Coming down into the mine with pulleys. Just a battery-powered fan to cool the atmosphere and move the stale indoor air. Just some rubber tubes as the only means of communication with the outside and just a chisel and a hammer to pierce the rock.
Gold is extracted from Karangasso Vigue mines in Burkina Faso as if the Industrial Revolution had never occurred. A rudimentary strip mining of those known as ‘artisan mines’: unfortunate euphemism to name one of the shadiest paths, where the international luxury goods market circulates.
The emergence of gold mines in Burkina Faso in 2009 radically transformed the landscape of this country, one of the poorest countries in Africa, which draws unemployment near 80%. This nation changed from strengthening its economy by exporting cotton to making mining one of its major wealth sources; although, as usual in the African Continent, wealth is kept in a few pockets and benefits foreign markets.
Even though gold already officially represents approximately 5% of GDP of Burkina Faso, the truth is that the so-called “artisan mines” operate clandestinely and get to produce from 20 to 30 tons of gold a year, which are usually traded outside legality.
Located an hour away from Bobo-Dioulasso (the second major city in Bourkina Faso), the mines of Karangasso Vigue pose an archetypal example of the precarious nature of these mining developments, in which, workers, mostly minors, suffer truly inhumane working conditions.
Likewise it happens in the rest of these clandestine mining developments operating throughout the country (estimated in around 200 units), there is an unequivocal sign to find out one is near the mines of Karangasso Vigue: hundreds of muddy youths walking along the paths.
A genuine village, bustling with all sorts of activities and business, is erected around the mine. From sheds with satellite dishes, in which workers kill their spare time watching football matches of the European leagues, to crowded dining rooms. Next to them, some other shadier businesses arise: both prostitution and drug dealing are usual by the mines.
However, the most impressive feature when one strolls among the narrow access holes to the mine is the presence of children. They are especially demanded by the managers of these “artisan mines”, as they can work easier and with higher efficiency inside the mine, due to their smaller size.
It is distressing to see how the hard daily work in the mine leaves its mark on the faces of these minors. A year extracting gold from the African ground weighs like a decade. Working in such a stifling atmosphere makes impossible to remain in the underground longer than 30 minutes, due to the lack of oxygen and high temperature. Never ending working days of over 12 hours, with an old battery-powered torch (one of the few traces of rudimentary technology in these mines) in hollows where deaths from suffocation or collapses are an everyday occurrence. A working routine most of them can only endure by taking drugs. One more aspect that shades the glitter of gold extracted from the underground darkness of Burkina Faso.
Text: ÁLVARO PAYO