Illegal mining has become a significant problem in Ethiopia, particularly in recent years, with Chinese involvement in the sector being one of the aggravating factors. Such actors were recently discovered to have been hiding behind various investment schemes in Ethiopia. By analyzing information from reliable sources, academic papers, government reports, and other news articles, we aim to examine the extent of illegal mining in Ethiopia given its implications on the environment, economy, and society at large.

Mining is one of the key industries in Ethiopia, contributing to the country’s economic growth and development. According to the Economic Commission for Africa, the sector accounts for 14% of the country’s exports and is projected to account for 10% of the nation’s GDP. Given that the sector is relatively underexplored and untapped, it has attracted foreign investment interests, particularly from China. However, illegal mining has become a significant challenge in the country’s economy- not only due to the loss in national revenue but also due to its adverse effects on environmental, ecological, and societal well-being. Illegal mining involves extracting precious minerals without the required licenses and permits, and it often comes with unsafe mining practices and severe environmental degradation.

The Extent of Illegal Mining in Ethiopia

Illegal mining has become a significant challenge in Ethiopia, especially in the regions with significant mineral deposits, such as the Oromia, Benishangul- Gumuz, Tigray, Somali, and Southern regions. A report by the Ethiopian Geological Survey (EGS) states that illegal gold mining has been widespread in Ethiopia, with an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 artisanal miners operating in the country. These artisanal miners operate without licenses and often use crude methods that harm the environment, such as using cyanide to extract gold from ore.

The impact of illegal mining is visible in various ways. For instance, illegal/ unregulated mining activities cause deforestation, soil erosion, water pollution, and the destruction of agricultural land. This has a significant impact on the environment, affecting agriculture, biodiversity, and climate variability. Illegal mining also creates social problems, such as the displacement of people, human rights abuses, and inhumane and unsafe working conditions that often lead to injuries and fatalities.

Chinese Involvement in Illegal Mining in Ethiopia

The involvement of Chinese companies in illegal mining in Ethiopia has been reported by various sources.
Although Chinese companies, that often present themselves as investors, have denied these allegations; their actions suggest otherwise. In some cases, Chinese workers were found engaging in illegal mining, exploiting the country’s mineral resources without the necessary licenses and permits.

In other cases, Chinese companies have been accused of using Ethiopian employees as “fronts” for their illegal gold mining operations to avoid legal scrutiny.

Moreover, Chinese investment in Ethiopia’s mining industry may also be further exacerbating the problem of illegal mining. In Ethiopia, Chinese companies have invested heavily in the mining sector, with an investment of US$1.6 billion in 2018 alone. However, this investment has not necessarily helped Ethiopia’s mining sector to comply with environmental and social regulations. Instead, Chinese companies have been accused of using their investment as a cover to engage in illegal mining activities, and extraction of minerals without legal backing and adequate environmental protection measures. Chinese companies operating in Ethiopia’s mining sector have been accused of ignoring environmental regulations and collaborating with Ethiopian employees to engage in illegal mining activities.

The government of Ethiopia recently announced that 28 Chinese nationals in the country, with different visas, were caught red-handed in illegal mining activities. They were discovered to have been working hand-and-glove with local partners, who were since apprehended, in their illicit mining activities.

The problem of illegal mining in Ethiopia has far-reaching implications for the environment, economy, and society of the country. It is crucial that the Ethiopian government and the international community take effective measures to curb illegal mining activities, protect the environment, and ensure that investments in the mining sector adhere to sustainable practices and human rights principles. Given Ethiopia’s ambitious goal of growing the mining sector to account for 10% of the country’s GDP: as outlined in the National Growth and Transformation Plan, sustainable investment and responsible mining practices should be the ultimate goal for Ethiopia’s promising mining industry

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Ethiopia re-evaluating Chinese mining contract. (2018). The East African. https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/business/Ethiopia-re-evaluating-Chinese-mining-contract/2560-4294776-9js2drz/index.html
The environmental impact of illegal mining in Ethiopia | The Ethiopian Herald. (2020). The Ethiopian Herald. https://www.ethpress.gov.et/herald/index.php/news/national-news/item/18978-the-environmental-impact-of-illegal-mining-in-ethiopia
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