Ghana: The Begging Billionaire

Environmental protection, policing natural resource money, sustainable development and human rights advocacy have characterised my journalism and communication work over the years. That is why I am compelled to share with you an interesting piece on natural resource governance a friend sent to me via Whatsapp. It is either fiction or non-fiction, and whether or not it is fiction or non-fiction it touches the fundamental issues of Ghana’s and by extension Africa’s development recession.

This article raises pertinent questions on why we are where we are, and why Africans cannot protect or benefit from the huge resources God has endowed the continent with. The central theme of the piece borders on our beggar-mentality, poor natural resource management, and collective failure to negotiate better returns on our natural resources. Before you read the article, below is my summary of the state of mining in Ghana.

Mining communities in Ghana have been the scene of some of the worst human rights abuses by multinational mining enterprises (MNEs). Human rights abuses range from water pollution through cyanide spillages, general environmental destruction, illegal arrests and detentions, erratic shooting of unarmed community people, forced evictions to the outright loss of farms and livelihoods.  The abuses have reduced some of the communities into what is commonly called ‘ghost towns’ rather than being the anticipated flourishing towns, given the amount of wealth they generate for the MNEs.

With the drilling and exploration of oil, in addition to ongoing mining of other minerals, human rights issues are expected to escalate – resulting in demands for companies within the extractives sector to become good corporate citizens.

Studies have proved that multinational mining companies operate in terrible and impoverished parts of the world that are often inhabited by indigenous and poor people. In fact, some of the most powerful corporations in the extractives sector are those that often come into contact with some of the poorest communities across the world; where resource exploitation has often led to the worst forms of human right abuses and environmental degradation These poor communities have limited resources and are powerless in negotiating with large corporations.

This has raised the legitimate question of just how much socially responsible or accountable should MNEs be.  CSR advocates argue that it is in the interest of corporations to gain broader trust and legitimacy through their non-financial performance. For corporations to become ‘good citizens’, emphasis is now placed on taking account of social and environmental footprints and constructing ‘shared values’ with key stakeholders or civil partnerships (ibid). This is just a teaser, now read the article by an anonymous writer which is the true reflection of Ghana’s development record.

The beggar mentality

Recently, I witnessed in dismay a tirade by a white man in the first-class cabin of a mid-size airplane, admonishing another first-class passenger, a Ghanaian male, for ‘begging’ for his seat.

“What is wrong with you Africans? All you do is beg, beg, beg for everything!! You can beg all you want; I am not going to give you my seat.” Tempers finally cooled down, and the aircraft took off.

Unfortunately, I was sitting next to this white man who a few minutes before had insulted my whole race. With nothing else to do, I turned and asked him “what was all that about?”

Apparently, the Ghanaian man was travelling with his ‘wife’; they had been seated in 1st class on separate rows, and apart. The man had asked this white man to exchange his seat so the couple could be close.

The white man had refused, but the Ghanaian man had persisted with numerous “I beg you”, which eventually took the white man to his boiling point. “So, what would it have cost you to exchange your seat?” I asked. His response, and the essence of this article, was this:

“I booked my flight at the last minute and got the last 1st-class seat available, this one. This means it was also available to this man, if only he had asked to be seated close to his wife. He did not, but now comes ‘begging’ for what was due him in the first place.”

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“That still shouldn’t get your collar up,” I said.

“You may be right; but, unfortunately, I have just finished a month-long negotiation with your ministers and government officials over your God-given mineral rights, and what my gold mining company should pay. I come to your country and see all this poverty everywhere, with wealth right under your feet.

“Your own government gives only foreign companies the rights and privileges to rape and steal your country blind. For a few thousand dollars, your government officials allow these foreign companies to walk away with:

(a) Perpetual tax holidays

(b) Duty-free imports

(c) Bloated capital and operational investment costs

(d) under-declared mineral output

(e) minimum wages for local employees doing all the work, but fat salaries and expense accounts for foreigners who do almost nothing

(f) exaggerated cost of shoddy school-blocks and boreholes, instead of meaningful royalty to local land owners and communities

(g) destruction of local farm lands with pitiful resettlement payments

(h) pollution of local drinking water

(i) destruction of local infrastructure, etc.

“My bosses had counselled me at a briefing before my departure. I was asked to read your Osageyefo’s ‘Neo-Colonialism’. Then I was told: ‘be prepared, and the first, to offer the negotiating team:

(a) a few thousand dollars each

(b) a centre or a 6-room school block, or a few bore-holes for the community; and there will be no mention of the usual above-10% royalties, or an actual government oversight of our operations, or adequate resettlement compensations etc.’

“I did not believe my bosses since I, a mere high school graduate, was coming to deal with officials with masters and doctorate degrees.

“Imagine my shock and disappointment when these officials, instead of demanding what is internationally acceptable compensations and royalties for their country and communities, only accepted the 3% royalties, and with all kinds of giveaways; and then came to me later begging me to deposit ‘something’ in their foreign accounts (numbers written on pieces of paper). I do not want to hear the phrase ‘I beg you” again.

