Managers of corporate Ghana have a great deal of work to do to convince the rest of the world the justification for their continued flaunting of the accolade “Ghana is the “gateway to Africa”. For while East African neighbour, Tanzania, may not boast as much of a gateway, it certainly has windows of lessons Ghana must learn from to reform her informal mining sector.
Forget that resource-rich Ghana has centuries of mining history, Tanzania’s relative inexperience pales into the distance given the orderly control of her small-scale mining sector reserved solely for locals and supported heavily by the state, with Ghana on the other hand struggling to ensure responsible mining in the sector, commonly called galamsey and criminalized mostly.
Ghana has gold, cocoa, timber, bauxite, aluminum, manganese ore, diamonds and recently joined the community of oil and gas producing nations. It also has more than 10 trillion recoverable volumes of standard cubic-feet of associated and non-associated gas yet to be developed.
Considering that mining takes place in Tarkwa, Prestea, Bogoso all in the Western region, as well as Obuasi in Ashanti, and parts of the Eastern, Brong Ahafo and the Northern regions, Ghana should have been one of the best mining examples in Africa.
The country’s small-scale mining sector is, however, inundated with challenges of foreign invasion across its resource rich regions, with the attendant pollution of both surface and underground water bodies. Stories of chemicals such as mercury and arsenic poisoning of water bodies, the degradation of several hectres of land that have caused considerable environmental and social problems abound.
And here is where Tanzania, a country profiled by the BBC as one of the world’s poorest; with many of its people living below the World Bank poverty line, beats Ghana.
Tanzania, like Ghana, is blessed with resources like gold, sisal, cloves, coffee, cotton, cashew nuts, tobacco and her recently discovered uranium and more than 17 trillion cubic feet of gas.
In Tanzania, players in the small-scale sectors are well organized under associations with well-informed leaders at the local, regional and national levels to represent their interests while successive governments have proactively promoted indigenes to control the sector by granting them concessions and further supporting them in terms of logistics and training to ensure job creation.
While Ghanaian governments have mainly busied themselves with the issuance of licenses, much time is allocated to the berating of mine disasters that result in the several deaths.
Tagging the operators “illegal miners” criminalizes the sector and brings operators into regular conflict with big players.
Tanzania identifies the sector, operated mainly at Minerani and Gaiter as a “small-scale” or simply “informal mining sector”.
The sector ministry known as the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resource makes conscious efforts to be part of the local people by siting offices in mining areas.
Journalists from Ghana who visited Tanzania for a training programme on the extractive industry were stunned upon realizing that the system in Tanzania even though not perfect, was far better than Ghana in spite of her decades of active mining.
Leaders in the communities told Ghanaian journalists about the support they receive from the government of Tanzania, which ensures that resources benefited the locals and how out of their own ingenuity, make business sense of the opportunity.
At Minerani in the Arusha region, Mr Justine Nyari, a local dealer and mine operator said “there are also conscious efforts on the part of the government to train the locals on the use of chemicals such as mercury to extract the gold as well as the use of explosives.”
Since no Tanzanian could engage in mining without first being registered to mine, leaders of associations collaborate well with officers from the ministry to ensure that the laws were followed religiously.
The big players in Tanzania notably Anglogold Ashanti in Gaiter, and Tanzanite-One in Minerani near Arusha have no right to attack the locals.
Similarities & differences: Even though Tanzania largely controls its mining sector it shares some similarities with Ghana such as the engagement of cheap/child labour, disregard for occupational health and safety, and lack of value factories to add value to the products.
In Ghana, gold, bauxite, manganese, cocoa, among others are also exported without much value addition.
Mine disasters at the small-scale levels are common in both countries which cause the state and the people in both countries a lot of anguish, not to talk of the human capital loss.
Tanzanian Solutions: In Tazania the gemstone, Tanzanite which comes in three different types, (brown, pink and green) which are very expensive and one of the most priced in the world is mined just like underground gold in Ghana.
This according to the miners, result in the death of several of the miners in occasional accidents, however, the government took its worries over the frequent deaths a notch higher and commissioned its engineers for a solution.
“Before, we used to dig horizontally, but the findings of the researchers advised that we use a technology called 45 degrees, where instead of digging deep vertically into the earth we rather go 300 metres deep and take an angle of 45 degrees and dig horizontally”, said Mr Justine Nyari, a secretary of the local operators association.
This, according to Mr Justine Nyari, has saved them a lot of lives and prevented the frequent collapse of pits. Again there is also support from the government to help in purchasing some needed equipment while the operators repay in installments since the business is capital intensive. In this way the sector is able to employs a lot of hands.
In Ghana, operators are on their own and occupational health is a matter of each one for himself.
Ghana’s Intervention: Ghana has in the recent past attempted to halt a growing impunity by operators with a presidential directive to clamp down on several thousands of “illegal miners” (galamseyers) across the country. The intervention has rather left several thousands of operators and breadwinners jobless. Their families and dependents have no solace either, as the interventions came without much of support for the ‘criminals’.
Tanzania support and tax operators: Tanzanian governments support the operations of the small-scale miners and in return collect taxes. In addition, efforts are in place to ensure that the youth are trained in the cutting and shaping of the gemstones for supply to jewelers in Tanzania. Arusha actually hosts a value addition training school for the youth.
While more than 50,000 have moved to the countryside in Masai and more than 60,000 in Gaiter digging the precious metal and the gemstones, others are busily acquiring skills to add value to the products.
As the team of journalists from Ghana crisscrossed Tanzania picking with admiration practical lessons of the dynamics of the country’s extractive sector, the boldly fashioned desires on the faces of the journalists to see the measures at least replicated in their own country was unmistakable.
Currently, the displaced operators in Ghana are left in the dark, their pits are being covered, and with it their source of income.
A hungry man is an angry man, it is said, and the devil surely finds jobs for idle hands. Those free and idle hands displaced out of galamsey must be occupied productively before the devil strikes.
If the government of Ghana could take further steps to support the small-scale mining sector, train and direct them and incorporate them into the national development effort, the entire nation would be singing the Swahili song Hakuna Matata. In return, the small-scale mining sector operators would be singing kwaheri (goodbye) to mine disasters and say karibu (welcome) to safer mining approaches, and to government, asante sana (thank you).
Story & Pictures: Moses Dotsey Aklorbortu, Arusha, Tanzania