Haffiya Abdalla – Khartoum
From the 5th to the 8th century, gold was the main export commodity in Africa due to the demand of coinage.
The export of this precious metal increased from the 7th to the 11th century, as the Mediterranean countries started to demand gold in abundance.
Encouraged by these initial commercial transactions, countries like Mali and Ghana took advantage of the situation and exploited the potential of gold as a raw metal for minting: the reason why Ghana was referred to as “The Land of Gold”. African gold was used in Western gold coins, and it remained the principal product of export.
From 1500 onward, African gold would power the world system of coinage. Gold has been the most important and enduring element that has shaped and determined Africa’s interactions with the rest of the world.
For at least 1,500 years, gold has been the commodity determining not only the continent’s economy and history, but also Africa’s links with the world.
Billions of dollars’ worth of gold is being smuggled out of Africa every year through the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East – a gateway to markets in Europe, the United States and beyond – a Reuters analysis has found.
Customs data shows that the UAE imported $15.1 billion worth of gold from Africa in 2016, more than any other country and up from $1.3 billion in 2006. The total weight was 446 tonnes, in varying degrees of purity – up from 67 tonnes in 2006.
Much of the gold was not recorded in the exports of African states. Five trade economists interviewed by Reuters said this indicates large amounts of gold are leaving Africa with no taxes being paid to the states that produce them.
Gold is one of Africa’s most abundant natural resources and it has shaped its history and its people throughout time.
The Dutch took gold mining into South Africa when it was discovered in Witwatersrand and later Johannesburg in the 1800s.
South Africa, one of the leading countries in gold production, and the number one producer in Africa, produced 138 tons of gold in 2018. The first gold mines in Africa were in South Africa, discovered in 1886.
Ghana is Africa’s largest producer of gold, beating out South Africa for the top spot in 2019, and is also known for its reserves of various industrial minerals. Industry majors such as AngloGold Ashanti and Gold Fields have shifted their focus from South Africa to Ghana where deposits are cheaper and easier to mine.
Africa’s Gold Mining Industry
Africa’s gold mining industry — traditionally dominated by South Africa — has seen a shift in focus with countries such as Ghana, Sudan, Mali, and Burkina Faso entering the fray.
While traditional companies and artisanal miners contribute to Ghana’s gold production, some of the largest include Kinross Gold (Chirano mine), Newmont Goldcorp (Akyem and Ahafo mines), AngloGold Ashanti (Obuasi and Iduapriem mines), Gold Fields (Tarkwa gold mine) and Asanko Gold (Asanko mine).
The minerals mined in Ghana account for 37% of the country’s total exports, with gold comprising 90% of total mineral exports. Ghana’s gold reserves are estimated to be 1,000 metric tonnes.
Declining gold ore grades in South Africa over the past eight decades have seen the country lose its African top spot to Ghana. In 2019, gold production fell to 118 metric tonnes from 137 metric tonnes in the previous year.
The Witwatersrand Basin, an underground geological formation in South Africa, holds one of the largest gold placer deposits in the world. Top gold mines in the country include South Deep (the largest gold mine in the world in terms of reserves and currently owned by Harmony Gold), Mponeng (operated by AngloGold Ashanti and the deepest mine in the world), and Driefontein (owned by Sibanye-Stillwater). South Africa’s oldest mine, Kromdraai, is a currently a huge tourist attraction.
Despite diminishing gold reserves, South Africa is still estimated to possess 6,000 metric tonnes (second-largest in the world), according to 2018 Mining GlobalData.
The north-east African country of Sudan comes third in this list with gold production of more than 76 metric tonnes in 2019. This was, however, a big drop from the 93 tonnes produced the previous year and the 107 tonnes in 2017. The Sudanese government, however, claims annual gold production is in the range of 120-200 tonnes.
For years one of Africa’s top gold producing countries, Sudanese gold is found in the Eriab region of the Nuba mountains, along the alluvial regions of the Nile River and quartz vein formations in Obaidiya, Blue Nile region and North Kurdufan.
Africa’s Various Mines
Africa’s third-largest country by area, Sudan’s gold mines include Hassai gold mine (owned by Sudan’s Ariab Mining Company and Canada’s La Mancha Resources) and Block 14 open pit mine project (operated by Canada’s Orca Gold).
The north-west African country of Mali produced more than 71 metric tonnes of gold in 2019, a sizeable jump from the 61.2 tonnes in 2018 — placing it fourth in our list of the continent’s top gold producers.
Mali’s gold mining operations not only involve large mining companies, but also artisanal miners, who have also produced a sizeable chunk of gold and made a significant contribution to the country’s economy.
Its gold mines include Morila (managed by Government of Mali, AngloGold Ashanti and Barrick Gold), Sadiola (managed by Government of Mali, AngloGold Ashanti and LamGold), Loulo-Gounkoto (managed by Barrick Gold) and Yatela (managed by Government of Mali, AngloGold Ashanti and LamGold)
Strong, Glaring Nexus
According to Reuters, Governments across Africa are trying to work out how to manage a sector that, whatever its risks, provides a livelihood for many of their citizens, and which could be harnessed as a source of revenues.
Some, including The Ivory Coast, are taking gradual steps to regulate their informal mining operations. Ghana and Zambia have sent security forces into mining areas to halt operations so miners can be registered and regulations put in place.
Ghana, concerned that a rush of mainly Chinese-led ventures harming the environment, has arrested hundreds of Chinese miners and expelled thousands in the past six years.
Ghana temporarily banned the import of excavator equipment to try to stem a surge in illegal mining using heavy machinery.
In Sudan, one of the continent’s biggest producers, the government, has unveiled a $3 billion plan for private banks to work with the central bank to buy gold from small-scale miners, offering prices that would make it less attractive to sell on the black market.
Industrial mining companies have also been responsible for pollution, ranging from cyanide spills to respiratory problems linked to dust produced by mining operations.
Almost a dozen states including DRC, Uganda, Chad, Niger, Ghana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Burkina Faso, Mali and Sudan have complained in the past year about the harms of unauthorized mining.
Burkina Faso has banned small-scale mining in some areas where al Qaeda-linked Islamists are active, and earlier this month Nigeria’s government suspended mining in the restive northwestern state of Zamfara, saying intelligence reports established what was called “a strong and glaring nexus” between the activities of armed bandits and illicit miners.