Illegal gold miners jailed in Ghana arrested at troubled Obuasi mine

Tuesday, 8 April, 2014

Nine illegal miners have been jailed in Ghana for five years each after being caught on the grounds of AngloGold Ashanti’s beleaguered Obuasi gold mine, in the south of the country.

The defendants were charged “for being on the premises for unlawful purpose and operating small-scale mining without license”, and their lengthy sentences provide evidence of Ghana’s growing vigour in clamping down on illegal mining.

After a Guardian film released last year exposed large cases of serious socio-environmental malpractice by Chinese migrant gold miners in the country, Ghana’s president John Mahama established at task force to bring ‘sanity’ back to the mining sector.

But with the nine jailed miners allegedly part of an ‘explosive throwing syndicate’, it seems there is still much work to be done. A mysterious figure - oddly described in the Ghana Web article as a ‘hardcore illegal miner’ - named Kumah appears to be nothing less than an illegal mining gangster: currently on the run, he originally approached the nine defendants “to carry sack-loads of crashed rocks suspected to contain the ore at a fee.”

The arrest and jailing of the miners provides a peep into the harsh politics that arise at gold mines such as Obuasi. A Christian Aid report on the said mine highlights how local communities often take to illegal mining because it offers higher financial rewards or they have lost land and livelihoods due to the mine operation.

Called ‘Galamsey’ in Ghana, illegal mining attracts gangs and gang activity; syndicates quickly emerge, resulting in turf wars between miners, with casualties common. This further draws mine security into violent situations and can lead to their over-exertion.

The social troubles at AngloGold Obuasi mine all add to its fundamental issue of losing money, which has prompted management to flirt with closing down the mine. This in turn only adds to social anxiety, with Obuasi people fearful of income loss.