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Faith Nyasuguta 

Billions of dollars’ worth of gold are smuggled out of Africa each year, predominantly ending up in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where it is refined and sold globally. This was revealed in a report published on Thursday, May 30, by Swissaid, a Swiss aid and development organization.

According to the report, over $30 billion in gold, or more than 435 metric tons, was smuggled out of Africa in 2022. The primary destinations for this illicit gold were the UAE, Turkey, and Switzerland. The report aims to increase transparency in the African gold trade and urge industry players to make gold supplies traceable and supply chains more responsible.

We hope that this will improve the living conditions of local populations and the working conditions of artisanal miners throughout Africa,” said Yvan Schulz, one of the report’s authors, in an interview with The Associated Press.

The report found that between 32% and 41% of gold produced in Africa was not declared. Ghana was the largest gold producer in Africa in 2022, followed by Mali and South Africa.

Between 2012 and 2022, 2,569 metric tons of gold, valued at around $115 billion, were smuggled to the UAE. The gap between UAE imports and exports from African countries has widened over the years, suggesting an increase in the amount of gold smuggled out of Africa over the past decade. For instance, the gap widened from 234 metric tons in 2020 to 405 metric tons in 2022.

/The Independent, Uganda/

Switzerland, another major buyer of African gold, imported approximately 21 metric tons of undeclared gold from Africa in 2022. The real figure could be much higher if African gold imported through third countries were considered. Once gold is refined, tracking its flow to its final destination becomes virtually impossible.

The United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database, which includes detailed imports and exports statistics, shows that Switzerland is the main buyer of gold from the UAE. “Sourcing gold from the UAE is notoriously risky,” the report said, highlighting the difficulty in determining the origins of refined gold.

An official from the UAE government’s media office stated that the country has taken significant steps to address concerns about gold smuggling and its associated risks. The continued growth of the UAE’s gold market reflects the international community’s confidence in its processes, the official added, responding on behalf of the country’s press office without further identification.

The UAE remains steadfast in its efforts to combat gold smuggling and ensure the highest standards of transparency and accountability within the gold and precious metals sector,” the official said.

The Swiss government acknowledged the challenges in identifying the origins of gold and stated that it had introduced measures to prevent illegal flows. 

“Switzerland is and remains committed to improving the traceability of commodity flows, the transparency of statistics, and the quality of controls,” said Fabian Maienfisch, spokesperson for Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs.

The report compared export data from African countries with import data from non-African countries and used other calculations to extrapolate the data. Among its recommendations, the report called on African states to formalize artisanal and small-scale mining and reinforce border controls. 

/IPP Media/

It also urged non-African states to publish the identities of the countries of origin and dispatch for imported gold and to collaborate with authorities to identify illicit gold flows.


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Faith Nyasuguta

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