Gold exploration and mining companies are lining up to get at Nova Scotia’s gold, as the province undergoes a fourth gold rush. In 2017, Atlantic Gold opened the province’s first-ever open pit gold mine in Moose River, with plans to open three more along the Eastern Shore, in what it described to potential investors as its “string of pearls” in “backyard Canada.” In 2019, Australia’s St Barbara bought Atlantic Gold for $722 million, taking the company back to its Australian roots, before it changed its name from D.D.V. Gold to Atlantic Gold. In recent years, many other players have entered the gold fray in Nova Scotia, including Meguma Gold, Aurelius Minerals, and also Anaconda Mining. All are eyeing gold on the province’s Eastern Shore, which Barbara Markovits of Eastern Shore Forest Watch has described as a “sacrifice zone.” This, the last of three articles in the series casts a look backwards and across the ocean, to West Africa, where Anaconda’s CEO Kevin Bullock and many Canadian gold miners did well for themselves before turning their attention to Nova Scotia’s gold. Part 1 is available here, and part 2 here.
Kevin Bullock is not the only Canadian gold miner who has set his sights on Atlantic Canada after years of gold exploration and mining in West Africa. He says others have done the same, including Anaconda’s mine manager in their Newfoundland mine.
In the past decade, insecurity in impoverished gold-producing countries like Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger has turned large parts of those nations into no-go areas, at least for expatriates who have the means to steer clear of them, and Canadian passports that offer them easy passage to safer pastures.
After years of focusing on gold in West Africa, Bullock is now home in Toronto and very much focused on Atlantic Canada, particularly Anaconda’s proposed mine in Goldboro, Nova Scotia.
Bullock tells the Examiner he began his mining career working in an underground silver mine in Ontario, and after an injury, decided to study mining engineering, so that rather than work underground, he could work in the development and operations end of mining.
That led to an invitation to move to Ghana in the early 1990s to work for the Canadian company, IAMGOLD. From 1994 until 1997, Bullock managed IAMGOLD’s West African operations, “exploring for gold in Ghana, Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, Guinea, Mali and Ivory Coast.”
He tells the Examiner his work with IAMGOLD also involved developing the Sadiola gold mine in Mali.
Later, Bullock started his own company called Volta Resources, and he says they were drilling “off the largest gold deposit in West Africa at the time,” at Kiaka in Burkina Faso, about 100 kilometres south of the capital, Ouagadougou.
He was president of Volta Resources from 2003 to 2013, when he sold the company to a bigger player.
“We ended up being acquired by B2Gold Corp, a multi-billion dollar company today, that I’m still on the board of,” Bullock says.
Two years later, Bullock also joined the board of Toronto-based Anaconda Mining.
According to its filings with SEDAR, like so many junior exploration and mining companies, Anaconda Mining has a complex history. It began in 1994 in British Columbia as Mina Resources, and changed its name in 1997 to Anaconda Uranium. In 2002, the company incorporated in Ontario and changed its name to Anaconda Gold Corp. Five years later it became Anaconda Mining Inc., with properties and four subsidiaries in Chile and Canada.
Bullock says that he saw a “huge opportunity at Anaconda.” The company had one operating gold mine in Newfoundland, but it was a “hard sell” for investment and needed a “growth story.”
“I was a director on their board and just saw what the assets were building up to be, and I talked my way into running it [Anaconda],” says Bullock, who has been CEO since April 2019.
“We put a very aggressive growth strategy, which included the acquisition of a project we thought could be developed. Like Goldboro.”
Bullock says they went from a “narrow underground [mine] opportunity to a very large open pit mine.”
Today, according to Wallmine, Bullock’s salary as Anaconda CEO and president is $346,200.
