Gold mines in lawless region targeted in Chad’s revenue search

Refugee camp in Chad. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Chad’s looking to reassert control over its gold reserves, a longtime source of conflict and smuggling, following an upsurge of deadly clashes in mining regions.

The landlocked Central African country’s interim leader, Colonel Mahamat Idriss Deby, wants to profit from gold mined in the far north, a largely stateless region controlled by armed militias. Chad is currently facing a food-security crisis and struggling to reach a deal with external creditors including commodity trading giant Glencore Plc to restructure $2.8 billion of external debt.

Gold worth 57 billion CFA francs ($91 million) leaves Chad each week heading for Libya, Deby told state broadcaster Tele Tchad in an interview aired on June 9.

“That’s enormous and it needs to stop,” Deby said during a visit to Kouri Bougoudi, a northern town where at least 100 small-scale miners died in clashes over access to gold last month.

Deby’s estimate of the value of gold smuggled out of the country dwarfs Chad’s official gold exports, which amounted to about $200 million in 2020, according to World Bank Data.

Gold mining in the tri-border area between Chad, Libya and Niger has long posed a security challenge to the administration in the capital, N’Djamena.

In early 2021, Libya-based rebels used the border region to launch an assault to overthrow Deby’s father, longtime leader General Idriss Deby. The repressive ruler was killed during a visit to the frontline on April 20, according to interim authorities.

Chad is still reeling from the impact of Deby’s death, while struggling with the global economic shock caused by the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and regional instability.

A restructuring of its external debt under the G20 Common Framework that would free up much-needed resources — including oil revenue — has stalled as Chad and its creditors have failed to agree on the terms.

Deby on Thursday vowed to ensure that Chadians would benefit from the gold mines in Kouri Bougoudi.

“We will put in place mining services, tax authorities and customs. Foreigners who want to mine here will need a permit to do so,” Deby said. “The state will get its part, while the province will be entitled to 5% of revenue from its natural resources.”

He denied the evacuation of small-scale miners by security forces was an attempt by authorities to hand over the mines to foreign actors. Previous attempts to industrialize Chad’s gold reserves have failed due to insecurity and the lack of infrastructure in the remote region, according to a recent report by the RHIPTO Norwegian Center for Global Analyses.

(By Katarina Hoije)

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