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In East Africa, ethics integrate artisanal gold mining

In Africa, gold, the sixth most traded commodity in the world, is at the center of a silent revolution. Far from the clichés of the past, artisanal gold mines are now part of an ethical and responsible approach, reshaping the mining landscape of this richly diverse region. From local impact to sectoral formalization, mining is undergoing a complete metamorphosis.

Gold in East Africa: Ethical issues in artisanal mining

Imagine a world where gold becomes a vehicle for ethics and progress. In East Africa, this dream is becoming reality. Today, this coveted metal plays a key role in world trade, with 20% of its production coming from artisanal mining. In East Africa, this activity is the beating heart of many communities.
But while gold may shine, its extraction is not without its shadows. So incorporating an ethical dimension is more than an option, it’s a necessity to counterbalance and mitigate its negative effects.

It’s time to add a touch of conscience to this age-old activity, to balance the scales. Because yes, behind every piece of jewelry, every piece of gold, there’s a story, and it needs to be told with responsibility and respect.

Artisanal gold, an economic mainstay in East Africa

East Africa, a jigsaw puzzle of nations with diverse realities, but united by a common wealth: gold! Artisanal gold mining plays a major role in the economy. Between 2010 and 2019, gold production increased by 26% worldwide, and by 44% in Africa. Every nugget extracted is a driving force for these countries, which are often dependent on this golden wealth. In Burkina Faso, for example, gold accounted for 88% of exports in 2020.

Yet this activity is not without consequences: transformed landscapes, informal work, hydraulic diseases… Artisanal mining, so vital, also leaves deep traces on the environment, health and society. Meanwhile, industrial mining, with its rules and financial contributions, is seen as the model to follow. The political position of the state is therefore in favor of the industrial sector, both in terms of access to resources and the duration of exploitation.

Artisanal mining: a springboard for local communities

And yet, far more than a source of work, these artisanal mines are a development lever for the local economy, helping to reduce the rural exodus.

In Burkina Faso, the gold boom has triggered a veritable metamorphosis. A study carried out there showed that people living near artisanal mines enjoyed a 15% increase in income compared to those living further away. Roads have been laid out, and schools and health centers built, thanks to this golden metal. As the mayor of Houndé can testify, his town has been transformed thanks to the activity of artisanal mines, which have created collective benefits through a veritable economic ecosystem: from catering to small businesses, from laundry to water supply.

At the same time, a wind of ethics and formalization is blowing through the sector, with the emergence of responsible standards and labels certifying artisanal gold.

Towards an era of formalization and labeling in the artisanal mining sector

With initiatives such as Fairminded (for which Huudi Mining is in the process of obtaining certification!), or the Better Gold Initiative, artisanal miners are encouraged to improve production conditions in environmental and human terms. In addition, traceability tools have been developed for greater transparency, such as the Risk Mitigation Code for artisanal and small-scale miners entering the formal trade. This is good news for buyers, who are increasingly concerned about the provenance of their gold.

Furthermore, faced with aging mining codes and complex administrative procedures, governments are beginning to better regulate the sector: creation of agencies, a new mining code, higher taxes and royalties for the industrial sector, etc. Take Burundi, for example, with the popularization of its Mining Code and the formation of mining cooperatives. The idea? To encourage miners to work together legally, under the watchful eye of the Technical Inspectorate of the Mining, Quarrying and Hydrocarbons Sector.

A new era is dawning for artisanal gold, where the quest for ethics is opening up new perspectives and innovations. Between environmental challenges and economic aspirations, the sector is reinventing itself, carrying with it the hopes of a more sustainable and respectful development. As for industrial companies, they are taking a closer interest in these practices, looking for ways to coexist and protect their image. 


  • Bazillier, R., & Girard, V. (2020). The Gold Digger and the Machine. Evidence on the Distributive
    Effect of the Artisanal and Industrial Gold Rushes in Burkina Faso.
  • Capitant S., Côte M. & Zongo T. (2022). L’éthique de l’or :
    o Capitant S., Côte M. & Zongo T., Introduction : l’éthique de l’or, l’or (in)juste
    o Ayeh D., Le droit minier face à l’éthique de l’or
  • Charles N. & Tychsen J. (2023). La mine artisanale en Afrique Centrale, du Nord et de l’Est francophones
  • Podcast RFI, Révélations sur les mines artisanales africaines
  • Alliance for Responsible Mining, Code The Code of Risk mitigation for Artisanal and small-scale miners engaging in Formal Trade
    The World Bank, Commodity Markets Outlook (October 2023)

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