Bullock’s LinkedIn page shows he is also president of a mining consultancy company, Lindsay Mine Services. His biography on the B2Gold site offers more historical detail:
Kevin was Volta Resources Inc.’s President and CEO and was the founding President and CEO of Goldcrest (a Volta predecessor company) since its inception in 2002. Kevin was instrumental in the growth of Volta from a shell company through to the ultimate sale of the company to B2Gold at the end of 2013.
Turning a “shell company” into one that could be sold for many millions of dollars is an interesting accomplishment. Basically, it seems to have involved acquiring a couple of properties with gold deposits in landlocked and impoverished Burkina Faso, and doing exploration and feasibility studies on how to extract the precious metal, before selling the company and the property to a bigger player.
The total value of the B2Gold purchase of Bullock’s Volta Resources in 2013 was about US$63 million. It gave B2Gold the control of the Volta Resources’ Kiaka gold property in Burkina Faso.
B2Gold is a Canadian mining company, based in Vancouver that, like so many other Canadian companies, has gold interests in developing nations such as Mali, The Philippines, and Namibia.
When it comes to mining, Canada is a global goliath.
According to Natural Resources Canada, Canada is home to about half of the world’s publicly listed mining and mineral exploration companies, many of which have large operations abroad. Says NRCAN:
A total of 1,348 Canadian mining and exploration companies had CMAs [Canadian Mining Assets] valued at $273.4 billion in 2020, a slight 3.7% increase from $263.6 billion in 2019. Of these companies, 730 had CMAs located abroad worth $188.2 billion, which was up 4.3% from the 2019 value of $180.5 billion.
Canadian companies were present in 97 foreign countries in 2020, down from 99 countries in 2019. Mining assets abroad accounted for about two-thirds of the total value of CMAs.
A helping hand from the World Bank Group
Bullock had some help turning his “shell company” Volta Resources into one worth many millions of dollars.
Apart from the gold properties Volta Resources obtained from the government of Burkina Faso, along the way to the B2Gold deal Bullock’s company also benefited from investment from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector branch of the World Bank Group.
In 2010, the IFC invested $4 million in Bullock’s Volta Resources to “support a gold exploration project [Kiaka] expected to provide jobs and government revenues to Burkina Faso once a mine is developed.”
The IFC press release stated:
Since an updated Mining Code was enacted in 2003, Burkina Faso has seen significant investment from international mining companies. Several mines are now in production and the country currently ranks among the top-five gold producers in Western Africa after Ghana, Mali, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.
And while the IFC “invested” in Volta Resources for the “development of the Kiaka Gold Project,” to provide jobs, to date no mine has been developed.
In November 2021, B2Gold sold the Kiaka project in Burkina Faso to the Australian company, West African Resources Limited, as it did the Toega gold project in Burkina that it had also purchased from Volta.
Canadian gold seekers led the charge
Anyone familiar with recent history in West Africa, particularly the political and economic history since West African nations obtained their independence in the 1950s and 1960s from former colonial powers — England, France, and Portugal — knows that independence ushered in an age of neo-colonialism. Many of the first presidents of independent West African nations were hand-picked by former colonial and Western powers, and if they misbehaved — cozied up to the Eastern bloc or failed to obey neo-colonial masters — they generally didn’t last long.
Political, military, and economic interference by former colonial powers and their allies, and the international institutions they controlled, was the name of the game.
Governments that did survive in West Africa tended to be compliant, whether they wanted to or not.
They had little choice but to acquiesce to the demands of Western neo-colonial powers, the so-called “donor” countries more aptly named “creditors,” when it came to opening themselves up to foreign exploitation.
This included reforming their mining laws and investment codes not just to allow, but also to encourage profiteering by foreign extractive companies, usually on the advice of the World Bank Group, and from “donor countries” such as Canada, the US, and members of the European Union. (Today China has joined the fray, escalating the all-out assault on Africa’s resources and sovereignty.)
No surprise that mining companies, many from those same countries, flocked to the region — particularly landlocked and impoverished Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, which were incredibly rich in history and culture, but very short of money and the political clout it imparts.
