In Defense of Their Livelihood: Gold Miners in Mauritania Rise Against the UAE and Russia

The private mining sector provides over 250,000 job opportunities.

The private mining sector provides over 250,000 job opportunities.

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Gold mining in Mauritania serves as a source of income for thousands of families in the north of the country, prompting them to defend their livelihood against various threats, including foreign companies that have entered the region, leading to security tensions.

Angry miners expelled workers from the Emirati–Russian company, Emiral Mining, which is mining for gold in northern Mauritania, seizing their equipment before security forces intervened to regain control of the situation.

Assessment of the Situation

According to Mauritanian News Agency on March 24, 2024, miners accused the authorities of colluding with the foreign company Emiral Mining, granting it mining areas that were previously allocated to them, and monopolizing vast and gold-rich areas.

The same source stated that the area witnessed confrontations between protesting miners and gendarme forces responsible for securing the company's premises before the miners managed to take control, prompting the gendarmerie to withdraw and expel foreign company workers.

Video footage circulated showed a group of miners surrounding large company vehicles and pelting them with stones from all sides.

Several unions called on authorities to "protect" the interests of Mauritanian miners from manufacturing companies.

In response, journalist Moustapha Louly said, "Tension between miners and "Emiral Mining" is not new, as its drums were beating two years ago when I visited the area as part of journalistic work.

"The fact is that the company was licensed to mine for gold by the Ministry of Mines in an area outside the jurisdiction of Maaden Mauritanie Agency, which regulates the artisanal mining sector," Louly added to Al-Estiklal.

"However, some miners, perhaps at the behest of certain unions operating in the field, saw the company as a competitor since it would operate in areas close to where they conduct their mining activities."

He also said that "the Mauritanian Minerals Agency states that artisanal miners have mined in a part of the area allocated to the aforementioned company [Emiral Mining]," noting that the issue was "settled to satisfy all parties.

"The artisanal mining sector is characterized by a great deal of randomness, and its organization remains challenging for regulatory authorities due to the continuous renewal of mining areas and the dispersal of miners across every inch of the country.

"As a border region, it witnesses multi-directional tension due to the lack of awareness among these miners, resulting in repeated crossings of the country's borders and attacks on the borders of other countries."

Stringent Regulations

It's worth noting that Nani Ould Chrougha, Minister of Petroleum, Mines and Energy, and Government Spokesperson, announced the killing of four citizens outside the borders, emphasizing that it pertains to gold prospectors, warning other prospectors against "the danger of repeating such incident."

During a press conference on January 3, 2024, the Mauritanian minister did not delve into the entity responsible for the airstrike that took the lives of the four Mauritanians inside the buffer zone south of the Moroccan security wall, after Mauritanian reports previously suggested it was a military operation by the Moroccan army.

Therefore, Louly emphasizes that "it is necessary to impose strict regulations on the borders and prevent prospectors from crossing them."

"On the other hand, neighbors need to take into account the chaotic conditions that characterize mining and refrain from resorting to violence to confront any border breaches before warning the intruders."

Meanwhile, economic analyst Ammou Ould Anfa believes that "the recent clashes in the Chegga region are primarily due to a misunderstanding between traditional prospectors and a [Emirati–Russian] company licensed to prospect in one of the areas under Chegga's jurisdiction in the far north of the country.

"The misunderstanding arose after the aforementioned company went to prospect for water in areas legally belonging to traditional prospectors, which angered them, prompting them to attack the company's vehicles, leading the National Guard to intervene," Ould Anfa explained to Al-Estiklal.

He pointed out that "things began to calm down after the intervention of local administrative authorities and government bodies responsible for regulating the sector."

Ould Anfa also noted that "the gold extraction sector in the country still suffers from some deficiencies, such as the high rate of smuggling estimated at 70 percent of total production, the large quantities of chemicals used, and the absence of field processing units that could add value."

Arrests and Investigations

The Mauritanian gendarmerie in the Chegga area detained 10 gold prospectors following the events in the region, which led to the injury of two prospectors, one of them in serious condition.

According to Sahara Media Agency on March 28, 2024, "the gendarmerie relied on some photos and videos taken by the prospectors themselves during their attack on workers and vehicles of the Emiral Mining company, events that escalated into a confrontation with a unit of the National Guard resulting in the injury of two prospectors and the overturning of a guard's car."

It stated that "the authorities held a meeting with officials of the Emiral Mining company to verify the documents for prospecting for water possessed by the company specializing in gold prospecting."

The authorities informed two leading prospector associations of their intention to launch an investigation into the incident "to restore security and peace to the region and uphold justice."

Mining Regulations

Since 2018, Mauritanian authorities have allowed manual surface gold prospecting in vast areas of the north, leading tens of thousands of citizens to flock to these areas for unregulated and random prospecting.

In 2019, the government intervened to regulate traditional gold prospecting and imposed licensing requirements for this activity.

Surface gold prospectors in northern Mauritania face multiple risks, including occasional collapses of the deep excavations they dig in search of gold, which often result in fatalities and injuries.

President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani previously announced on February 10, 2022, the deaths of eight gold prospectors in a well collapse in the Asbibrat area in the north of the country.

Prospectors use primitive tools to dig for gold-saturated soil without adhering to any safety standards, often resulting in the collapse of unsupported soil.

Vital Sector

The significant importance of the mining sector in Mauritania is confirmed by official reports and the large production output, whether of precious metals or other minerals, which has the most significant economic and social impact on the country.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ould Bilal previously stated that Mauritania produced 33 tons of gold in 2023, which includes industrial, semi-industrial, and artisanal production.

During his speech before parliament in January 2024, Bilal added that iron ore production reached 14.1 million tons, while copper production amounted to 13 thousand tons.

He stated that starting operations at the F'Derick mine would result in a boost in production of about two million tons of iron ore per year. Additionally, he mentioned other significant projects in the pipeline.

Bilal mentioned the "significant positive impact" of artisanal mining activity on economic growth and job creation, stating that it provides more than 250,000 job opportunities, 50,000 of which are direct and around 200,000 are indirect.

He spoke about improving the conditions of prospectors by providing healthcare, water, electricity, telecommunications, and public administration services.

The Mauritanian official pledged that 2024 would witness improved social and environmental framework for the sector, control over marketing outlets, establishment of programs for social and economic development of the population, and enhancement of local content by providing basic social services.