Western mining companies and slave labor in Eritrea

Yosief Ghebrehiwet

The gold rush in Eritrea has attracted many Western companies, among them Canada’s Nevsun Resources Ltd. and Sunridge Gold; Britain’s Andiamo Exploration and London Africa; and Australia’s South Boulder, Sub Sahara Resources, Chalice Gold Mines Ltd. and Gippsland Ltd. And this doesn’t tell all that there is to the involvement of Western companies, for there are many subcontracted companies rushing to get in too, such as AMEC of Canada doing engineering study and Capital Drilling and Geo Drilling of Australia and Boart Longey of Canada doing drilling. But among the stories of the mining boom in Eritrea and the mining companies’ stocks going up and down, the dirtiest secret that has remained untold is the extensive use of slave labor in these mining projects.

As in all kinds of gold rush, the Eritrean one is attracting all kinds of desperados. There are two aspects to this desperate endeavor. First, a totalitarian regime totally strapped of hard currency is giving away all the gold found in its domain in the lowest bid imaginable. While neighboring nations such as Sudan and Egypt demand 50% and 60% of ownership respectively, the desperate Eritrean regime is asking as low as 10% to attract companies that wouldn’t have come under normal conditions. This being an extremely risky area where war with Ethiopia and violence from within (given the numerous armed groups active in the country) could easily erupt at any moment, the regime has felt that it has to sweeten its package to attract Western companies. One of these risks has, in fact, recently materialized when none other than the UN imposed sanctions on this young nation for sponsoring terrorism in Somalia and throughout the region.

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