“The irony here is that these so-called educated people, after negotiating away the country’s wealth and depositing their ‘somethings’ into foreign banks, turn around to go and borrow their own money from the IMF, World Bank, or ‘donor” countries/ Development Partners’. Do you remember the number of PhD beneficiaries, and the destinations of the Mabey & Johnson kickbacks?

“It amazes me that your intelligentsia, ministers and presidents – who have studied or have travelled overseas – still don’t get the idea that there is no free lunch. There are no ‘donor-countries’ or ‘development-partners’. The foreign mining companies take your minerals for next to nothing, deposit their haul into their banks – and then turn around to loan the same to your governments again, with ridiculous conditions such as ‘no subsidised basic education’.

“Surely, companies like Anglogold and Newmont are contributing to our economy,” I offered.

“At what price? Have you been to Obuasi recently, to see the devastation and destruction of once a beautiful city? Newmont has an over-740 sq. km concession in Ahafo; what did the Ahafo’s get in return for Newmont’s annual revenues of over US$750,000,000? Almost nothing!!”

This is exactly what your first President was talking about in ‘Neo-Colonialism’. Have you read that book?” He asked me.                                                                        I was ashamed to answer “No”.

“I don’t blame you; none of your ‘educated’ officials at the negotiating table had read it. That book ought to be a must-read textbook in your schools and colleges, so that you can understand how foreign companies and governments strive to rob you blind – just as before. Only this time their methods are cloaked in one-sided ‘agreements’ with the connivance of your ‘Educated’ Managing Directors, Ministers, and Presidents.”

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“How can you accuse our officials of complicity?” I asked defensively.

“Has your media asked why the MD’s of the Ghana Chamber of mines keep defending the mining companies, or how a Ghanaian – working for a Ghanaian/British joint company in Ghana – earned the ‘Order of the British Empire’ (Sir)?

“Can you imagine these foreign companies, under the watchful eyes of your govt. officials, paying the indigene 5 pesewa (GH¢0.05) ground rent for their acre of concessional land after they have hauled away GH¢1,000,000 from the same acre?

The big companies, Newmont and Anglogold are not even ashamed to connive with your govt officials to sidestep paying the increased 5% royalty. They are paying the 5% based on ancient gold price of $300.00/oz, instead of the current worldwide price of $1,500.00/oz., shortchanging your people $75,000,000 in the process.

“Unfortunately, your negotiating officials are happy to giggle to the foreign banks with their thousands, accompanied in some cases by ‘Dr’s’ and ’Sirs’.

“Even the Chinese are getting in on the act, albeit illegally. They have been allowed to pollute your waters and taken billions to their country, while your government begs their government for a few millions. You have allowed them to take over your markets and engage in petty-trading to the detriment of your poor traders. They are threatening communities with guns and firepower, and your military looks on unconcerned.

“Your media is just as bad. With buffet lunches or dinners and a few cedis in their pockets, your print media become the propaganda machines of these mining companies. They tout the few boreholes and 6-room schools, but leave out the callous treatment of local employees and residents, and the destruction of the environment. The airwaves are silent on these. WACAM is the lone voice for the people. Why don’t your media support WACAM by broadcasting and educating the masses, especially the officials that:

“(a) The United Nations does not approve of foreign companies robbing the indigenes of full benefits from their God-given mineral and oil deposits.

“(b) Before Rawlings, foreign mining companies in Ghana could not hold more than 40% interest in their partnership with government; now the Ghana govt. holds zero percent, while they hold 100% and therefore do not account to any authority.

“A 50% annual return on investment (ROI) for the first 7 years is generally considered excellent.

“Foreign mining/oil companies in Ghana and the rest of Africa, are perpetually hauling away over 400% return on their investments, without any regard to the plight of indigenes.

I have listened to your new President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, talking about Ghana beyond aid – and it seems he is the only Ghanaian who has read Osagyefo’s book on “Neo-Colonialism”. Let’s hope he is your messiah.

I feigned sleep, so he stopped talking. I was actually reflecting on all that he had said.

I realized that yes, we had become too ’give me, give me’; ‘I beg’, ‘I beg you’; ‘My Christmas box’; ‘Give us something for water’.

We watch our officials give away our gold, oil, bauxite, diamond etc. for their meagre kickbacks, while we wallow in poverty.

It is time we woke up from our slumber and take what is rightfully ours at the negotiating table.

References

Jenkins, H. (2004) Corporate Social Responsibility and the mining industry: Conflicts and constructs. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management.

Jenkins,H. (2005). ‘Globalisation, Corporate Social Responsibility and Poverty’. International Affairs.

Newell, P (2003). ‘Citizenship, accountability and community: the limits of the CSR agenda’. International Affairs. 81(3): 541-557.

(***The writer is a Development and Communications Management Specialist, and a Social Justice Advocate.  All views expressed in this article are my personal views and do not represent those of any organization(s). (Email: safoamos@gmail.com.

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