Canadian companies led the charge.
A 2010 Engineering and Mining Journal report on the phenomenon noted that Burkina Faso had become the “darling of Africa,” at least for gold seekers. From that report comes this blinkered, neo-colonial analysis:
Home to 15.2 million people, stretching across 274,200 km2, Burkina Faso hosts some of the richest untapped geological wealth on the African continent. But due to a history of political instability, military coups, extreme drought and unfavorable investment legislation, it is not surprising that, until recently, both majors and juniors alike have steered clear of the country.
Times have changed; today Burkina Faso is perceived by many explorers to be the “Darling of West Africa.” More than 20 years of stability, large investments in infrastructure and the inception of a new mining act in 2003 have succeeded in bringing the nation to the cusp of exponential growth. (emphasis added)
“Stability” is a curious word to use to describe the situation in Burkina Faso. A military coup in 1984 brought Thomas Sankara to power in the country that was then called Upper Volta, which had suffered immensely from French influence and interference that ensured its presidents were kept on a short leash from Paris.
Sankara set out to change it all. He changed the name to Burkina Faso (Land of Upright Men) and led a popular, inspired and inspiring revolution, fighting neo-colonialism and imperialism for four years until he was assassinated in 1987 in a coup orchestrated by his former best friend, Blaise Compaoré, who took over the presidency.
Complicit in that coup were France, the US, Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, and others who were terrified by Sankara’s growing popularity across Africa and the world.
Five months before the coup, the US ambassador to Burkina Faso at the time said to me, hitting his fist on the table, that they would “not have another Cuba in Africa.”
After Sankara’s murder, any “stability” in Burkina Faso came at a high price paid by the people of the country, who endured the heavy-handed and blatantly corrupt rule of President Blaise Compaoré. He ruled as a strong man, dabbling in and enriching himself from regional conflicts while being lauded by Western nations as an “African peacemaker,” until he was finally ousted by a popular uprising at home in 2015.
Mining companies — many Canadian — however, enjoyed the top-down political “stability” and new mining legislation that Compaoré’s regime passed.
Quoted in the 2010 Engineering and Mining Journal report, Bullock said Volta Resources had “an aggressive development plan” for its Kiaka property, observing that, “when you combine the geology with the recent proof that mines can be built on time, on budget and operate smoothly, then it is only natural the country is becoming very attractive to investors.”
Except that Bullock didn’t open or operate a mine there.
Rather, he sold Volta Resources and its gold projects in 2013.
It’s unlikely that more than a small minority of Canadians could even place Burkina Faso on a map of the African continent.
Among those who can, however, are Canadians involved in gold in the region.
There are a lot of them.
In a 2021 article in Canadian Dimension entitled “Canadian imperialism and the underdevelopment of Burkina Faso,” Owen Schalk points out that by 2014, Canada had become Burkina Faso’s “largest source of foreign direct investment,” meaning that it controlled a great deal of its gold.
“Canadian firms own half the gold mines in the country and mining assets worth over $3 billion (about $2.5 billion USD),” writes Schalk. And:
The Canadian mining industry usually brings social and ecological devastation wherever it chooses to set up shop, such as in the case of the Tarpako mine (owned by Toronto-based High River Gold), the establishment of which meant “the expropriation of peasant land; destruction of traditional gold mining, the main activity of the villagers; the emergence of a water crisis; rise in the cost of living; and intense monitoring by private security guards.” These mines also fuel food insecurity as a result of the removal of peasants from their property and the subsequent destruction of their land, as well as the trafficking and forced prostitution of women from around Africa, especially Nigeria.
