A recent wave of arrests has marked an increased effort by the Ghanaian government to clamp down on foreign illegal mining. Pressure by local artisan miners, who feel threatened by the scale and veracity of the predominantly Chinese operations, together with increased concerns over the environmental effects of their mining practices have led government officials to order detentions of foreign workers throughout the country.
Ghanaian Police forces have arrested a total of 161 Chinese citizens, many of whom crossed borders from neighboring countries in order to bypass immigration authorities. The arrests were focused in the Ashanti region, long known for its rich gold deposits. The region has been mined for decades by local artisans with very little equipment and traditional, low impact methods. The arrival of the Chinese, however, has marked a shift towards medium scale operations that have a greater impact on the land and local business.
According to the Bank of Ghana, in 2011 the country made 4.9bn from gold exports. The economy as a whole has been growing at one of the fastest paces on the continent (7.9 % in 2012). The arrests, which aim at protecting the interests of the local miners, are creating a bitter dispute with workers of one of Ghana’s most important trading partners. The Chinese, who are keen on maintaining a privileged trading status with the African country, have already agreed to pay bail and fines for breaking the country’s immigration laws. Authority’s in the Guangxi region, where many of the Chinese workers reside, are currently urging people not to go to Ghana to work in Gold mines.
Earthmoving equipment at a mine in Africa. Photo: AFP
While Chinese officials are keen on maintaining good relations with Ghana, the arrested workers have been more outspoken in regards to the nature of their arrest. Ghanaian policeman have been described raiding camps, mines, hotels and any place where the foreign workers gather. In the opinion of the workers, their methods have not been ‘gentle’. Many of the arrested Chinese citizens have described the process as hastened and in some cases coercive, alleging to stolen cash and stolen car keys.
Nonetheless, the clampdown has earned the Ghanaian government praises from Global Rights, a leading global human rights organization. According to the NGO, Ghana’s recent crackdown on illegal miners, particularly the foreign illegal ones, was a step in the right direction. The Global Rights’ Country Director for West Africa, Mrs. Abiodun Baiyewu said the arrests ” Will create a comprehensive atmosphere for trade and investment in Ghana thereby boosting investor confidence. The VPs will further ensure constant dialogue among extractive host communities, the government, and the mining companies thereby ensuring that the interests of all stakeholders are protected”.