Ghana-Cote d’Ivoire relations - Illegal gold mining a bane?
History of gold mining in large quantities in Ghana began in the 15th Century when Portuguese traders encountered gold in the country’s soil along the coast.
The country derives its name, Gold Coast, from the abundance of gold in the land. Until 1981, known gold deposits in the country were limited to the southern belt.
In 1981, the discovery of gold in the country from the coastal parts right to the northern sectors dramatically changed the landscape of Ghana’s gold deposits.
The following article written by this writer and published in the International affairs page of January 16, 1981, edition of The Mirror, gives details of Ghana’s miracle gold discovery.
Titled Ghana’s Miracle Gold Discovery, the article reads in parts: “The impoverished Ghanaian was shaken out of the rut of poverty by a happy news last week – that he/she is heir to about two billion ounces of pure gold lying safely beneath the soil.
“Before the International seminar on Ghana’s gold endowment just ended in Accra, at which details of the “miracle gold discovery” were laid bare, the President, Dr Hilla Limann, and the Veep, Dr de Graft-Johnson, had broken the news at different times and places.
“Ghana, a nation of eleven million beggars – globe-trotting cap in hand soliciting for food and money – has beneath its soil, gold of the finest and best quality and in quantity greater than that of South Africa. It was unbelievable.
“At the seminar, which was organised to draw investors’ attention to what is described as Third Gold Boom, Ghanaians were told that their country could win as much as 2.7 million ounces of gold a year – with 12 mines in operation.
“Working at that rate, the mines would continue disgorging gold for 740 years or until 2720 AD.
“Mr G. O. Kesse, Director of Geological Survey, told the seminar that 40 large mines could be easily opened to exploit the gold resources.
“Then, Mr Kesse drew attention to what has been the bane of the Ghanaian economy and development – the lack of proper infrastructure or base for a take-off.
“To realise the country’s tremendous potential, he said, “we must first have political stability and create an atmosphere in which investment and expertise can be attracted to develop the gold mines”.
What was needed, he added, was positive and specific action, courage, pragmatism, organisation and assistance from foreign sources.
What does the miracle gold discovery mean to the Ghanaian and the world?
It means Ghanaians and the world have become richer by 2 billion ounces of gold.
To Ghanaians, the discovery registered an instant psychological, spiritual and economic effect. It lifted the minds of Ghanaians and cheered the hearts of the people, once beautiful and wealthy and respectable, now objects of ridicule to near neighbours and the world.
God has heard our prayers at last! Thank be to God and the spirits of Ghana! Jupiter, the ruler of 1981, has brought good tidings to Ghanaians! Who say man no dey! Man dey but no loo. Now loo has come. Man dey proper!
In the above and many other ways, Ghanaians celebrated the miracle gold discovery. Many of them saw the gold discovery as God’s answer to their prayers, fasting and meditations.
From the economic point of view, the gold discovery has potentially strengthened the ailing cedi. It has catapulted Ghana into the rank of a potential economic power, into a nation capable of generating resources locally for development and prosperity.
Participants and observers, most of them economic and business experts, observed that Ghana could become an economic miracle with proper management and supervision.”
Has mining of the miracle gold discovered in the country’s soil in 1981 been properly managed and supervised?
The news that uncontrolled and improperly managed small-scale mining has destroyed hundreds of hectares of land and polluted water bodies – is disheartening.
For example, rivers, such as the Ankobra, Bia, Birim, Tano and Offin, have been polluted in an alarming way.
What is known as galamsey mining has also polluted some water bodies – rivers and a lagoon – in Cote d’Ivoire.
Ghana’s Minister of Environment, Science and Technology, Prof Kwamena Frimpong Boateng, who was in that country, has said that he was confronted there with complaints about galamsey mining in Ghana and river pollution.
Prof Frimpong Boateng told the audience at the launch of the media coalition against galamsey in Accra last month about the “effects of galamsey mining in Ghana on Cote d’Ivoire – because River Bia enters Cote’ d’Ivore … and (River) Tano enters the lagoon and it is polluting the Bia Lagoon. So, they cannot even treat water in some of their treatment plants”.
Indeed, a semi-public water company in Cote d’Ivoire, SODECI, had reportedly shut down a water-treatment plant because of pollution of the Bia River in Ghana.
Dr Kwesi Aning, a security analyst, commenting on galamsey mining in Ghana and water pollution in Cote d’Ivoire, has said: “So, polluted rivers in Ghana flowing across the boundaries into Cote d’Ivoire and polluting their rivers and underground source of water threatening livelihood – could worsen the tensions that are already in existence”.
Gold mining is very important to the Ghanaian economy. Mining contributes a rate of 5 per cent a year to the economy. Gold amounts to 80 per cent of annual exports of minerals. Ghana produced 80.5 tonnes of gold in 2008.
So, there is still a lot of gold in the soil. The problem is that since 1981, no proper plan has been put in place to achieve good management and supervision of the miracle gold discovery in Ghana.
If galamsey or illegal, unregulated, and improperly supervised small-scale mining becomes the order, our country will be doomed.
In a few decades, there would be no good land for farming and the country would have to import water. Above all, relations with neighbouring countries, such as Cote d’Ivoire, will be impaired.
A policy on exploitation of the miracle gold discovery is necessary. Areas in Ghana with substantial gold deposits should be demarcated for mining.
Mining should not take place on lands set aside for farming, fishing and water supply.
LARWEH THERSON COFIE