The most prominent Canadian companies with investment in gold extraction in Burkina Faso are High River Gold (Toronto), Barrick Gold (Toronto), Iamgold Corporation (Toronto), Tajiri (Vancouver), Roxgold (Toronto), and Semafo (Montreal). Semafo in particular was known for its egregious practices across West Africa: it was very close with the Compaoré regime, engaging in violent strike-breaking in Niger, while evading nearly $10 million in taxes in Guinea. In 2020, the scandal-plagued company was acquired by Endeavour Mining, a multinational based in the Cayman Islands. The Vancouver-based True Gold Mining Inc., which operated a gold mine in Burkina Faso, was also purchased by Endeavour in 2016.
In 2010, merchant banker Endeavour Financial Corporation, which owns Endeavour Mining and is registered in the tax haven of the Cayman Islands, acquired 100% of Nova Scotia company Etruscan Resources. The cash part of that deal was worth $43 million.
Nova Scotia’s Gerald McConnell, who became president and chief executive officer of Etruscan in 1990, and who was chair of Etruscan at the time of the sale to Endeavour, said the deal would give Etruscan shareholders “the opportunity to participate directly in Endeavour’s broader growth strategy in the gold sector through exposure to additional gold assets and financial resources.”
Two years before this deal, McConnell and Etruscan garnered media coverage that focussed on the company’s charitable work rather than on any negative impacts of open pit gold mining in an impoverished and desperately dry part of the world, or on potential windfall wealth from selling it all.
Owen Schalk writes that the gold rush in Burkina Faso, led by Canadians, has done nothing for the majority of the population:
Partly due to the fact Canadian mining companies own $2.5 billion of Burkina Faso’s gold resources, the country remains one of Africa’s most underdeveloped nations. Over 40 percent of people live below the national poverty line. Hunger rates are rising every year, and in 2020 the World Food Program reported that tens of millions people are facing acute food insecurity in Burkina Faso.
Profit trumps human rights?
A 2016 report on gold mining in Burkina Faso, “Le profit plus important que les droits humains?” (Profit more important than human rights?) finds that some of the discontent that has contributed to increased tension and instability in that country is linked with the gold rush led by foreign-owned companies. It finds that only “a tiny elite” benefited from the gold mining, and that mining encroached on crucial agricultural and pasture lands for local people.
Another 2016 study pointed out that, “Despite the gold boom in Burkina Faso since 2007, the contribution of the sector to poverty reduction is still insignificant. This suggests that the management and redistribution of the resources from gold exploitation in Burkina Faso is a problem.”
The study noted that new mining laws adopted in 2015 after Compaoré was ousted were designed to help the people of Burkina Faso benefit more from the golden riches being mined in their country. Among other things, the revised laws set a fixed corporate tax rate of 17.5%, increasing the tax on income from investments to 6.25%. Gold producers also pay 1% of their monthly gross turnover, or the value of the extracted metal, to a local development fund.
In addition, a comparative mining guide shows that the Burkinabe state is now entitled to 10% of the shares of gold mining companies operating in the country, and the royalty rate is based on the volume of extracted material, or 4% of the proceeds of the precious metal.
Since those laws came into force, however, Burkina Faso has undergone a coup, and like its neighbours Mali and Niger in the Sahel region of West Africa, has been plunged into a security crisis caused by insurgents.
Gold mining has become an increasingly dangerous business.
In 2019, Canadian geologist and vice president of Vancouver-based Progress Minerals, Kirk Woodman, formerly with Etruscan, was kidnapped during a raid on a gold mining site in northern Burkina Faso, a region subject to attacks by insurgents. His body was found the next day.
The insurgency has made everyday life precarious for the people of Burkina Faso. The BBC reports that in the last two years, 2,000 Burkinabe have lost their lives and more than 1,000 schools have closed because of inter-communal tensions attacks by jihadist groups.
According to the United Nations, 1.5 million Burkinabe were internally displaced by insurgent attacks in 2021, while the number is 2.5 million for the three Sahelian countries, which are also being decimated by the ravages of climate change, which further aggravates conflicts.
