Artisanal mining and the resilience of displaced rural communities.
Discover the story of Djeneba Sawadogo from Kelbo, Burkina Faso.
“My name is Djeneba; I am 32 years old; I am married and mother of 3 children. I am originally from Kelbo, Soum province in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso. Because of the security crisis in Kelbo, my family and I fled last year to escape many attacks. So, we first moved to Kaya, Sanmatenga province in the Centre-North region. Some time later, my children and I came here in Gaoua, more precisely to this site in Ourbi. We settled here less than a year ago. As for my husband, he lives in Gaoua with us and works in the artisanal mining industry on another site.
In Kelbo, we used to raise livestock. Unfortunately, here in Ourbi, the conditions are not favourable to that activity”.
Burkina Faso, until then spared from terrorist attacks by the Sahel-Saharan band, entered the circle of countries affected by terrorism in 2015 with the attack on the post of the community of Oursi in the Sahel region. From then on, the once peaceful sunrises and sunsets of the populations of the Sahel region will no longer be the same.
Especially for “Djeneba” (borrowed name) and her family whose days, previously occupied by household activities and livestock farming, would be replaced by fear and the crackling noise of bullets from people, most of them perched on motorbikes and wearing turbans.
This permanent feeling of insecurity would intensify from the end of 2016 with the formation of the Ansarul Islam movement with Imam Ibrahim Malam Dicko in the province of Soum where “Djeneba” is from.
The persistence of jihadist attacks has eroded the authority and presence of the State in the areas affected by these attacks; and in the rural commune of Kelbo, province of Soum in the Sahel region, and in many other areas there would be a significant flow of displaced people to the relatively calm areas.
Kelbo, where the village of “Djeneba” is located, is among localities that register a considerable number of IDPs, around 2720 in 2019 according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Thousands of Burkinabe fleeing the deadly violence in their area of residence are trying to seek refuge in other parts of the country.
This is the case of “Djeneba”. She and her family were forced to flee their village to escape attacks by armed terrorist groups. The Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) team met her during a mission to the artisanal mining site of Ourbi a few kilometres from Gaoua, or more than 500 km from Kelbo. Crouching down washing alluvium with a container, “Djeneba” was reluctant to hear the team’s first words to hem. After a few jokes made about her, she felt relaxed and confident, and decided to open up to us.
“Djeneba” seemed very enthusiastic about her life in Kelbo long before the arrival of the armed groups. She talked about it with a nostalgic air full of good memories.
When I arrived here in Ourbi, I quickly noticed women who practiced the craft of mining. In order to hope to have something to eat every day and also not to remain idle, I decided to start this activity as well.
“It’s not very profitable, but it’s better than nothing. When the work is successful, I can get 5000 F CFA (about 9 US$), or even more, if not sometimes 1000 F (less than 2 US $), sometimes nothing.”
Like the other women, equipped with a bucket and a plate, Djeneba scrapes the earth, and then through a process called winnowing, she separates the stones from the water and from every small gold nuggets. With luck she manages to find a few grains of gold. She repeats the process until she obtains a sufficient quantity which she sells to the gold collectors present on the site.
“We do not have any equipment at our disposal. Look! I only have this bucket and this plate to work with. The other women too. The same bucket that you see, I also use it at home for domestic purposes; I think that if we had tools and small equipment such as picks, shovels and containers, we would work better and certainly earn more. Everything I earn in this activity is just for living. It’s difficult, but for now we are here waiting for things to get better.”
With this sentence the exchanges with Djeneba ended.
It should be noted that on most artisanal mining sites, women do the same work as Djeneba. A task that is hardly productive, allowing them from time to time to just earn enough to live on, hoping for a better tomorrow.