On the night of August 7, a local man illegally panning for gold on the premises of the Youga mine in eastern Burkina Faso was killed by a security guard. Outraged by the extrajudicial killing, a group of locals burned down part of the mine, which is operated by a Turkish subcontractor. Anger against the mining company had already been simmering over the past few weeks, especially after a series of layoffs, and, for many employees and residents of nearby villages, this man’s death was just the latest in a long string of grievances against the mine’s management.
On August 8, the day after the local man's death, a mob made up of several dozen Youga residents stormed the operation run by the Burkina Mining Company. They set fire to several machines and dormitories, partially destroying them, and ransacked the offices of company management, according to the Bukinabe Minister of Mines, who spoke to the France 24 Observers team.
Satellite view of the Youga gold mine, in southeastern Burkina Faso. (Credit: Google Earth)
"About a hundred locals went to the mine armed with pickaxes and shovels"
Issouf G, an employee at the mine, witnessed the attack. He shared his story with the France 24 Observers under condition of anonymity as he is afraid of repercussions for his career.
The villagers discovered the body of a local man who had been digging for gold early in the morning. After they buried him, a group of about 100 people, some armed with shovels and pickaxes, marched on the mine. Everyone here understood how dangerous the situation was and started to run for their lives.
I lingered for a moment by the entrance to the site. The villagers started breaking chairs and tables and damaged a small hangar.
At a certain point, a small group formed and I heard them saying that they were headed to the pit where some of the Turkish employees were still likely working. They clearly wanted to do them harm. After that, I went home. Soon after, the police arrived on the site and managed to restore order.
In a statement published on August 9, the Turkish company Avesoro stated that there had been a "security breach” at the Youga site and that they were suspending operations there. Employees who had been working there were transferred to the capital, Ouagadougou.
After the attack on the mining site, the Burkinabe Minister of Security called for calm. He also said that people had been wounded in the incident and that there had been “significant material damage”, without giving further detail. He also added that a suspect had been apprehended as part of the investigation opened into the trespasser's death.
Simmering resentment for the Turkish subcontractor
According to our Observers, discontent with the Turkish management had been growing throughout the community over the past few weeks and, for many, the gold digger’s death was just the final straw.
Between April and June 2019, about 500 people lost their jobs at the mine (some were laid off, while others didn’t have their contracts renewed), according to Burkinabe business journal L’économiste du Faso.
In a move to save money, Burkina Mining Company also brought in a Turkish subcontractor called Orkun Group Sarl, which hired about a hundred Turkish workers.
'There was a fight with a Turkish employee'
Issouf G. often worked alongside the Turkish employees at the mine. He says that there was quite a lot of tension between local and expatriate workers.
We were angry at the Turks-- not just about the layoffs but because they had hired these expats. Some of them had experience and skills but most didn’t even know how to operate the equipment. It was kind of absurd to see Burkinabe supervisors having to train these expats.
But the tension was ramped up a notch a few days ago, when there was an altercation. A few of us were trying to show a Turkish employee how to do something correctly and he got mad and said that black people could never show him how to work. It was incredibly offensive.
"Employing expats with few or no qualifications goes against the mining code”
Martin B., another Burkinabe employee who also wanted to remain anonymous, agreed that tensions have been palpable for the past few weeks.
In my opinion, the tension is a result of catastrophic management.
The company went against the mining code [Editor’s note: a legal document regulating the mining industry within Burkina Faso] by hiring expats with little or no qualifications [Editor’s note: Article 102 of the code stipulates that priority should be given to Burkinabes.]
The decision to bring in these workers is seen as a slight to Burkinabes. Two weeks before this incident, the mine’s Burkinabe employees gave management an ultimatum calling for the departure of the non-qualified Turkish employees.
Links to a multinational based in the Channel Islands
Burkina Mining Company is run by Avesoro, a company with offices in Canada, London and Jersey, in the Channel Islands. Avesoro is part of the MNG Group, a major Turkish multinational operating imainly in the construction and tourism sectors. MNG employs approximately 15,000 people, 6,000 of them in Africa.
The France 24 Observers team reached out to Avesoro for comment, but they did not respond to our requests.
In February 2016, Avesoro purchased the Youga mining site for more than 27 million euros from a Canadian company, Endeavour.
In the past 20 years, trade between Turkey and Africa has increased 200-fold, to reach 17.7 billion euros in 2018. Turkish investment has been concentrated in construction, mining and humanitarian aid.
This article was written by Liselotte Mas (@liselottemas).