclusive local committees to supervise activities in and around gold mining sites could help limit abuses by public officials. At sites where states can still exert their authority without extensive security measures, they should take steps to formalise artisanal gold mining.
Establishing a legal framework for artisanal mining at these gold sites would also generate tax revenues. This would imply registering and issuing gold mining permits, and setting up gold trading posts and a technical mechanism for controlling mining methods. Sahelian states have recently taken steps in this direction, but a lack of political will or institutional capacity has meant that the process has not yet been completed.
For its part, Niger is planning to set up gold mining corridors specific zones reserved for formalised artisanal mining that would be secured and supplied with basic services available to miners such as water, electricity, education and health facilities. Sahelian states must also find a balance between preserving artisanal gold mining and industrialising the sector. The latter generates tax revenues but risks stirring resentment among locals. Industrialisation can destroy some of the jobs generated by artisanal mining and cause land conflicts when the areas concerned are inhabited by populations expelled without systematic or adequate compensation.
Moreover, the presence of a mining company in an area does not always improve security conditions there. While these companies can afford private security forces, they can also become a target, as demonstrated by the recent kidnappings of expatriate personnel from mining companies in Niger and Burkina Faso. On 8 August in Youga, in the Centre-East region of Burkina Faso, local residents ransacked the equipment of a Turkish mining company and injured several employees.
Armed groups exploiting gold sites depend on export channels. At the end of the chain, exports are destined largely for Switzerland, China and especially Dubai. Limiting informal cross-border trade in gold, which is associated with an increased risk of money laundering and terrorist funding, above all means reducing the attractiveness of certain tax regimes and developing public policy incentives for gold production to go through formal, rather than informal, trade networks. If the countries of the Economic Community of West African States ECOWAS harmonised their taxation systems, this would prevent countries like Togo, Mali and Guinea, whose tax regimes are particularly attractive, from becoming a destination for smuggled gold.
To promote formal trade networks, two solutions are possible. First, through the Central Bank of West African States, Sahelian states could purchase the artisanal gold mined on their territory, an example already set by Guinea. If we were to contact them through radio, Feynman asked, how would we tell that they were made of antimatter? Although the charges would all be reversed, their anti-hydrogen, anti-carbon, etc.
The energy levels would be the same as well. So their chemistry textbooks would be identical to ours. There are, however, certain high-energy interactions that in our world behave as if left-handed, whereas in the antimatter world behave as if right-handed. But how do you tell someone which way is "left" over an interplanetary telephone?