The collapse of a gallery at a gold panning site in southwest Mali killed more than 70 people on Friday, a tragedy of rare proportions in a Sahel region where mining accidents occur regularly.
“It started with a noise. The earth began to shake. There were more than 200 gold prospectors on site. The research is now complete. “We found 73 bodies,” Oumar Sidibé, a leader of the Kangaba gold miners, told AFP. The number of casualties was confirmed by a local elected official.
In a press release issued on Tuesday, the Ministry of Mines mentioned the deaths of several gold miners, without giving exact figures. The government expressed “its deepest condolences to the grieving families and the Malian people.”
He called on “communities living near mining sites and gold miners to scrupulously respect safety requirements and only work in areas dedicated to gold panning.”
Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world and one of the leading gold producers in Africa.
Gold panning sites are regularly the site of deadly landslides because the activities are dangerous and authorities struggle to control artisanal mining of the metal.
In February 2022, at least 59 people were killed when a dynamite cache exploded at a goldsmith's site in the southwestern region of Burkina Faso. Accidents are also regularly reported in Guinea, Senegal and in border regions in western Mali.
With a production of 72.2 tons in 2022 (of which 6 tons came from artisanal gold panning), gold in Mali alone contributed 25% of the national budget, 75% of export revenues and 10% of GDP, said then Mines Minister in March 2023. Lamine Seydou Traore.
Like other governments in Africa, the Malian junta, which has made restoring sovereignty one of its mantras after violently seizing power in 2020, has expressed its desire to share its wealth with the country.
In August 2023, a new mining law was passed that allows the state to invest up to 30% in new projects. According to the government, it is expected to bring at least 500 billion CFA francs (762 million euros) into the state budget annually.
The Malian mining sector is dominated by foreign companies such as Canada's Barrick Gold and B2Gold, Australia's Resolute Mining and Britain's Hummingbird Resources, which operate despite the jihadist expansion and political instability that the country has faced for years.
But artisanal mines continue to thrive, attracting thousands of gold miners from across the subregion in search of wealth.