High rewards, but high risk: Illegal gold mining in Ivory Coast

The body of a gold miner killed in a rockslide. Picture sent by Goore Tra Bi.
 
A rockslide killed at least seven people last week in an illegal gold mine in a remote region of Ivory Coast. In this mine, Ivorian and foreign workers alike risk their lives every day to scrounge up a couple of grams of the precious metal.
 
The accident took place last Friday at an underground construction site in the Floleu mine. Floleu is one of many illegal mines that have cropped up around the industrial mine of Ity, one of the oldest gold mines in the Ivory Coast, which yielded 6.5 million euros in profits in 2011.
 
Picture taken by Goore Tra Bi during the search on Monday.
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“At the beginning of November, we heard there was more gold than usual, so many more people began been working in the mine”

Issam (not his real name) is a technician working at the nearby Ity industrial mine.
 
I called a doctor friend who was on site. According to him, there are more bodies buried in the mine that have been very difficult to locate. So the death toll will probably increase.
 
Floleu is one of the largest illegal mines in this area. It has been there for a very long time and is operational day and night. The workers have created a real, functional organisation there. But the mining is completely illegal and is done with inadequate supplies. Unlike the Ity industrial mine, where the mining happens at the earth’s surface and with the help of machinery, the mining at Floleu is done by hand in underground tunnels. The miners dig shafts and galleries dozens of metres deep. Some miners stay above ground and work on lowering buckets that underground miners fill with soil. The work is carried out with only very basic equipment, such as pickaxes, rope, and buckets. And some miners even dig with their bare hands.
 
It is very difficult to estimate how many people are in the mine at any given time. What is clear is that since the beginning of November, many more people have been working in the mine because there were rumours that there was more gold being found than usual.
 
“If the gold miners are allowed to work illegally in plain sight, it must be because people in high places stand to gain from it”
 
A large proportion of those who live in the city of Zouan-Hounien [15 kilometres from the mine] live from illegal mining. There are many youths who have dropped out of school to, as they say locally, “go to the faro,” i.e. start working in illegal mining. I see some people go out at night and blow the money they make from mining. If the gold is of high quality, it can fetch at least 150,000 CFA francs per gram [about 23 euros]. The most experienced miners thus manage to make significant sums of money. Despite this, I personally would never go work over there. The risks are far too big. Those who go down in the mineshaft are never guaranteed to come back up to the surface.
 
This illegal mine is basically an open secret. On several occasions, the local authorities sent police to the mine, but it has never been shut down. If the illegal gold miners are allowed to work in plain sight, it must be because people in high places stand to gain from it. [Another local contact told us that some policemen informally tax the gold miners at the entrance of the mine and obtain a percentage of the profits.]
 
 
 
Illegal mines attract gold miners to the Ity area. The three photos above show the Flat Glahi mine, where the mining occurs at the surface and so there is no risk of the ground caving in. Polo boulot.

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