Gold Site Tindangou: An Environmental Tragedy in the Making (Burkina Faso)


Agence d’Information du Burkina

Date Published

The Tindangou, an artisanal gold mining site in the town of Pama, opened only two weeks ago, already raising concerns about environmental and social issues with the arrival of thousands of people in search of gold. Situated only 3 kilometers from the forest reserve which features the largest population of buffalo in West Africa, the gold rush will not be without consequences for the wildlife sanctuary.

Several thousand people have already invaded the gold site Tindangou, located just 7 kilometers from the town of Pama. According to reliable information, over three thousand people have been installed there. Since then, trucks and other mini cars constantly convey dozens of people there. Within a few days of opening, the site extending over 1km500 has a population that is growing at an exponential rate.

One young prospector does not expect the pace of arrivals to decrease. “In the field of gold, information is by word of mouth. The news of the discovery of gold spreads like wildfire. Know that these people will not leave immediately because they know there is money to be made,” says the prospector, who has come to try his luck.

The influx of people since the opening of the mine is concerting.  Besides the miners who have come from other localities in search of gold, local residents have deserted their villages to complement the race for gold.

Women and youth, all have stopped activity, to try and make a fortune. Initial estimates put the number of people on the site at more than 3,000, adding that the influx will continue. “As people find gold, you should know that we will always have massive arrivals,” adds Issa Sankara. The facts support him. Trucks and other vehicles continue in without ceasing, escorting dozens of people all of the time. “To try and contain this population is a dream.”

People come looking for food because of poverty. The number of people and the site size will be based on earnings. “It’s really risky saying that we can stop the population from coming and secure the site’s boundaries,” said another prospector. Artisanal gold mining sites of neighboring towns are quickly emptied of their occupants and all converge on Tindangou in a human surge that will negatively impact on the fauna and flora if nothing is done.

Wildlife Reserve Pama Be Threatened?

The massive influx of miners to within only 3 kilometers of the largest forest and wildlife reserve in Burkina Faso troubles environmental activists. They consider the activity of gold panning with these consequences: it will exterminate the populations of buffalo and elephants which are not far from the golden site.

Although the Provincial Director of the environment, Bernard Bingo, is reassuring, his anxiety is palpable—it is hard to see wild animals and miners as good neighbors. Already once visible elephants beside the tracks have disappeared from radar. “As soon as we were informed of the influx of population to exploit gold, we set up a team to combat over-cutting and protect wildlife resources, which are located 3 kilometers from the site of gold mining. So all the elements are mobilized. They are in the bush around the clock. They sleep here so that people do not enter the reserve,” adds M. Bingo.

In the optimism that hides great concern, M. Bingo emphasizes that the Regional Director had to dispatch a dozen foresters from the capital of the Fada-Ngourma region to support the Pama team in saving the last bastion of fauna and flora in eastern Burkina Faso. “If the situation becomes untenable, hierarchy plans to appeal to the national army to save this reserve, which is seen as the lungs of Burkina, even from West Africa.”

“The means are there,” says a source close to the authorities. Dealers, the situation is serious and the government should make every effort not to harvest this threatened heritage, which is disappearing on the altar of gold. “We were surprised by the human tide that we found.”

“We try with the administration to narrow the scene to contain them in their site. But we are worried . . . ,” said the dealer Benjamin Basono. For him, the heritage is seriously threatened. Within two days, they arrested more than a dozen people in the forbidden subject for cutting wood. “It’s a pretty critical situation; we must do everything to save the only jewel and at the same time the only wildlife block remaining in West Africa,” M. Bassono added. For him, it means simply closing the site. And he’s not wrong. Elephants otherwise visible a short distance from the road have disappeared since the introduction of the miners.

“This installation of a very large group of miners threaten activities of the West African fauna. The survival of wildlife is threatened. It is this single block that remains and we are very worried,” he continues.

What about the Use of Cyanide

The big anxiety of the defenders of fauna remains probably the imminent usage of potassium cyanide and quicksilver which could poison the scarce watering places frequented by wild animals. In this, the contamination of the water table may decimate the herds of buffaloes and other wild animals that populate the reservation of Pama.

It’s a real concern when the miners themselves do not exclude the use of cyanide. For prospector Pouytenga Emile Yaméogo, cyanide is not yet on the agenda. But he continues, it could delay when there are land releases from first washes the rocks. “You know, there will be cyanide but not for small miners like us. It is the exclusive domain of the big bosses. Nobody can give the insurance that there will not be the use of cyanide here, I tell you.”

 “It is expected that the mills crush sufficiently releases. And then there isn’t a concern since, by using cement, they take provisions to avoid contaminating the area . . . (. . .),” says the prospector.

Officials and the provincial leadership swear on the heart but they will do all that they can to ensure that these substances, which are harmful to the environment, are not used in these places. But what can a dozen foresters, with very limited means, do in the face of several thousand people who are desperate to have the gold?