Taj el-Bisary, an independent researcher for aid groups, visits the Darfur region in western Sudan, where he was born, at least three times a year. He observes that the situation there is mostly unchanged. The Sudanese government first contracted militias to combat rebel groups there more than a decade ago, yet the terrible violence gripping the region never really stopped.
Despite the ongoing conflict, one new group of people has flocked to Darfur in recent years: gold miners. From all over Africa, they have left their families, homes and countries, heading to a largely forgotten war zone to dig for gold.
When a group of nomadic miners entered the Jebel Amer region in North Darfur state three years ago, they discovered a wealth of gold deposits just beneath the surface. The shallow depth of the gold precluded the need for sophisticated and expensive mining machinery; bare hands and basic tools were sufficient. By the end of 2012, there were nearly 4,000 independent mining sites in the territory.
“The mining is good,” Bisary added. “But the local people are definitely not the beneficiaries.”
Activists with interest in Sudan are now suggesting the U.N. and the U.S. level new, acutely targeted sanctions against key gold industry figures, as international buyers appear undeterred by revelations about its human costs.