The Origin of Wealth
Only about 2% of the gold produced in the West African nation of Burkina Faso is exported legally, according to official statements. The countryside abounds with “mines artisanales”- small-scale gold mines that operate without license. The practice is largely tolerated, but it has come under increased scrutiny in recent years as gold mined by these methods have become a primary funding source for jihadist groups participating in an escalating insurgency in the country’s north.
The work in the mining operations is hazardous, and safety precautions are lax. Many of the workers are under the age of 18. Cyanide and liquid mercury, both highly toxic, are critical components in the purification process, and their use is illegal and unregulated. Often, entire makeshift villages will arise around a mining operation, and whole lives are lived primarily in such sites, which move from location to location over the years in search for gold.
Profits at this level of the gold industry are meagre, working conditions are poor, and yet the laborers share a dignity and a camaraderie that is remarkable.