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Inside Ghana’s gold industry

The bus moved along the steep, curvy and narrow road triggering adrenaline filled moments, as the driver negotiated each successive bend. Driving on the twisted…

The bus moved along the steep, curvy and narrow road triggering adrenaline filled moments, as the driver negotiated each successive bend. Driving on the twisted thin asphalt covered road, at a  break neck speed was absolutely reckless.

 Both sides of the road were covered with lush vegetation, including cocoa trees, plantain shrubs, cassava and palm trees, underscoring the significance of the area as a national food hub. This is Amansie West District in Ashanti Region, a dominant player in Ghana’s flourishing gold industry. 

As the bus moved deeper into the hinterland, the extreme neglect of the district became increasingly  glaring. Some of the settlements along the way looked deplorable. Most of the houses were noticeably decrepit and unfit for human habitation. 

The bus raced on, then at a place called Anwian kwanta, the asphalt disappeared leaving behind a dusty stretch of road. A strong wave of sand hit the bus. Rapidly, everywhere was filled with dust, prompting some of the occupants to reach out for their scarfs and wrappers. But they were certainly inadequate buffers for the raging dust. The face and hair of the bus conductor, who was standing by the door suddenly turned brown. Anytime the bus zoomed past an approaching vehicle, a sea of dust was released into the air thereby clouding the sight. 

The 90-minute journey on the rough dirt road was extremely uncomfortable. With trepidation, I pondered on the health implication of sustained inhaling of the toxic air. By then it was so glaring the extent of neglect and untold hardship people in the area were encountering.

Aside the appalling state of the road, the area appeared bereft of social amenities. Some of the basic schools situated by the roadside looked extremely dilapidated. 

Soon the huge rocks were noticeable. We must be approaching the quarry, I assumed. Minutes after the bus entered Manso Adubia village, quite visible was the notice informing residents of a scheduled blasting at the quarry around 5.20 P.M that day. They were advised to keep off the quarry area for their own safety. It was written by Asanko Gold Mines.

Fifteen minutes later, a tall signpost saying welcome in Twi language was the only pointer that we were within the precinct of the Asanko Gold Mines. This is Manso Nkran, the host of the Asanko Gold Mines. The locality was profoundly rural. Nearly all the residential buildings were mud houses. A portion of some of the houses had fallen off. From the look of things, they were still inhabited. I noticed that the public school in the village was a block of two class rooms. 

The road to the mines was covered with earth. It was soaked with water that morning, presumably. The major mode of public transportation in the area was by motor cycle. Occasionally taxis plied the route. I was lucky to get a taxi going to the Mines. At the gate, the guard sent me away, saying that the official I sought to see didn’t intimate him of my coming. 

During the ride back, I engaged the cab driver in conversation. My first concern was how they coped with the mass of dust they inhaled daily.

His reply was expected. “The people are suffering.” He lamented over the appalling conditions around them. There was no safe drinking water in the village. Residents have to trek long distances to fetch water in the surrounding villages for their household uses.

Asanko Gold Mines located in Manso Nkran in Manso Adubia District of Ashanti Region ,is one of the largest gold mining companies in Ghana. It is currently producing. 

East of Manso Adubia District is Amansie Central District. Obuasi is the major mining community in the area. Mining in the hilly town of Obuasi predates Ghana’s independence.  Bounded by large rocks, the town aptly earned the epithet the “Gold City.” Mining is the mainstay of the community. Though an agrarian community, farming is not done on a large scale in the municipality.

Obuasi is synonymous with gold mining and it is associated with all the trills and frills that come with the huge presence of expatriates. Night life used to be intense in the community, I was told. One of Ghana’s largest goldmines, the Anglo Gold Asante (AGA) or Obuasi Mines is situated in the area. 

According to the Sustainability Manager of Anglo Gold Asante, Mr. Nana Amopofo Bekoe, the company has been operating in Ghana since 2004 ,and has invested over a billion dollars in the Obuasi portfolio. But since 2014 it has stopped producing gold, because of some reclaiming exercise still taking place in the Mines, Bekoe indicated.

Konongo is about 30 minutes’ drive from Kumasi. It is also a leading player in the mining industry. Owerre Mines is situated in the town.

Anglo Gold Asante, Asanko Gold and Owerre Mines can be categorized as the big players in the industry. On the other side are the small scale legal miners. Notable among them are Gold Spear Ventures, Yabad Construction, Naachuaa Quarry and Granite Limited.

One cannot ignore other operators, especially the small scale miners. For instance, in Obuasi community alone, there are close to 20,000 licensed small scale miners. They operate under the umbrella of Obuasi Small Scale Mining Association.

 Gold mining has become a very perilous venture. From the Western Region, to the Central Region and to Ashanti, mining has left a trail of viciousness and destruction.   Gold prospecting is like an albatross to the nation’s security.  This is because of the influx of illegal miners and the monumental destruction they leave behind . Their activities are not only inimical to the national economy, but also a malignant cancer threatening the future generation. 

