Protesters Demand That Sudan Armed Forces Stop Gold Mining, Clean Up Polluted Sites
Protesters in Sudan’s Red Sea State continue to call for the Sudan Armed Forces to shut down a gold mine it operates within the Dordeib military base. The protests are the latest public outcry against the practices of the country’s military-dominated gold mining industry.
“We have been wondering how it is possible that mining plants have been established inside an army base, and why the army diverges from its real tasks and sets up commercial enterprises instead,” one protester told Sudan’s Radio Dabanga.
Sudan’s military is deeply involved in the country’s economy, from gold mines to farm fields to weapons manufacturing. That includes the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), led by coup leader Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by al-Burhan’s deputy and chief rival Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti.
Dordeib’s open pits store mining waste that contains cyanide and mercury, two toxic chemicals used to extract gold from the associated ore. Red Sea State residents fear the waste pits will poison the water supply of nearby communities.
Sudan outlawed the use of cyanide and mercury in gold mining in 2019, but the waste ponds remain. Companies tied to Sudan’s junta imported 4,000 tons of mercury in 2022, 4.5 times higher than the 891 tons imported in 2020, according to the Sudan Transparency and Policy Tracker (STPT).
“At the same time, Sudan has encouraged the expansion of treatment plants that process millions of tons of mineral waste left behind by ASGM [artisanal miners] through the use of cyanide,” Dr. Suliman Baldo of the STPT recently wrote in a report on Sudan’s mining sector.
Mercury damages the nervous, digestive and immune systems of people who come into contact with it and can be fatal. It is particularly harmful to children. Cyanide and its byproducts can endanger people for months if left to degrade naturally.
Protesters have demanded that the military close the mining operation at Dordeib and clean up the waste, but they say they have seen little action by the SAF, which still operates the extraction equipment. In February, military leaders refused to let protesters enter the base to discuss the matter.
Protesters in Red Sea State have blockaded the road between Kassala and Port Sudan to force the military to act. Organizer Karrar Askar told Radio Dabanga the blockade will continue until the military releases a report on gold processing plants that use cyanide and mercury in the area and the processing plants are removed.
The Red Sea State protests are the latest public attempt to confront the military’s involvement in mining and its poor environmental record. In recent years similar protests have taken place in River Nile, South Kordofan and West Darfur states, among other places.
“Sit-ins and other forms of community protests have become a common, and increasingly frequent, feature of civic opposition to the capture of local resources by a powerful and kleptocratic central state and its commercial partners, including private companies linked to Sudan’s security forces and their commercial foreign allies,” Baldo wrote in the STPT report.
Residents of Sirba told Radio Dabanga the El Junaid Gold Mining Co., which has ties to Hemedti, poisoned horses and a large number of birds with its cyanide-laced mining waste.
Hemedti has cultivated close ties with the Wagner Group and with Russia. Wagner began its own mining operations in Sudan under former dictator Omar al-Bashir and has continued to maintain relations with the SAF and RSF.
Through its agreements with Sudan’s leaders, Wagner smuggles tons of gold out of Sudan each year to help Russia get around international financial sanctions imposed after the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. The smuggling costs Sudan millions of dollars in lost public revenue at a time when the country’s finances are precarious.
The protests that have shut down military-operated mines also are interfering with Wagner’s ability to move gold out of the country, experts say.
Will protesters succeed in forcing military-connected mines to change their ways? Baldo has his doubts.
“The protests represent a facet of popular resistance against the capture of the country’s natural resources by its ruling elites, the security forces protecting them, and their foreign allies and enablers,” Baldo wrote in his report. “However, it will take more than sporadic eruptions of grassroots resistance to put an end to Sudan’s kleptocratic capture of natural resources.”