The West African El Dorado: Mapping the Illicit Trade of Gold in Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Burkina Faso

The analyses in this report maps the enforcement and governance challenges, as well as vulnerabilities posed by the illicit trade of gold in West Africa and its impact on regional peace and stability. This report’s scope focuses on the artisanal gold sector in Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Burkina Faso. However, many of its findings are applicable to other countries in the West African region, most notably Sierra Leone and Guinea, who also report losing significant gold production to Mali. While each of these countries face unique challenges, they share a common theme: the light footprint of government in the artisanal gold sector. The report also notes that while smuggling and tax leakage deprive state coffers, they also contribute to political instability, lawlessness and criminality, much of it transnational in nature. Some of the common pitfalls are highlighted, which governments face following the end of hostilities or as they seek to expand government control over the unregulated artisanal mining sector. Gold often remains a source of instability and lost revenue for governments as informal networks prove more durable than attempts to establish legal supply chains. This is the case in all the countries featured in this report, where the artisanal sector continues to be informal and largely beyond the control of central planners. Countries with weak resource governance, more often than not, especially in post-conflict situations, attempt to reassert control by enacting ill-thought out laws and policies on the backs of artisanal miners. When these laws and policies are ignored, they are backed up by draconian enforcement measures that exacerbate the situation, alienating miners and pushing them further into illicit trade or resulting in avoidable violence.