ENTEBBE (Reuters) – In a refinery just outside Uganda’s main airport, workers slip bars of freshly refined gold into clear plastic bags sealed with a sticker of the national flag – black, yellow and red – and the label “Ugandan’s Treasure.”
Uganda produces little gold of its own. Alain Goetz, who set up the refinery, says that by branding gold from abroad as Ugandan, the operation is merely imitating others – for example, the Swiss don’t mine the gold they refine in Switzerland.
A pink building guarded by dogs at Entebbe on the shores of Lake Victoria, the refinery, African Gold Refinery (AGR), is part of a trend across Africa. Small-scale mining is booming, and new gold refineries are opening by the dozen, to process metal produced by informal diggers in Africa and beyond.
The refineries, which often win high-level political backing, can be positive because they offer miners and states a way to extract value from their own mineral wealth rather than just exporting raw commodities. But if not properly controlled, they risk adding to problems of smuggling and funding conflict.
Some of Africa’s new gold refineries are in South Africa, a major gold producer with an already large refining industry. There, authorities granted 19 refining licenses in the year to March 2019 – as many as in the previous three years combined.