The Politics of Mining and Trading of Gold in Sudan: Governance, Corruption and Lack of Transparency (7)

Elfadil Elsharief Elhashmi

Sudan Transparency Initiative (STI)

Corruption and lack of transparency and accountability dominates the discourse on the gold sector in Sudan. In undemocratic and kleptocratic political systems, corruption plays a crucial role in granting gold concessions, as well as in the export and smuggling of gold. This has an impact on the distribution of wealth and power, as well as socioeconomic life, health and safety in Sudan.
The gold production process is demanding in terms of its consumption of water, electricity, mercury and cyanide. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization has estimated that 1,000 tons of mercury are released into the air, soil, and water each year by the artisanal mining sector. Global initiatives, such as the UN-led Global Mercury Project, are trying to help miners in developing countries adopt best practices and reduce mining pollution caused by mercury. Members of the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) have committed to promoting the responsible use of mercury and partnering with governments to transfer low- or no-mercury processing technologies to the artisanal mining sector. Globally, large-scale use of mercury stopped in the 1960s. The World Health Organization, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the US all treat mercury as an occupational hazard and have established specific exposure limits.

The macroeconomic impact

The mining and quarrying sector started to grow significantly since 2004 and its rate of growth was the highest in 2012, at 105 per cent. This sector’s share in the Growth Domestic Product (GDP) increased from 0.2 to 0.4 per cent in 2011 and 2012 respectively due to the increase in gold production. Gold mining contributed about 8 per cent of the total labor force and impacted the unemployment rate. Localities raise taxes on gold mining sector and the related-services. When the Central Bank monopolized the gold export to gain more foreign exchange earnings, it was paying the actual gold price at high black-market rate and fund the difference by increasing the money supply and injecting liquidity in the market, hence causing inflation, an approach criticized by the IMF. Being produced in a remote rural marginalized agro-pastoral economy, ridden with poverty, some of them are in civil wars, gold production is currently affecting the availability of labor force in the agricultural and husbandry sectors and consequently affecting the gum Arabic and livestock production. Access to capital and micro credit to traditional poor miners and small and medium enterprises is a serious barrier.

The impact on health and safety

In addition to the health and safety hazards related to pollutants (described above in the environmental impact section), miners face a number of other health and safety concerns. Miners live either in scattered camps near the mining sites, or on the edges of cities near the mining sites. In both cases, overcrowding creates low levels of hygiene, sanitation and occupational health problems. The localities’ role in the artisanal mining sector is negative. They act mainly as tax and fee collectors and do not consider providing mobile emergency health care, first aid packages or health and safety equipment stores, mobile ambulances and clinics, mobile toilets and clean water sources in the camps and settlements. The mining sites lack proper sanitation and often fail to follow regulations, and good practices in health and safety, exploiting uninformed and illiterate communities. In Sudan’s traditional gold sector, “theft, cheating and drug abuse make 90 per cent of cases reported to police in the traditional mining areas.”
Mine wells are not safe. The sites also lack safety and emergency procedures that are expected from the federal, state and local governments. In Jebel Amir, a well that collapsed on April 29, 2013 resulted in the deaths of more than 60 miners. Another accident took place in April 2015 in Jebel Amir in which a well collapsed and killed 82 miners. The collapse was attributed to the depth of the well (80 meters) and the existence of other wells connected to the original one.

The impact on child labor

The International Labor Organization (ILO) defines child labor as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, that is harmful to their physical and mental development, and that interferes with their schooling.112 Under the United Nations Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, companies should put in place robust due diligence measures—that is, processes to identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for the company’s impacts on human rights, including child labor.
Research on Sudan’s artisanal gold mining sector highlighted a significant presence of child labor in the mills and goldsmiths or in related small market, and groceries. Child labor as typical phenomenon in developing countries has been well studied and features in the discourse explaining underdevelopment in poor agro-pastoral rural communities and shanty towns. A holistic approach of law enforcement to ensure enforcement of the law alongside access to education, is generally seen as advisable in addressing the child labor in developing countries. Child labor in the gold mining sector violates the 2010 Child Act. The international human rights community should push companies to implement due diligence processes and procedures in Sudanese refineries to ensure that their gold is not produced by child labor. The Central Bank and the Ministry of Minerals should put in place policies and processes requiring gold traders to use apply human rights criteria, including whether the gold was produce using child labor, when purchasing gold114 and require that refineries buy gold legally produced by licensed companies that comply with the 2010 Child Act. The prevalence of child labor in the artisanal gold sector indicates that if such processes and procedures are used by the Ministry of Minerals, they are insufficient. Based on other countries’ experience, it seems that the Ministry of Minerals and the Central Bank of Sudan have “weaknesses in their due diligence procedures, such as a lack of systematic child labor monitoring or a lack of transparency,” and their inspections for child labor and efforts to enforce the 2010 Child Act are neither systematic nor functional. We also claim that one of the reasons for child labor is that government funds provided for public education are inadequate, hence, as in the similar context in Ghana, some “schools levy various fees in violation of the international law, which undermine the right to free education. Children who cannot afford the fees often work in gold mines as an alternative, or work in the mines specifically to earn money to continue their education.” In addition to the failure to make primary education truly free of charge, other causes of child labor include lack of social welfare and social protection programs pursued by a neoliberal government adopting a laissez faire approach leading to privatization of education and health services. Gross school enrollment rate in Sudan in 2009 was 71 per cent. However, only one in five children completed primary school in 2010.” Given such realities, child labor won’t be eliminated even if the artisanal mining sector is regulated, professionalized and formalized. Licenses of gold sites that use child labor should be revoked. When the Ministry of Minerals or the Central Bank provide gold export licenses to companies, they must be tied to human rights due diligence. More fieldwork is needed to investigate this issue.