Illegal mining is popularly referred to as ‘galamsey.’ Originally, a derivative used in the mining communities to describe illegal activities. But it has gained notoriety to the extent that the word is officially received in the lexicon of the country. Most of the perpetrators are Chinese nationals. Although African nationals and Ghanaian citizens are also involved in this unscrupulous business, the Chinese operators are more notorious and have entrenched themselves in every mining community in the country. The illegal Chinese miners are ubiquitous, penetrating the remotest mining villages in the country. Often armed to the teeth, in the past, they had engaged youths in the mining communities in serious combats all over the country. These skirmishes always left fatalities on both sides. Constant clampdown by the authorities and deportation, has not deterred these unrelenting gold prospectors from China. 

Nowhere is considered beyond the reach of the illegal miners. They prospect for gold in prohibited areas, rivers, streams, in residential areas, forests and game reserves. Consequently, the rivers and streams have been polluted. Several streams in the mining communities have been reduced to stagnant pool of water. Inhabitants in some of the mining communities have to use sachet (pure) water for their domestic needs. Large farming lands are increasingly being destroyed with the continued incursion of the illegal miners on farm lands. 

For instance, a resident of Manso Adubia, who gave his name as Samuel said cocoa yields in the area have seen a steep decline. Hitherto, the area contributed about 260 metric tonnes to the national pool every year. But lately, it has dropped to between 200 to 220 metric tonnes yearly. He attributed this decline to the menace of illegal mining.

Ebenezer Offa, an Obuasi based journalist explained that alluvial mining, which was done by the water side had caused the pollution of the water bodies in neighbouring communities.  He added that the ease of doing this kind of mining makes it very attractive to the illegal miners, who lack sophisticated equipment to engage in very difficult rock mining.

Bekoe, the Sustainability Manager of Anglo Gold Asante further decried the activities of the unregulated and unlicensed miners, as he underscored the need for practitioners to adhere to global safety standards. 

“They are unregulated; hence they cause so much havoc. Safety is our first value if you look at our values. So what we seek to do is to make sure that all our employees, all our contractors and all other people, who visit this mine are safe. We don’t compromise on our safety. So the safety of our personnel ,we don’t joke with it at all.”

President Akufo-Addo’s firm resolve to sanitize the mining sector and mitigate the negative effects of illegal mining, informed the establishment of a national taskforce named “Operation Vanguard, last year.”

The Ashanti regional headquarter of Operation Vanguard is based at Obuasi. It is made up of military and police officers. From the base, the taskforce combs all other parts of the region to clamp down on illegal miners. Offenders are rounded up by the taskforce and prosecuted. Their implements are also seized during each raid. Scores of them have been charged to court. There are no convictions up to this moment.

Offa said the entire community has become so militarized to the extent that the illegal operators no longer do their work in the open. But some adamant ones operate clandestinely inside the thick forests in remote villages, he revealed.  

The moratorium given by government against illegal mining, had inadvertently affected legitimate operators. For instance, the small scale miners at Obuasi. The distraught members who recently came out in their numbers to protest the continued ban on mining, said the decision had brought untold hardship on them and their dependents.

Tahiru Seidu, the Adviser of Obuasi Small Scale Mining Association spoke to Daily Trust on Sunday about their predicament. For him, their plight began with the previous government in 2012, when they were ordered by the regime to vacate the land, Anglo Gold Asante gave to them to mine gold.

Seidu revealed that prior to the 2016 general elections reprieve came, when the then government asked them to return to the land. But it was short-lived, because they were convinced that government’s good gesture was motivated by political expediency. Hence they were asked to stay off by some politicians with vested interests. They were assured the incoming government would reinstate them eventually.

The Adviser of the Obuasi Small Scale Miners Association said rather than reinstate them, the government issued a blanket order banning mining by small operators. For him, the prohibition order by President Akufo-Addo had caused them aggravated hardship. Business in the town had  ground to a halt, he said, as he underpinned the spiraling effect of the proscription of small scale gold mining.

“The small scale miners are part of the economic life of Obuasi. For now, nothing is working. We have no other vocation in this town except small scale mining.  So if we are not working, nothing will move. Obuasi town is now a ghost town.

“All the companies, the banks, cooperatives and businesses have all collapsed, because Obuasi is not working again. We are really suffering. We cannot take care of our families. Obuasi has become a shadow of its former self, because no mining is taking place in the town,” he declared.

The miners therefore have appealed to President Akufo-Addo to rescind his decision to impose a blanket prohibition on small scale mining. They assured government that they would join the fight against galamsey by fishing out illegal miners in the area.

Meanwhile there appears to be no reprieve in sight for Seidu and his colleagues, because government seems not to be in a hurry to rescind the order.  

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