The Gold Rush of Chad, Libya, Sudan, Niger, and Algeria

[continued from International Security Crisis and Development in Africa: The Allure of Globalism to Fund the Pursuit of Peace]

In an arc stretching from Sudan to Southern Algeria, gold surfaced between 2011 and 2013, but local governments did not take action to develop the mining potential and use it to build needed infrastructure. A prior infrastructure campaign in Chad to establish drinking water facilities, schools, administrative buildings, and other projects was attempted when President Deby promised a USD 60 million building campaign following peace talks in 2005 and 2009 in exchange for rebel factions laying down their weapons. With some projects under way, the campaign eventually failed with schools and other partially constructed works abandoned as financing stalled. This failure however leaves an important lesson learned in how local government in this case a local steering committee of notables in Tibesti may or may not demonstrate a readiness to administrate large scale infrastructure development.

Under the colonial rule of past centuries, local leaders were mainly limited to levying taxes and enforcing the local rule of law. With the independence movements of the 1960s which attempted to bring about democratic nation states, governance wavered between the old colonial preconditions and pre-colonial tribal or clan traditional rule. The members of local notables executing President Deby’s development campaign proved inexperienced in the administration of both infrastructure finance as well as development. This left a lasting antigovernment impression within Chadian society one that continues still. The gold discoveries that soon arrived after this attracted migrants from the region, but with no infrastructure in place to grow and develop. The act of prospecting for gold was considered illegal. Soon militias gathered looking to fuel armed resistance movements and defend the act of illegal prospecting from local communities and local governments attempts to halt the increasing activity. The governance and the military capability of the region proved weak and unable to prevent illegal prospecting from supporting subsequent trafficking ventures aiding corruption and growing into larger criminal organizations. Local entrepreneurs and even local authorities alike engaged in illegal prospecting and trafficking.

The prospecting for gold in the region constitutes a person with a vehicle of some kind, a person with a metal detector, and an another person using rudimentary tools to dig by hand in shallow pits often using chemicals like mercury to separate and refine the gold on the spot. The improper use of chemicals has led to health problems, water contamination, and loss of life for humans, animals, and plants in the area. In spite of local authorities and traditional protective groups like the waganda, guardians of the trees and lands, the price per gram of gold in the area has risen uncontrollably on its way to gold markets such as in Dubai. This has also driven demands and local market values for vehicles, fuel, metal detectors, and weapons. When local defenders are able to deter illegal prospecting at one site, it is too easy for workers to migrate to another close by. Authorities have not demonstrated the ability to defend resources evenly over territory and time. Casualties born from the clashes are an ongoing reality on all sides. Airstrikes at gold sites have resulted.

The recent history of border disputes in the region and the transnational locations of resources have attributed to multiple national identities between Libyans, Chadians, Sudanese, and others who migrate. This has created additional pressure on borders and ongoing efforts to keep up the flow of both migrants and arms in the pursuit of gold for local trade or export and other precious resources like water, and farm lands to support workers. Due to the criminalization of mining, African nation states have not benefited from domestic and customs tax collection that could have fueled infrastructure development for the region. With the continent rich in mining resources, as well as oil and gas, this was also a missed opportunity to fund the development of other industries. Instead a black market business climate has been formed.

Other missed opportunities can be seen in the US AID development financing in which billions of US dollars have been spent for years on end to help stabilize regions engaged in conflicts or crises in Africa, but with no coordination or long-term planning instituted that sets out measurable benchmarks for nation states to ensure their progress. For some African states with territories under terrorist occupation by AQIM, IS, Boko Haram, al Shabaab, or others receiving support from countries such as Qatar or countries that export supplies to countries under sanctions like Iran, there opportunity for both risk and reward. Some leaders have claimed a willingness to send uranium for example to Iran, and President Trump’s administration has asserted that sanctions could be applied to those countries that directly or indirectly support terrorism while other maneuvers have included withholding AID.  In contrast, AID has also been increased for countries with stronger diplomatic relations with the US. This strategy of using AID and sanctions could also help secure more areas towards safety and investment at a faster rate.

Due to the corruption that has seeped into development financing and AID programming between, Congress is in the process of rolling up these programs. OPIC, USAID, and Proposed Development Finance Reorganization by Shayerah Ilias Akhtar, Specialist in International Trade and Finance, and Curt Tarnoff, Specialist in Foreign Affairs provides how the roll up might occur. Another reason for this reform is driven by the policy decision to compete directly with the development financing offered by China and Russia and in their areas of growing influence. According to the Mineral Commodity Summaries 2017 report by the US Department of the Interior and US Geological Survey, major import sources for mining material from 2012-2015 show a dependence on China and to some extent Russia or countries within their influence while both China and Russia operate substantial mining projects on the African continent. Part of the push for US Africa engagement has come about in response to the growing influences of China and Russia in those countries, however US foreign policy has struggled to overcome commonplace corruption and other diplomatic challenges or barriers to entry for US multinational companies.

Some countries from the EU and Middle East are also heavily engaged in development projects on the continent, and the US remains one of the last superpowers to embrace both security and development establishments in Africa. Foreign direct investment on the continent by China, Russia, Middle East and European countries has included mining, oil and gas, transportation, communication technology such as wireless internet and mobile phone, and in place of absent western forms of banking and credit systems disruptive technologies like banking apps are rapidly transforming both landscape and society at astonishing rates. Disruptive technology that does not have to compete with previously built infrastructure has created advantages for big tech and autonomous systems or robotics in manufacturing. Security and economic competitiveness remain the driving forces behind US-Africa engagement with economic incentives for Public Private Partnerships being offered to the private sector. However, risk can range greatly by region in Africa.

Heavy construction does not offer the widest profit margins while private security is one of the fastest growing industries in high demand globally. If security is not estimated to the reality of events on the ground in areas like the Libya-Chad-Sudan triangle, development projects will be at risk of going over budget on that line item alone and potentially abandoned at sites left unfinished. This is a region known for armed raids by non-state militias. Unsecured construction sites would be vulnerable to repeated raids, and interceptions of supplies in transit.  If sites are left abandoned due to lack of funds, the construction site and material left behind would offer militias in the area material they can use to make weapons systems such as Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) or sell to fund rebel movements.

Next: Weapons Flows, Regional Conflicts, Gun Culture, and Failures of Disarmament

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