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

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. The scope of this report 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 consequences of this are far reaching, as the lack of government presence, institutional structure and policy coherence undermine the ability of these countries to plan, capture and reap the sector’s full economic benefits. The artisanal gold sector employs an estimated three million artisanal miners in these countries and their production—and therefore full contribution to national economies— remains unknown. 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. Gold has always proven an easy pull for those looking to make a living, however uncertain and exploitative it may be. For governments and militia groups alike, lucrative and easily smuggled minerals are often the lifeblood of long and protracted civil wars, a magnet for instability, human exploitation, corruption, and above all, lost economic opportunity. Postcolonial history has shown that the West African region is no stranger to civil war, and in very recent times, has become an increased target of jihadist terrorist activity and attacks. This report also highlights some of the common pitfalls that governments face following the end of hostilities or as they seek to expand government control over the unregulated artisanal mining sector.