Tarnished Legacy

A Social and Environmental Analysis of Mali's Syama Goldmine

In Mali, gold recalls the greatness of the Malian empires, and evokes images of the Trans-Saharan salt and gold trade, of Islamic scholars and the ancient cities of Timbuktu and Djenné. Yet at the same time, a popular Bamanankan saying warns, "Sanu ko balaw ka ca": gold mining stirs problems.

In modern day Mali, it remains to be seen which of these images most accurately depicts reality. Gold production is growing quickly in Mali, which is now the third largest gold producer in Africa (after South Africa and Ghana). Gold has replaced cotton as Mali's leading export and has been promoted by the Bretton Woods Institutions as a key driver of Mali's national development. The Syama goldmine discussed in this report was the first large mine constructed during Mali's current gold boom. In a country ranked 164 out of 172 on the Human Development Index and with 90.6 percent of the population living on less than $2 per day, it is hard not to see the allure of gold's earning power.

This study, drawing on the lessons learned from Syama, examines the contribution of Mali's gold industry and its potential as a tool for development and poverty reduction. It presents data on a range of impacts (direct and indirect, positive and negative), tied to the operation and closing of the Syama gold mine.



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