The International Crisis Group argues that informal artisanal mines have helped finance the jihadist groups in the region, and calls for more regulation of artisanal mining. It says there needs to be a balance between artisanal gold mining and industrializing the sector:
The latter generates tax revenues but risks stirring resentment among locals. Industrialisation can destroy some of the jobs generated by artisanal mining and cause land conflicts when the areas concerned are inhabited by populations expelled without systematic or adequate compensation.
Moreover, the presence of a mining company in an area does not always improve security conditions there. While these companies can afford private security forces, they can also become a target, as demonstrated by the recent kidnappings of expatriate personnel from mining companies in Niger and Burkina Faso.
Finally, the social and environmental consequences of industrial mining can also lead to violence, especially in Mali and Burkina.
Foreign-owned mines cause “frustration”
Award-winning Burkinabe journalist Ouoba Boukary thinks the proliferation of industrial gold mines in his country contributes to the growing insurgency.
Over Whatsapp, Boukary tells the Examiner:
Several [gold] mines have been subjected to terrorist attacks. The most emblematic attack is that of the Boungou mine in the east of the country. [The Boungou mine was owned by Toronto-listed Semafo at the time, through its Barbados subsidiary, until it was acquired for $1 billion by Endeavour Mining in 2020].
Terrorists sometimes justify their action by the presence of these mines and the fact that these mines are guarded by the Burkinabe security forces. It has not gone unnoticed that expatriates travel with private jets [to the gold mines] while national workers, mainly labourers, use the roads and are exposed to attacks. This is what happened to the convoy taking Burkinabe workers to the Boungou mine on November 6, 2019, which had an official toll of 37 dead, and several dozen injured.
The convoy was escorted by security forces, but this was insufficient as a security measure. This attack shocked Burkinabe public opinion and the resulting outrage led to some changes in the transportation of mine workers. Since then some [foreign mining companies] transport their workers by air.
The installation of these mines is often done to the detriment of the local populations, who exploit these gold deposits in an artisanal way. So when populations are displaced and disecnfranchised, they become vulnerable, without jobs, without resources. The young people of these localities revolt, and can easily be tempted by the discourse of the terrorists … There are many frustrations linked to these foreign-owned mining companies.
From West Africa to Nova Scotia
Kevin Bullock tells the Examiner that the Sadiola mine that he helped get started in Mali for IAMGOLD managed to operate non-stop through the years, in spite of coups and insurgencies. He says the most recent insecurity in the region is different, with religion now playing a role.
However, Bullock says he loves every country in West Africa, and loves dealing with and working with the people, whom he describes as the “most fantastic people in the world.”
His affection for West Africa goes back a long way. “I lived in Ghana in the 1960s as a kid,” he says. His father worked in gold mining there, and Bullock says he always wanted to go back.
Between COVID and the insecurity problems in the region, Bullock says he hasn’t been to West Africa for a couple of years. But he will be going back because “Africa is not a small part” of his life.
But for now, Bullock’s preoccupation is Anaconda and its proposed gold mine in Goldboro, Nova Scotia.
Nova Scotia offers golden opportunities
Gold mining on this side of the Atlantic Ocean may turn out to be not just safer, but possibly even more lucrative than it is in West Africa.
In 2018, James Wilt wrote in The Narwhal that, “gold mining companies in Canada pay only a tiny fraction in taxes and royalties compared to operations in other countries.”
Atlantic Gold has produced more than $750 million dollars worth of gold at its Touquoy mine in Moose River since 2017. But according to the reports submitted to Natural Resources Canada’s ESTMA (Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act) page, it has paid no corporate taxes to the governments of Nova Scotia or Canada.
Atlantic Gold has also boasted to investors that it is the “lowest-cost gold producer in the sector.”
In 2021, the Halifax Examiner reported on a new video called “Gold Opportunities,” put out by the Nova Scotia Department of Mines and Energy (now Natural Resources and Renewables), which extolls the provincial assets that are there for the taking by gold mining and exploration companies like Atlantic Gold.
