The Politics of Mining and Trading of Gold in Sudan: Governance, Corruption and Lack of Transparency (8)

Elfadil Elsharief Elhashmi

Sudan Transparency Initiative (STI)

Jebel Amir

In 2013, hostilities over Jebel Amir gold, killed 800 members of the Beni Hussein tribe, injured 700 and displaced about 150 thousand. Hilal “mediated his own parallel peace treaty that allows him to continue to exercise his influence over the area through a parallel system of taxation. At the time, the North Darfur state minister of finance, Abdo Daoud Suleiman, announced that the government would levy a fee on all gold mined from the area.” By August 2014, the central government sought to grant industrial mining concessions over the area to the two companies with ties to Khartoum Islamic ruling circles, Mam Group for Mining and Minas. The chair of the board of directors of Mam is Mohamed Ismail Elmuta’afi, brother of Abdelhalim Elmuta’afi, one-time Governor of Khartoum State and former federal Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. Mam was granted block 15 of Jebel Amir in 2014. Immediately after this concession was granted, militia commander Musa Hilal warned the company against “taking any action without the consent of the political and social authorities of El Sareif Beni Hussein, Saref Omra, and El Waha localities”, which formed a self-pronounced administration independent of the federal or local government. Hilal stated that “the current situation does not allow exploration in that region.”
In one of his visits to the gold site of Jebel Amir, Osman Kibir, the former Governor of North Darfur, was bribed by the gold wells’ committee with eight gold wells, free of monthly taxes, as a gift. It was reported that Mr. Kibir receives monthly revenue of 8 billion Sudanese pounds from his gold wells in Jebel Amir. Politician-entrepreneurs are deeply involved in government contracts and concessions. An interesting example of these dynamics is the case of Elhaj Sidig Adam Abdalla (nicknamed Wadaa). Wadaa was the chairman of a peace settlement committee responsible for mediating between the rebels in Darfur and the government and an owner of the “Sadig for Roads and Bridges” company. This company received a government contract to build a highway connecting Elfashir city and Kutum that has not been implemented. The political mediator is also involved in the gold mining business in Jebel Amir according to Kibir, who acknowledged the existence of an agreement granting Wadaa the right to buy Jebel Amir gold and sell it to the Central Bank.
By July 2015, the Awakening Revolutionary Council (ARC), a political organization established and chaired by Musa Hilal, publicly declared its occupation of the Jebel Amir gold mines when the a section of ARC issued a public statement stating that “the consultation meeting convened to discuss Jebel Amir gold mines was attended by leaders of the native administration, religious leaders, villages’ sheikhs, youths, students, women, graduates, local community elites, representatives of the armed forces in Darfur regions, ARC and all Darfur States. The meeting recommended the following: 1) To avoid agitation, the security of the region including Jebel Amir’s mines is the responsibility of the regular armed forces of the sons of the region (Borders Guard forces, the Central Reserve forces as well as the ARC forces). Accordingly, any armed units other than these are not allowed to approach Jebel Amir Area. 2) Gold prospecting companies are not allowed to enter the area without prior agreement with the local communities of all localities within the Jebel borders. Also, all gold related activities, inspections and surveys of entities used to work in the Jebel shall stop until an agreement is reached with them.
Musa Hilal, once an advisor to Al-Bashir in the office of the decentralized rule, abused his public office to cut off the central government and North Darfur governor, as well as the Beni Hussein tribe, from the area of Jebel Amir so that his militia can control the gold trade from 400 mines. It is reported that Hemmeti independently owns at least three mines in Jebel Amir.
Typical of the kleptocratic behavior of the ruling circles, two thirds of members of West Darfur parliament voted not to reprimand the chairman, Mustafa Mohamed Ishag, for his absence from parliament sessions and engagement in gold prospecting n Jebel Amir. This was not an exemption to all parliamentary members of councils, locally, provincially and federally who came to power through the rigged 2010 national election. A representative of Musa Hilal, made public the content of an email exchange between Faiza Elhussein, the manager of the Masar Company, and Ismail Elagbash, spokesperson for Musa Hilal, dated April 11, 2016. Ismail stated in the email that: “the concession of the karta gold tailings (with 75 per cent gold) of Jebel Amir has been granted to a partnership between the NISS and Eljinaid Co. (owned by Hemmeti). They have collected the karta into troughs awaiting the arrival of a Chinese gold treatment equipment. Individual owners of another type of karta (with 80 per cent gold), estimated to produce up to 1000 kilograms of gold, are willing to sell it. We will partner with you, ” the email continues, “on the latter, after addressing some security and administrative obstacles. Rewarding gold prospecting opportunities are available, we need short time to have a feasibility study ready and pick a location suitable for the quantity and security.
