Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Politics and International Studies

Chasing gold and broken promises in Ghana

30 March 2009 |

Chasing gold and broken promises in Ghana

Despite being Africa's second largest producer of gold after South Africa, gold mining by foreign companies in Ghana has plunged many rural communities into poverty and robbed them of their independence, according to new POLIS research.

An 18-month research project by Professor of African studies Ray Bush, School of Politics and International Studies, has examined the social and development impact of gold mining on three rural communities in western Ghana, where it has led to a mass exodus of young men leaving their villages to find work elsewhere.

He found the international mining companies had failed to deliver on their promises of providing better-paid jobs, improved housing, and clean piped water to compensate the local people for being dispossessed from their village land – previously used for farming and forestry.

"As a result local people have even fewer work opportunities than before, leaving the female-run households with little income to pay for basic staples such as food and clothing, or school fees for their children," says Professor Bush. "International mining concessions also prohibit them from 'trespassing' into forest reserve areas to collect firewood or forest produce."

In all three villages, mining officials had promised to provide alternative jobs through employment schemes. For example, Goldfields and Anglo Gold Ashanti have invested thousands of dollars into projects such as aquaculture and fishponds, rearing grasscutter (small rodents) and oil palm plantations.

But the Leeds study shows the schemes didn't generate sufficient income to replace farming, and were criticised by women, youths and elders as being inappropriate, inadequate and poorly sequenced. "Neither do such schemes restore community independence and individual pride that access to land once brought," adds Professor Bush.

As part of his research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, he visited the major mines near the villages and interviewed a large number of mining officials, community development and environmental officers, as well as local women, youths and elders.

"The women told me they were finding it increasingly difficult to look after their families' health and nutrition, leaving them more dependent on relatives and the generosity of neighbours to survive."

Professor Bush also interviewed a number of galamsey – small-scale miners who work illegally and are denounced by the government of Ghana and the Chamber of Mines as criminals, vandals and environmental polluters. In 2007, the government decided to crack down on the galamsey by militarising the mining areas and destroying their equipment.

Yet he says it should be recognised that these 'illegal' miners, whose work is difficult and dangerous, offer an economic lifeline to struggling local communities; bringing relief to around four million Ghanaians in a population of just over 12 million. Women can earn vital cash by working as labourers for galamsey, transporting sand or selling food to them. The galamsey also employ large numbers of young people.

"They certainly seem to achieve that to greater effect than the alternative livelihood projects established by the mining companies," he says. But since the government's forced removal of galamsey in 2007, rural families have suffered from the sudden loss of income, security and employment.

"There has been a suggestion that the more enlightened companies could provide marginal areas of their concessions for the galamsey and let them sell whatever gold they mine to the companies as a form of tribute."

Professor Bush's study found that local people had grown dissatisfied with their own chiefs and elders, accusing them of collusion with the mines. In one case, a youth who repeatedly protested about trucks transporting rocks directly through the village, due to fears that falling rocks would eventually kill a child, was told by chiefs that his protests would not be supported.

"The emergence of mines next to or directly on village land, requiring the resettlement of the community, has challenged the authority of traditional leaders due to the failure of expectations that mines would boost employment, infrastructure and community wellbeing," he says.

Villagers also lamented the exodus of young people to find work further afield, especially as galamsey. "Soon there will be no-one here to take the corpses to the morgue," said one woman, noting her village's transformation into a ghost town.

As Ghana is due to start oil production in 2010, Professor Bush says one of the country's most pressing concerns is to have a public debate about its dependence on mining, and "how it might try and benefit from international companies that have given very little back to the communities where they operate."

"Anglo Gold Ashanti and Goldfields, for example, emphasise the importance of sustained relationships with government and communities neighbouring their mines. But the use of force and coercion in mining communities is never far away, with the continued dispossession of livelihoods," he says.

"There does not seem to be any political party willing to revoke the deceit that all is well in the countryside now that the smallscale miners have been deprived of their work and wellbeing."

Professor Bush's study was presented at a three-day conference in Ghana last year, called 'Beyond foreign direct investment in Africa's mining sector', which he co-convened with the journal The Review of African Political Economy and Third World Network Africa. Attracting a large media presence, delegates included MPs from Zambia and Mali, advocacy groups, international agencies like the Economic Commission for Africa, and small-scale miners.

Further meetings will develop recommended policies for promoting appropriate industrial development and the wellbeing of mining communities in Africa.

Article credit: Ruth Taylor, The Reporter, 16 March 2009, Issue 540
Photo credit: Ray Bush. Ray Bush with a group of artisan miners.

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