Sudan’s New Gold Rush

Via Future Directions, a look at how – in an attempt to bolster the struggling economy –  the Sudanese government has made gold the new oil, creating a gold rush that has fueled violence once more in Darfur:

The decade-old sectarian and political conflict in Darfur has transformed into a fight for goldas rival clans struggle to control the gold mines in western Sudan. Arab tribes, once united in a fight to suppress rebel groups, have turned their weapons on each other. The outbreak of violence commenced in January in the Jebel Amer area near Kabkabiya in North Darfur, resulting in more than 800 casualties, the looting and burning of nearby villages and the displacement of 150,000 civilians.

The 2003 conflict in Darfur began as a land dispute between African pastoralists and nomadic Arab tribes. Rebel insurgents accused the Government of Sudan of marginalising Darfur’s non-Arab population. The government responded by arming militias in an ethnic cleansing campaign that resulted in virtual genocide.The resurgence of violence stems from the economic crisis triggered by the secession of South Sudan. When South Sudan seceded in July 2011, Sudan lost three-quarters of its oil production, translating into the loss of billions of dollars in oilrevenue.

In an effort to fortify the struggling economy against the impact of losing the oil-rich south, Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir has encouraged mining for gold. The government has handed out exploration contracts to more than six hundred mining firms, to search for gold and other minerals. In September, the Khartoum government opened the country’s first gold refinery – expected to produce more than 300 tonnes of gold annually. The area once inhabited by artisanal miners, has been flooded by half a million gold prospectors, some arriving from neighbouring countries.

The gold rush has made Sudan Africa’s third largest producer, after South Africa and Ghana. Estimates indicate, however, that a full quarter of Sudan’s gold is smuggled abroad, costing the government millions of dollars of urgently required funds. UN officials suggest that the Sudanese government has become desperate to control the mines. They claim it has been complicit in the resurgence of violence, by arming and inciting the Rizeigat and Bani Hussein tribes against each other. Darfuri rebels, also after gold, are adding to the tensions. Sudanese officials downplay the violence, maintaining that the situation is much improved; but reports suggest otherwise. On 30 September, ten people were reportedly killed during clashes over mining rights between two factions of the Abblala tribe.

Many in Sudan have grown weary of the worsening economic situation and have taken to the streets in protest over the past two months. Demonstrations that began south of Khartoum have spread to the capital and other cities. Public protests have led to lethal crackdowns by security forces, instigating further violent demonstrations across the country. According to human rights organisations, the government continues to restrict the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and NGOs from accessing areas of conflict to provide humanitarian assistance and protect residents.

The mining industry is one of the few growth areas in Sudan’s economy. The government sees gold as the last hope of keeping its economy afloat. International mining organisations that had long ignored Sudan because of political and ethnic strife, are now taking an interest in investing there. They continue to face a number of obstacles, however: high royalties, few qualified workers, the cost of hauling equipment over long distances and the U.S. embargo applied because of Sudan’s human rights record. The resurgence of violence adds to the long list of hurdles. It has also slowed developments of the Qatar-sponsored deal between Khartoum and rebel groups to bring peace to Darfur. If public protests and intertribal clashes continue, the already vulnerable economy will continue its decline.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 16th, 2013 at 4:38 am and is filed under Sudan.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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