What is interesting in this exchange is not the conspiratorial and corrupt dimension of control over national gold wealth, but the implication of the NISS. The security narrative here is two-fold: it is NISS, rather than the Ministry of Minerals or the Central Bank, is the institutions that is making decision in the gold mining sector; and for both the NISS and gold companies, the concern is the “security” of gold smuggling, rather than the security of citizens. The second claim is hard to prove as it is the role of security authorities to prevent smuggling, and this might imply their involvement in the same. The impact of the Jebel Amir gold trade on human rights abuses in Darfur was documented by the United Nations Security Council and quoted in an April 4, 2016 Foreign Policy article. An annual income of US $123 million is the estimate of gold trade funds that goes to the militia, in addition to US $ 54 million to Musa Hilal. The proceeds of the Jebel Amir gold trade have been fueling the civil war by funding the militia’s operations and enriching a periphery-center alliance of politician-entrepreneurs. Here are some examples of this proposition;
Example 1 : Minister of the Interior Ismat Abdurrahman spoke to the national parliament on January 2, 2017, criticizing the fact that 400 gold mines of Jebel Amir of Northern Darfur are controlled by 3,000 RSF militia troops under commander Hemmeti along with other “foreigners” from neighboring countries whose estimated number ranges from 10,000-20,000.135 He admitted the inability of the poorly equipped police forces at the site to confront the fully equipped militia with heavy weapons. He stated that his forces could not confront and combat such fully equipped forces who also outnumbered the police forces in the area. The minister of the interior publicly called for the parliament to consider an intervention by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) to take over the gold mines. On January 15, 2017, two weeks after his speech, the parliament passed a bill that legitimized the RSF forces. It is estimated that the budget allotted to Hemmeti’s forces is 3.2 billion Sudanese pounds (about US $480 million), more than 50% of the budget of the federal ministry of the interior. The bill also allows President Omer Al Bashir to merge the RSF into the armed forces and make the militia directly accountable to him, legitimizing it as a third military force along with the police and army. The law opens the door for confusion, chaos, insecurity and instability. The minister of the interior was apparently forced to resign soon after.
Example 2: The Minister of Minerals Karouri publicly acknowledged that neither the federal nor local government has any control of Jebel Amir gold production and revenue.
Example 3: Russia has signed a number of cooperation agreements with Sudan. A UN report linked Musa Hilal to gold profiteering by pocketing $54 million a year from Jebel Amir gold sales. According to journalist Colum Lynch the UN report’s release was blocked by Moscow. The UN Security Council panel of experts claimed that the gold trade has put more than $123 million into the pockets of armed groups throughout Darfur, in addition to Hilal’s personal earnings. It also noted that violence was continuing in Darfur, reinforcing reports by Human Rights Watch that the RSF committed atrocities including widespread sexual assault. The report confirmed that Hilal’s gold mining gives him access to substantial amounts of money and could mark a new phase in the Darfur conflict. Unregulated gold mining has emerged as a major source of revenue for Darfur’s armed groups. Hilal seized control of the Jebel Amir mines in January 2013 after the SAF withdrew from the site to avoid violent confrontation with his forces. Hilal has been collecting taxes and fees from gold mining merchants, vendors, butchers etc. Hilal is an embodiment of corruption, lack of transparency and accountability collaborating “with Sudanese forces and engage in millions of dollars’ worth of deals with the Central Bank of Sudan. The U.N. panel charges that the bank, which facilitates the gold trade, failed to comply with its obligation to freeze Hilal’s assets while the government also permitted him to travel beyond Sudan’s borders with impunity.” The Jebel Amir’s gold trade is not only undermining security and social peace in Darfur, but also brings to the surface the question of who owns gold deposits
In the case of Jebel Amir, the gold trade is under the control of the Abbala Janjaweed militia. Artisanal gold mining sites are in the civil war areas of North Darfur (Jebel Amir, Jebel Jaly, Jebel Orey, Kutum, Omkadada), South Darfur (Rehaid Albirdi), South Kordofan (Sodari), the Nuba Mountains and the Ingessana Complex of the Blue Nile. Such sites raise special peace, security and human rights’ concerns. The Abbala militia control artisanal gold mining and have grown into rich and powerful entrepreneurs by allying with the central government’s kleptocrats and companies with the objective of sharing embezzled gold wealth. Jebel Amir’s gold has created a new class of armed pastoralists who are transforming into entrepreneurial politicians and a new decentralized political authority. This new class is pressing for tribal sharing of power and privileges with the riverine center on its own terms. It is not interested in developing a holistic equitable strategic national development plan or redistributing wealth and power to address serious unbalanced development.

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