The only work there is
A hundred meters or so beyond a checkpoint manned by armed former rebel fighters outside the village of Gamina, a deep trench runs through what used to be rice fields. Thousands of men hack through the earth and rock with picks and chisels as a handful of soldiers look on from above.
Two years ago a rubber farmer here struck a vein of gold ore. Today, a sprawling system of pits, trenches and underground tunnels covers some 180 hectares (445 acres). The mine employs nearly 16,000 workers and produces gold worth nearly $97 million a year, according to UN investigators.
Laborers have flooded in and say that, with luck, they can make up to 250,000 CFA francs ($430) in a few weeks, about what they would earn in a season working on a cocoa plantation.
"This is the only work there is," beamed Adama Bamba, a 26-year-old mud-caked miner. "It's a dog's life under the cocoa trees."
The mining is backbreaking and dangerous. Miners and local villagers told Reuters that dozens of bodies, victims of regular cave-ins, are buried in unmarked graves beneath nearby coffee trees. Others have been left in the rubble at the bottom of the pits, some of which cut down 60 meters into the earth.
A UN expert panel charged with monitoring an arms embargo imposed on Ivory Coast by the Security Council, as well as military sources at the mine and within the Ivorian army, say the Gamina mine is controlled by Lieutenant-Colonel Issiaka Ouattara (no relation to President Ouattara).
Image: Prospectors search for gold at a gold mine near the village of Gamina, in western Ivory Coast, March 18, 2015.