Out for Gold and Blood in Sudan

Letter from Jebel Amir

Gold mine workers run for cover during a sand storm in River Nile State, July 30, 2013. Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah / Courtesy Reuters

In April 2012, a small team of wandering miners discovered gold in the Jebel Amir hills of North Darfur, Sudan. One of the mines was so rich -- it reportedly brought millions of dollars to its owners -- that it was nicknamed “Switzerland.” Diggers rushed in from all over Sudan, as well as from the Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria. After a much-publicized visit by Sudan’s mining minister and the governor of North Darfur state, their number may have reached 100,000.

With the gold trade came criminals carrying “arms of every caliber,” a local who would prefer to go unnamed told me. “You could find any weapon in Jebel Amir, as well as imported alcohol, drugs, prostitutes.” To avoid being robbed, miners and gold traders eschew cash for checks that could be deposited in a bank in the nearby town of Kebkabiya.

Ever since South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011, both governments have faced a host of problems. As the International Crisis Group has chronicled, war has come to Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. In Darfur itself, 450,000 were displaced in 2013, mostly because of violence at the hands of militias. These were once (unevenly) controlled by Khartoum and have since slipped out of the government’s reins in an all-out battle for gold and power.

To stop the bloodshed and mass displacement in Darfur -- since the start of 2014, another 200,000 have fled their homes -- the government will need to get serious about controlling the militias. New resources, such as gold, are just a piece of the puzzle -- behind local conflicts are decades of frustration. Darfurians of all stripes believe that successive governments have stolen their wealth. Such feelings of marginalization have spread throughout Sudan’s periphery and are at the heart of the country’s national crisis.

Mines in Jebel Amir, May 9, 2013. (DigitalGlobe)
A gold mine worker uses a detector in Al-Ibedia locality at River Nile State, July 30, 2013. (Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah / Courtesy Reuters)
Gold mine workers weigh their gold in River Nile State, July 30, 2013. (Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah / Courtesy Reuters)
Children look at the fin of a mortar projectile that was found at a North Darfur camp for internally displaced persons after an attack by rebels, March 25, 2014. (Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah / Courtesy Reuters)
Tribesmen arrive for a meeting to discuss the progress of a peace treaty in Darfur, June 18, 2013. (Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah / Courtesy Reuters)
A Rizeigat Arab traditional chief whose community has brokered a nonaggression pact with non-Arab rebels. (Jérôme Tubiana)
Darfuri women participate in a peace rally in North Darfur, September 23, 2013.(Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah / Courtesy Reuters)


Over the last three years, Sudan has experienced a number of gold rushes. New discoveries and high world prices are part of the story. But Khartoum has also

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