For a fistful of gold

Workers in small-scale gold mines in West Africa see themselves as entrepreneurs, actively developing their expertise and their careers. This surprised NAI researcher and anthropologist Cristiano Lanzano when he first entered the gold-mining community.

“Before going to the gold mines, I imagined miners working in very difficult and hard conditions with the labour force being exploited”, Cristiano Lanzano says.

“While talking to the miners themselves I noticed that they were actually choosing their work. They were ‘programming’ their career, freely moving from one mine to another, and choosing places according to their expertise. Miners follow the gold where they can find it”, he explains.

Lanzano is specialised in small-scale mining and the social aspects of it in West Africa, particularly in Burkina Faso. Also known as artisanal mining, it comprises mainly of manual work combined with basic machines e.g. for crushing stones.

In the video, Lanzano describes the extractions techniques used in small-scale mines, often going as deep as 30 to 50 meters in the ground.

Origin difficult to trace

He often portrays small-scale mining in Africa as ‘capitalism in the making’. The possible profits are a strong incentive for working very hard, investing in better equipment, and creating teams to better achieve one’s goals.

“The artisanal sector is providing livelihood and giving work to the majority of people involved in gold extraction. Miners are quite proud of their work and want to show it. I guess they think that their work is often being misrepresented or assumed to be anarchic and dangerous. They want to talk about themselves in a more neutral way that includes their aspirations, hopes and investments”, Lanzano explains.

In addition to research, he has also worked as a consultant on value chain analysis in mines in Burkina Faso and Guinea.

“For a European consumer it is very difficult to say where the gold you are wearing comes from. Still, there are many initiatives at work to promote transparency in the value chain and to promote social projects or more ethical standards for gold production”, he says.

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