Niger’s Gold Rush Has Turned Bandits into Barons. But, granted rare access to northern Niger’s gold fields, we saw how the vast majority of workers aren’t benefitting nearly as much as them.
Gold-mining sites in northern Niger tend to have an origin story, exaggerated with each retelling. In the case of Emzigar, located in the shadow of a mountain by the same name, it was an ethnic Tuareg nomad named Cherif who, as he tended to his camels and goats, found an interesting-looking rock.
Cherif thought it might be one of the stones that Tuareg artisans use to make jewellery. He brought it to a friend, who recognised it as gold. Cherif, legend has it, had stumbled upon 40 grams of what locals have come to call “a gift from God”,” valued on the local market at roughly $1,400 (£1,036), more than three times Niger’s per capita annual income.
Within days, hundreds of people had come to Emzigar. Within weeks, the previously uninhabited plot was a tent city of several thousand, replete with shops, restaurants and a private health clinic. Emzigar is only one – and by no means the largest – of hundreds of encampments that have proliferated throughout Niger’s mountainous, desert north.
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