[email protected]: Mining gold for a 1000 years—nothing good to show for it

For close to 1,000 years, Ghana has significantly supplied gold to the world, but the country is yet to benefit from the mineral resource.

For close to 1,000 years, Ghana has significantly supplied gold to the world, but the country is yet to benefit from the mineral resource. The history of gold production in Ghana goes back as far as the Ancient Kingdom of Ghana, the former Gold Coast Colony, and present-day Ghana.

Currently, Ghana is the leading producer of gold in Africa. According to data released by the World Gold Council (WGC), Ghana is the only African country to have appeared on the list of the top 10 leading gold producers in the world—occupying the 6th position with 138.7 tonnes of gold produced in 2020.

Industry players say all these happened because AngloGold Ashanti and Gold Fields have shifted their focus from South Africa to Ghana where deposits are cheaper and easier to mine in recent times.

The case of Johannesburg

In Ghana gold and other important minerals are mined in different parts of the country. Tarkwa, Bogoso, Prestea, Ahafo, Obuasi are a few places noted for gold mining in Ghana. Obuasi in the Ashanti Region is perhaps the most prominent gold producing town in Ghana. To many people, Obuasi should have been exactly what Johannesburg is to South Africa. For decades, Johannesburg has been a major gold producing town in Africa.

The difference between Johannesburg and Obuasi is that one could immediately notice the infrastructural gap between the two cities or towns. As Obuasi is ashamedly bereft of infrastructural development—Johannesburg is the opposite.

Even though gold production massively declined in South Africa by 2019, the effect on the City of Johannesburg could visibly be seen in the infrastructure development. According to some observers, the development of Johannesburg in its early years, was tied to the varying, but generally upward, fortunes of the mining industry—something Obuasi and other mining towns and cities in Ghana have missed for almost a century.

For the leaders of South Africa, gold mining in Johannesburg, and along the Witwatersrand is a catalyst that was deployed to propel not just the growth of South Africa’s national economy into a phase of self-sustained development but was also linked into other neighboring countries to attract labour into the country. The narrative of the South Africa’s story points out that this move played a key role in shaping the racial oligarchy that dominated South Africa until the fall of apartheid in the 1990s.

With a well-oiled wheel, it is therefore not surprising that other sectors such as services jumped unto that infrastructural development laid out by the flourishing mining sector to push further the development we see today in South Africa, particularly Johannesburg.

Some analysts have said that even though Johannesburg’s rapid development seemed divorced from mining in recent times, it is in fact, deeply rooted in the history of mining. A careful observation of the south African economy shows that the mining industry played an intimate role in the development of the manufacturing sector and also in the emergence of a vibrant financial services; which is currently the leading economic sector in Johannesburg.

The interlinks between the development propelled by mining and the financial services cannot be overemphasized as more funds was needed to pay workers and also acquire heavy duty machines for operations as well as money transfers.

For people who have worked in the mining sector in Johannesburg every economic change that was witnessed could be attributed to strategic development that the city has seen.

So, with all these, what is the direct impact on the citizenry. One important thing about infrastructural development is that it creates opportunity for citizens to play a part in the economic evolution of a country. Infrastructural development leads to good roads, quality health care system, a vibrant manufacturing sector, and an efficient public service sector.

Ultimately, the economy is forced to expand to employ many people who work to pay taxes for the government to further pursue economic development in other parts of the country.

The sad case of Obuasi

The case of Obuasi and other mining cities such as Tarkwa, and Prestea are nothing good to write home about. Indeed, mining cities in Ghana have the poorest of roads due to the heavy-duty machinery used to ply the communities for mining. In addition, most mining communities do not have good drinking water and often have deplorable schools. Even though gold is an expensive mineral, people in mining communities where the mineral is mined are among the poorest in Ghana.

The resultant effect is that people living in mining communities do not get the fine opportunity to participate in meaningful economic activities—hence are unable to earn decent income.

Over the years, people living in mining communities have taken the laws into their hands to illegally mine gold and other minerals. Due to the fact that their activities are not supervised and regulated, illegal miners popularly called ‘galamsey’ operators have destroyed close to 60 percent of Ghana’s fresh water bodies. The situation has aggravated with foreigners—particularly Chinese nationals working in collaboration with politicians and chiefs to pollute and destroy Ghana’s water bodies all in the name of mining gold.

Learning from others

As Ghana marks its 65th Independence anniversary this year, it is important for policy makers to learn from the exploits of South Africa. It is not out of place for mining communities to benefit from the proceeds of the minerals as host nations. Giving pittance and allowing mining communities to live on the benevolence of mining companies should not be the main anchor for development.

The Corporate and Social Responsibilities of mining companies should not be the catalyst for development. Mining companies only invest a minute of their profit in host communities where they operate. Indeed, mining companies are profit seeking organization. Rightly so. Their first responsibility is to their investors.

This means that mining companies—majority of which are foreign owned will not drive the developmental needs of their host countries. At best, they will build or renovate police stations to help beef up security to protect their workers and their concessions.

A few mining companies with a moral obligation will build small houses for people directly affected by their operations. Some go ahead to build small clinics. This is the reason why it is imperative for government to lead the drive for development in mining companies to cause a multiplier effect in national development.


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