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
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