Gold and conflict dynamics

Militia control of minerals to fund civil wars in Africa has become an increasingly urgent issue over the last two decades. In north of Côte d’Ivoire, a rebel controlled diamond mine in the town of Seguela has smuggled diamonds worth more than US $20 million into Mali and Ghana to help fund arms purchases. Gold is used financially as collateral for currency, and is used in medicine, and the production of jewelry, electronics, aerospace, computers and gilding. In recent years, gold has played a prominent role in fueling conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Jebel Amir is a dramatic scene whose actors reverse the typical rules of the post-colonial game. Instead of the center using military power, alliances and privilege to exploit the periphery, this has occurred in reverse. A typical camel herder from a disadvantaged, destitute, developmentally deprived and politically neglected area has no connection to the educational or military ladders of power and privilege of the “center.” Yet, this actor metaphorically picked ferocious swords of death molded from the desert heat and the Jebel rocks, cut down the bodies of his fellows, and piled them to climb up to the powerful and equally bloody center and to forge an alliance with it.
Conflict over natural resources in Sudan has been part of the socio-economic and political conflict over wealth and power. Available evidence from Darfur, the Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile reveals that the instability and civil wars in these states were instigated and driven by competition over natural resources. In North Kordofan, all 23 recorded conflicts in 2002 were of a resource-based nature.
The story of Jebel Amir, North Darfur begins with the discovery of gold in 2012, when thousands of artisanal gold miners rushed to the area. It is estimated that Jebel Amir produces 17% of Sudan’s gold with a daily production value estimated to be between 7-1 0 billion Sudanese pounds with 75 thousand miners.120 The artisanal gold mines of Jebel Amir have become a liability for peace, funding armed conflict in Darfur as early as January 2013. A fight broke out between the local tribe of Beni Hussein and Hilal’s nomad tribe of Rizeigat. Both tribes were part of the border guards (Haras Alhudood). Both sides were once (unevenly) controlled by Khartoum, but have since slipped out of the government’s control in an all-out battle for gold and power. By January 2013, Musa Hilal controlled the mines. In early 2014, Hilal expelled the commissioner of Saref Omra, a small town to the south of Jebel Amir, and, in effect, annexed the territory into his own fiefdom. He then repelled government troops that were reportedly sent to retake control of the town and the Jebel Amir gold mine, confiscating their arms and vehicles.
Another rival and crucial player in the scene is Mohammed Hamdan Dagolo, known as Himeidti, a young Rizeigat militia leader and a rival and relative of Hilal. Himeidti oversaw the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a Sudanese government force under the command of the NISS. The RSF repeatedly attacked villages, burned and looted homes, beat, raped and executed villagers. Hemmeti was appointed brigadier general in mid- 2013 and promoted in 2016 to become lieutenant general, a high-ranking position similar to that of defense minister. Omer Al Bashir’s government is using both leaders in a costly counter-insurgency strategy to fight Darfuri rebels on Khartoum’s behalf, although the militia leaders also have their own agendas. Hilal and Hemmeti are two elementary school graduates and have no professional military background. Despite his role in mass killings in Darfur and being placed under sanctions by the U.N. Security Council, Hilal was awarded a ministerial rank in the bureau of decentralized governance. Hilal is now a billionaire in charge of Jebel Amir’s artisanal gold mines, along with Hemmeti, several companies owned by NCP members of their close relatives and some leaders of the Beni Hussein tribe. The militias involved in the gold conflict include the border guards, the Central Reserve Police (Abu Taira), Janjaweed and the RSF (Hemmeti) as well as the Popular Defense Forces (PDF). These groups sometimes conspire against each other, the government or each other and/or carry out attacks against each other, Darfuri civilians and/or military opposition groups. The irony is that the central government armed and financed these militia forces under the disguise of the border guards and they are now challenging the government.

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