When word got out that gold had been discovered in the Batha region in central Chad, gold diggers came running. They spilled in from all over the country and, in some cases, from neighbouring states as well. But tensions have been flaring between these gold diggers and soldiers sent in to secure the zone.
So far, the gold seems to have brought nothing but unhappiness for the soldiers, the locals and the fortune-seekers hoping for a little luck.
News that gold had been found near the village of Djaya started spreading about two weeks ago. Locals immediately decided to try their hand at gold digging. Soon, gold diggers from all over the country were pouring in, as were people from Sudan to the east and Niger to the west.
But Chadian authorities weren’t happy about this influx of fortune-seekers and, last week, they deployed soldiers to secure the zone. The security forces cordoned off the area around the site of the gold discovery and asked all the diggers to leave, to their dismay. Some had travelled hundreds of miles to try their luck.
"We travelled 500 kilometres for nothing"
Six of us set off on January 12 after pooling about 1.5 million CFA francs (a little over 2,000 euros) to buy the supplies we needed. For some of us, we put in the equivalent to six months’ salary.
We travelled for six hours over 500 kilometres, for nothing. We couldn’t even get close to where gold was found. The army had taken control of the local villages and was preventing any kind of movement in the area.
This map shows the city of Mongo, the village of Djaya, where gold was found, and Doba, a centre of oil production, to the south (more about Doba later on in the article).
We saw soldiers stop people carrying a few grams of gold. They confiscated it, and burned their motorcycles. Soldiers also checked us but, luckily, we had taken apart the metal detector and hidden it, so they didn’t find it. The situation was so tense that we ended up leaving, without being able to dig at all.
Other Observers also reported that they saw soldiers both confiscate gold from diggers and burn their motorcycles. Many photos showing the scenes described were shared on social media. Photo published on makaila.fr by Makaila Nguebla.
We're really disappointed, like everyone else here who came hoping to find a few grams of gold, which would be enough to change our lives. No one is going to pay us back for the investment we made and lost.
Local lawmakers also reported that soldiers had fired on some gold diggers who refused to leave; some of their reports even mentioned deaths. Witnesses interviewed by France 24 confirmed that they had heard gunshots, without being able to confirm whether or not any gold diggers had been hit.
But when FRANCE 24 contacted Batha’s police commissioner, Haroun Tchong-Tchong, he recounted a different version of events:
Soldiers did not use their weapons to kill gold diggers. The only people who died were killed by armed robbers. The army was deployed and ordered to secure the zone for two reasons. First of all, the gold was found on a nature reserve where there are many elephants. We were worried that they might be poisoned by toxic materials used by gold diggers, like mercury.
Secondly, we were informed that numerous gold diggers from Sudan and Niger were coming along with the Chadians and we were afraid of infiltrations that could threaten our national security.
"The influx of gold diggers has had repercussions on prices in the region”
Military reinforcements sent to Mongo started systematically stopping anyone they thought might be suspicious or might be carrying gold or a metal detector. The security forces also searched every nook and cranny of the markets looking for a few grams of gold that might be sold clandestinely at one of the stalls. It created a really bad feeling in the town.
In several nearby towns, especially Ati, which is located north of the region, local high schools shut down because almost 80% of students left school to go try their luck at digging.
The influx of gold diggers has also had an effect on the price of basic foodstuffs. For example, the price of a plate of millet, a staple food in Chad, doubled from 250 francs CFA (equivalent to roughly 37 euro cents) to 500 francs (72 euro cents). In the short term, the discovery of this gold is bad news for this very poor region.
In Chad, there is regularly conflict around the management of natural resources, with local people feeling slighted. For example, residents of the southern region of Doba, known for being the country’s oil capital, say that they haven’t seen any of the expected economic benefits. For its part, the government maintains that it is necessary to control these industries to better manage distribution and to safeguard them, especially from artificial shortages caused by unscrupulous traders.