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13.12.2017 : 11:56 : +0100

New SANA Briefing Paper: Beyond the ‘Wild West’, The Gold Rush in Northern Niger

 

In April 2014, someone discovered a ‘gift from God’ in northern Niger: large quantities of gold, easily accessible using basic equipment. The gold rush began, and with it came a transformation of the security, political, and socio-economic dynamics in this vast and sensitive region. The population suddenly increased fifty-fold, and the number of vehicles circulating in the region grew even more than that. The tales told by locals about this gold rush evoke the storied ‘Wild West’ of the United States in the 19th century, describing a vast, lawless country controlled by armed men, where the only aim was to get rich.

A new Briefing Paper from the Security Assessment in North Africa project—Beyond the ‘Wild West’: the Gold Rush in Northern Niger, by Mathieu Pellerin—identifies the different parties involved in the gold rush and explains the outcomes of their ad hoc interactions. It also looks at the effects of the gold rush on the region, including changes to the security situation, the economy, and the political order, as well as broader implications for Niger as a whole

The Briefing Paper is based on fieldwork undertaken by the author in 2016 and 2017, and includes the following key findings:

  • The gold rush in northern Niger involves both foreigners and local notables—including political and military actors who own or control mines—making it a sensitive issue. The gold rush caused security incidents, including increased banditry, intercommunity rivalries, and occasional tensions with Algeria.
  • Arms trafficking in the region has increased with the opening of the gold mines. This increase is likely to be linked to the area’s new-found wealth, its pervasive insecurity, and the inability of the Nigerien government to adequately police such a vast region.
  • The impact of the gold rush on local society has not made northern Niger fertile ground for recruitment by extremist groups. There is little indication that such groups are present at the mining sites, though it is possible that mining indirectly provides funding to them.
  • The discovery of gold helped to reinvigorate the economy in northern Niger, which had been adversely affected by border closures and the end of uranium mining. Although most miners do not make a profit, the gold rush created important indirect economies.



 

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