15 September 2011
Last updated at 07:48
Eastern Senegal is experiencing a gold rush, following the discovery of large deposits of the precious metal. Several major international companies have ventured into the West African nation, while informal miners have also flocked to the area. Photos and text: Laeila Adjovi, BBC Afrique, Dakar
In Diabougou, one of the biggest informal sites in the area, anyone can come and dig a mine shaft, called a "dama" in the local Malinke language. The gold rush has transformed Diabougou into a small town.
Along with wealth, gold has brought prostitution to this traditional and very remote area. The BBC found that more than 80 young Nigerian girls have been forced to sell sex to some of the miners in Diabougou. They were trafficked from Nigeria to Mali, before crossing the border to Senegal.
Thousands of the miners are from neighbouring Mali, a country with a long history of gold extraction. When they heard about the new informal site, they crossed the border to try their luck.
It takes about a week to dig a shaft that may lead to the gold vein discovered on the site. But still, "gold digging is a question of luck," says Pascal Dambele, a Malian miner.
Boroma Kangara takes a rest after spending the whole morning in the "dama" which is several metres deep. Down there, there is no light, and the heat can become unbearable. He and a friend take turns to dig and send the rocks up.
Some shafts can be 20 or 30 metres deep, and sometimes they collapse. “It’s a risky job. People can get injured or die," says 20-year-old Senegalese miner Sidi Macalou (in the foreground). The closest medical facility is in Sadatou, a village 40km (25 miles) away.
Fatoumata Keita is 12. She came from Mali with her older sister and her grandmother. Her grandmother cooks meals for the diggers, and Fatoumata’s job is to pull the rope to bring the stones to the surface. “They are very heavy,” she says. She is looking forward to going back to school at the end of the summer break.
Mamadou Diallo has helped dig several mine shafts but here, he is washing the crushed stones he has brought back to the surface. He uses water, soap and mercury to treat the gold, and then heats it up so it gets its golden hue.
After the rocks are crushed, washed and tested by expert miners, those that contain gold are put into bags and shared. In 10 days, four diggers brought up nine bags from their "dama." The diggers, who take the biggest risks, are not those who get the biggest share.
"The chief of the village gets his share, as does the imam, and the person who discovered the gold vein. The security guards from the village also get their part… All the main people in the village get something. That is why they are rich here. It’s thanks to us," a Malian miner said.
The village chief has set some strict rules. Mining work finishes at 17:00, and Friday is the day off in this Muslim area. After 18:00, motorcycles are not allowed to drive in the slum area where the miners live - now far bigger than the original village. Some 20 villagers have been named security guards to enforce the rules.
The miners wash and treat the gold in the nearby river. As a result, its waters are polluted and the sole source of clean water, a pump at the entrance of the village, cannot provide enough liquid for the soaring population. Listen to BBC World Service's African Perspective on Saturday morning for more.