Says the narrator:
Exploring for gold in Nova Scotia means your costs are low. You’re rarely more than a few hundred metres from a paved road and a power line. Towns and facilities that can provide support services, skilled labour, and comfort are nearby. Newly built and producing now for four years [actually in January 2021, the mine had been producing for just over three years], St Barbara’s spin-off company Atlantic Mining’s Moose River gold mine had a public paved road and a power line running right through the mine, with the pit on one side and the mill on the other.
Apparently unaware that the terms “First World” and “Third World” are “out of date, insulting, and confusing,” the narrator continues:
Despite Moose River being built in the First World, this easy quick access arrangement has led to the reality that Moose River is listed by Mining.com as being the 10th lowest all-in cost producer in the world. Considering some of the other mines in higher positions on that list, in nations running by controlling governments, the realistic position of Moose River being in a stable nation with a government that respects rule of law in mining tenure and having established social license is much higher.
With such a pitch, it’s no surprise gold mining companies and explorers are flocking to the safe and lucrative pastures in Nova Scotia, although it’s not clear why any government anywhere would boast about all those giveaways, which can only rob it of much-needed revenue.
But hey, welcome to Nova Scotia, Canada’s golden playground!
 IAMGOLD has been embroiled in controversies over the years at its mines in the region. For example, its Essakane mine in Burkina Faso, the largest in the country, reportedly displaced 2,500 families, causing immense hardship for people who lost their fertile farmland and crucial access to water in the extremely dry region, which in turn fomented local land conflicts. Women were particularly affected by the displacement.
 I have written extensively about neocolonialism and extractive industries in Africa in my book, “Dust from our eyes – An unblinkered look at Africa,” which was a finalist for the 2009 Dayton International Literary Peace Prize.
- Avesoro Resources registered in Toronto and listed on the TSX, with corporate offices in Jersey, Channel Islands (8th on the Tax Justice Network 2021 corporate tax haven index)
- Roxgold, a Canadian-based and TSX-listed company with gold mines in Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire, which was acquired by Vancouver-based and TSX-listed precious metals company Fortuna Silver in July 2021
- IAMGOLD, Toronto-headquartered and TSX-listed (See Endnote 1)
Five of the functioning gold mines are owned by UK-based and Endeavour Mining (listed on the Toronto and London stock exchanges), which is part of Endeavour Financial, based in the Cayman Islands. Two were owned by the Russian company, Nordgold, and one is owned by the Australian company, Western Resources.
The most recent issue of the investigative weekly in Burkina Faso, Courrier Confidentiel, reports that in 2020, the majority of the members of the Burkina Faso Chamber of Mines were Canadian, and that there was a Canadian “hegemony” in the gold mining sector in the country, which was sidelining Australian and Russian gold mining interests, which actually formed a new body, the “Burkinabe Council of Mines, Geology and Careers.” However, when the gold sector felt threatened, the Chamber of Mines still spoke out on behalf of all the foreign gold mining interests, as they did on January 23-24, 2022, when there was a military overthrow in Burkina Faso. Civilian President Roch Kaboré was detained and ousted, largely because he had failed to control the insurgency, and a new regime calling itself the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration, led by Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, took power in Burkina Faso. According to the Courrier Confidentiel, on January 26, the Burkina Faso Chamber of Mines wrote to the ministry of mines, concerned that they wouldn’t be able to get their gold out of the country for processing, and also about securing their gold mines’ operations. On January 27, four days after taking power and even before he was officially installed as head of state, Damiba himself wrote back to the Chamber of Mines reassuring the mining companies that all their contracts would remain in place, and even promising — unlike the former minister of mines — not to bring in some of the reforms that would raise taxes on them or increase the amount of Burkina Faso state ownership of the mines. All of which points to the over-sized influence of foreign-owned extractive companies – particularly Canadian gold mining ones – in West Africa and West African politics.